Before trying to sneak a ringer on the ballot, Trump should have consulted with a few Chicago political operatives
Don’t make it obvious, Mr. Trump. Make reporters work to establish Kanye West’s ties to your campaign.
President Trump could avoid embarrassing himself further if he’d just hire a few seasoned Chicago political operatives to teach him the subtleties of running a phony candidate — a “ringer” — to take votes from a real election opponent.
Rule #1: Don’t send your own campaign lawyer, Lane Ruhland, to file signatures for the ringer, Kanye West, as a third-party candidate for president in Wisconsin. That makes it too obvious you’re running the Grammy-winning rapper to siphon African-American votes from Joe Biden in a desperate attempt to save your cheddar there.
Rule #2: Don’t send Ivanka and Jared Kushner to meet with West in Colorado as he’s filing to get on the ballot there to cut into Biden’s mile-high lead over you. Send a low-level emissary. And tell West not to tweet about the meeting afterward.
Make reporters work to establish West’s ties to your campaign. America’s Dairyland boasts 15,000 lawyers. Find one that has not represented your campaign. And send a non-relative to Colorado.
When I used to cover campaigns as the Chicago Sun-Times’ political reporter, I was often impressed by the skill with which political operatives convinced the patsies they were legitimate candidates.
The earnestness of one congressional candidate, a boxer being helped by family friends of the incumbent, made it hard for me to report that he was a ringer, though he had the same first name and a similar last name as the apparent real challenger, a former gang crimes prosecutor. The ringer ended up coming in second, ahead of the supposedly real challenger, so who’s to say? Mission accomplished though: The incumbent won re-election.
I had an easier time writing stories about the ringers who took no calls, lived in their mother’s basements and did not even put up a lawn sign in their own front yards.
I once watched party honchos slate candidates for judge when a woman broke the code of silence and said she should be slated as a reward for running as a ringer years earlier. The party brass winced uncomfortably as she spelled out how she had agreed to have her name put on the ballot to siphon votes away from the real women judicial challengers running against the party’s choice.
“I did run five years ago for judge,” she said. “It was my understanding that the committeemen or the people for the Democratic Party put out my petitions. I had them signed. I was told not to raise any money and not do any campaigning. I didn’t. I got 88,000 votes not doing anything. I came in third in that race, right behind the slated candidate.”
No luck. The party leaders did not slate her. But I have watched them slate candidates who more subtly reminded the committeemen of their service as ringers.
I watched in court as former U.S. Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. sued the legendary Shaw brothers, twins Bill and Bob, for finding another Jesse L. Jackson to run on the ballot against him. The judge had to throw out the case because the other man really was named Jesse L. Jackson.
The stunt kept Jackson too busy to meddle in the Shaws’ elections that season.
Given the many ways Trump has debased the office of president of the United States,it would be entirely consistent of him to drag this fall’s election down to the level of a Chicago ward brawl. Among the signatories to West’s Wisconsin petitions: “Mickey Mouse” and “Bernie Sanders.”
But if you’re gonna play this distasteful game, Mr. President, try to follow the rules. You speak TV. Just rewatch the episode of “The Good Wife” where political operatives explain ringer etiquette to Christine Baranski’s character as they prep her to run for judge in Chicago.
And make sure your lawyer gets to the state elections office before the 5 p.m. closing time on the day petitions are due so she doesn’t have to knock on the locked door asking to file after deadline.
Trump is a huge underdog for re-election, trailing badly in the polls in swing states like Wisconsin, Colorado and Ohio where he is trying to get West on the ballot. His petitions have been challenged there and in Illinois, where the Board of Elections has ruled half of West’s signatures invalid. They are set to drop him from the ballot.
Clearly Kanye West is unlike Ross Perot, Ralph Nader or Jill Stein, third-party candidates whose presence on the ballot may have altered the outcomes of earlier elections. They jumped in early with clearly articulated platforms. West took off his “MAGA” hat and whimsied into this election at the 11th hour — too late to qualify to get on the ballot in most states.
The New York Times reports that West’s wife, Kim Kardashian West, has asked the media to be understanding that her husband is dealing with mental illness. Melania Trump has made no corresponding claim about her husband’s mental state but psychologists around the world have offered diagnoses of Trump’s psychological afflictions as he casts aspersions on Biden’s mental health.
Subtlety has never been part of Trump’s election tool kit.
Pallasch was the Sun-Times’ political reporter. He now serves as director of communications for Illinois State Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza. He has never been employed by a campaign or as a political operative.
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