You might think I was being unfair to Mitt Romney when I classified his attacks on the Tax Policy Center as a constant war on the objective analysis of Republican policies. But these attacks have been around for a long time. The objective analysis is typically used to prevent fear-based policy principles that some like to push. If the analysis shows that the problem isn’t widespread, it’s politically convenient to merely push back on the analysis as partisan or to ignore it entirely.
In Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, Rick Perlstein writes about how Richard Nixon deployed this strategy fairly well and often to its desired effect. In Nixon’s first Congressional race, he ran against Jerry Voorhis. Voorhis had proposed a bill outlawing the American Communist Party but had been a member of the Socialist Party. I may be incorrect but this is one of the earliest purposeful deceits misconstruing communism vs socialism. Nixon kicked off his campaign, as Perlstein notes, “I want you to know that I am your candidate primarily because there are no special strings attached to me. I have no support from any special interest or pressure group. I welcome the opposition of the PAC, with its Communist principles.”
The PAC assumed when Nixon talked about the PAC was the CIO-PAC which was the political branch of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. They would later merge with the American Federation of Labor. The CIO-PAC did not actually endorse Voorhis. As Perlstein writes, Nixon would claim that he meant the National Citizens Political Action Committee, if he was asked. This was a rare occurrence.
But it did come up during one debate between Nixon and Voorhis. Perlstein recounts this in his book:
A Voorhis supporter, in the question-and-answer session at a candidate debate, baited the trap. Why, he trilled condescendingly, had Nixon implied that Voorhis was CIO-PAC’s man even though Voorhis had told CIO-PAC he wouldn’t accept their endorsement even if they offered it?
Nixon pulled out a mimeographed NCPAC bulletin and listed the names of the people who sate on the boards of both groups. An interlocking directorate.
Nixon claimed that they were the “same thing, virtually, when they have the same directors” according to Roger Morris in Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician. Voorhis didn’t immediately understand that he was eviscerated in the debate and later claimed that he was the first victim of Nixon’s political attacks.
Nixon ran a newspaper ad was ran showing that Voorhis voted the CIO-PAC’s viewpoint. As Perlstein notes, three of the times Voorhis voted the opposite. When challenged on this, Nixon would claim that the candidate was lying.
None of this seemed to matter. Nixon was able to win over Voorhis, 56-42.