Project Veritas, we regret to inform you, is at it again. James O’Keefe’s “guerrilla journalism” outfit waded back into headlines this week with one of the trademark “sting” operations it has used, with uneven success, to embarrass Democratic politicians and activists over the years. In the crosshairs this time: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who is currently slogging through the fight of her political life against a Republican upstart, state attorney general Josh Hawley.
The secretly taped videos reveal conversations a mole from Project Veritas (or, more specifically, PV's political arm Project Veritas Action) had with McCaskill herself, as well as with sundry McCaskill campaign staffers. They reveal what anyone who has paid attention to McCaskill over her decade-plus congressional career could have already told you: That she is a garden-variety Democrat doing her best to win re-election in an increasingly Republican state.
So here’s Nicholas Sterost, identified by Project Veritas simply as a “campaign staffer”: “Planned Parenthood will never donate money to Claire even though she’s very pro-choice, because they don’t want to ostracize those pro-life Democrats that might not vote for her if there’s Planned Parenthood funding. … They go through other means to get us that money.”
McCaskill and Obama share essentially the same views on things, Project Veritas’s mole proffers. “Yeah,” responds Starost. “People just can’t know that.”
And here’s Rob Mills, a deputy regional field director, opining on McCaskill’s delicate dance around gun rights: “She doesn’t openly go out and support groups like Moms Demand Action, or like other groups that are related to that. Because that could hurt her ability to get elected.”
By O’Keefian standards, this is relatively tame stuff. Every modern political campaign dedicates about 90 percent of its brain trust to tailoring a message to the specific demographics of their state. For blue-state Democrats, that means staving off primary challenges with pronouncements of support for the grand liberal cause du jour, like the “Abolish ICE” campaign or Medicare for All. For red-state Democrats, that means posturing as hard-nosed, nonpartisan problem solvers and avoiding association with organizations like Planned Parenthood that might alienate political moderates. Further, it’s to be expected that the low-level campaign mooks that provide Project Veritas with the juiciest lines would be loud-and-proud liberals. McCaskill wants on-the-fence moderates to come out and vote for her; she’s not asking them to staff her field offices.
So it’s no surprise that the state’s Democrats are largely pooh-poohing the whole thing. Here’s the reaction from St. Louis’s leftist alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times: “After watching the video’s sixteen pulse-pounding minutes, it’s clear that O’Keefe has the straight scoop on McCaskill: She’s a Democrat trying to win an election in a state in which 56 percent of voters chose Trump. Stop the presses!” (McCaskill herself has taken the somewhat questionable step of calling on her opponent Hawley to investigate Project Veritas for fraud.)
But explosive or not, it’s a mistake to think that Project Veritas’s videos can’t hurt McCaskill’s chances. The reason is simple: In our partisan times, running for office in a state that favors the opposing party is a deeply stupid endeavor. As Hawley’s campaign never tires of pointing out (and why would it?), McCaskill has voted with Democratic Party leadership the overwhelming majority of the time throughout her Senate tenure. Over the last two years, she has voted opposite Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on only two relatively big-ticket items: Mike Pompeo’s confirmation as Trump’s second secretary of state and Ajit Pai’s confirmation as FCC chairman. This doesn’t make her a flaming liberal; it just makes her a senator. But McCaskill's posturing as though she’s a rogue element who calls ’em like she sees ’em is exactly as the Riverfront Times described it: an attempt to siphon off just enough moderates from a state that dislikes her party’s policies to squeak by in D.C. for another six years.
This isn’t unique to McCaskill: Every politician white-knuckling it in a cross-party state does this disingenuous song and dance every election cycle. McCaskill’s now just had the misfortune of having the disingenuity of it all voiced publicly by her campaign staff. It may cost her.