As President Barack Obama has famously articulated his foreign policy doctrine as “Don’t do stupid sh*t,” this colloquial mantra is equally applicable to the politicians and political operatives who stumble their way into public relations missteps – and then compound the problem by doubling down for fear of being criticized for admitting the original error.
This is precisely what has occurred as New York State GOP Chairman Ed Cox has inexplicably put both himself and the Republican Party in the position of publicly defending the indefensible: the fact a detective – paid by the Assembly GOP campaign committee – surreptitiously placed a GPS tracking device on a vehicle owned by Assemblyman Ed Hennessey (D-Suffolk).
The broader issue at hand amounts simply to one of ethical conduct – and whether this action crosses a line of propriety. It does. Do we really want to validate a precedent whereby political partisans use GPS devices to monitor who elected officials and candidates meet with, and where they choose to spend the night? At a minimum, this conduct and operational mentality is highly unethical. I asked a prominent national opposition research expert if the GPS incident is even remotely defensible. The answer? Laughter.
Dennis Vacco, the last Republican Attorney General of New York, Tweeted a finer point on it:
Undoubtedly, this is a broad gray area, especially when it comes to politics, and the tactics and actions undertaken by both parties in the increasingly brazen efforts to take down opponents. The liberal group American Bridge, which tracks GOP candidates across the nation, was just cited in news reports as having followed New Hampshire GOP senate candidate Scott Brown -- even while he went canoeing. Bizarre.
Ultimately, voters render a verdict on the actions of our elected officials and those who work on their behalf. But in the case of Mr. Cox and the Assembly GOP campaign committee, they should prepare for continued questions and mounting pressure to, at a minimum, admit error once the wave of today’s New York State election news washes through the public and editorial consciousness.
As a lifelong partisan, it brings me no pleasure to criticize the action of a fellow Republican. But this GPS incident is disturbing, wrong and requires more discussion - and far more accountability. Moreover, it will not just “go away” as more GOP lawmakers will be asked by the media not just to defend this for the record, but how they would react if they discovered a GPS device was secretly placed on their vehicle.
One can be confident the answer will not elicit a favorable response.
Gordon H. Hensley (@GordonHensleyDC), is a Washington DC-based consultant and speechwriter. He served as communications director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) under Sen. Al D’Amato, and a communications consultant on George Pataki’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign. He is originally from Brooklyn, NY.