Monday, March 08, 2004

An offer he could refuse
Is the modern Republican Party, in the era of Bush and the rise of the religious right, a real party, as usually defined by Americans, a machine, or a gang? The evidence from Texas is that they are a machine well on their way to becoming a gang.

Mike Murphy is a thirty year old finance manager, Texas native, and Republican. Disappointed that his party wasn’t producing candidates who spoke for him, he allowed a few friends to talk him into running for congress. The incumbent Ralph Hall had represented the district as a Democrat for more than 20 years until Tom DeLay gerrymandered his district into a safely Republican one. No problem for Hall, he simply crossed the aisle and became a Republican. This pitted Murphy and Hall against each other in the primary. Hall had the money and organization. Murphy had the energy and legs to start hitting the doors of the district.

Murphy’s grassroots approach was working well enough that he attracted the attention of the State Republican organization. They called Murphy to tell him that born-again Republican was a friend of Bush’s and Murphy should get out of the race. They called twice. Murphy chose to keep running.

Next Congressman Tom Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, called with the same message. Reynolds tried the carrot, mentioning Rove and DeLay, and promising that they wouldn’t forget this favor. Murphy chose to keep running.

Enter the bad cop in the form of Larry Telford, the "incumbent retention director" for the NRCC. Said Telford:
"Just consider what you're doing now. You don't want to have the freakin' president of the United States mad at you for the rest of your life." And, finally: "It will help you immensely to not do something that won't take you anywhere in a practical manner and that will really screw up your chances down the road...If you step off this cliff, gravity never goes up, it goes down."

Murphy described his reaction to the moment. “[T]hey were going on about the White House and ruining my career, all I could think was, 'I don't have a career.'"

Around this time, Murphy reported these calls to the Dallas Observer. They called the RNCC for comment and got Carl Forti, the communication director. Forti denied that any effort had been made to chase Murphy out of the race. So the Observer played Forti Murphy’s tape recordings of the conversations. Did I mention Murphy was recording the conversations? I suppose he didn’t either. Forti claimed the conversations had been mischaracterized and misunderstood.
Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant for HillCo Partners. "On the NRCC's part, that's what you call ham-handed amateur hour. Do people have bad days? Yeah. Are people stupid? Absolutely. And I think this is more of latter than the former.

"The fact that people get threatened in politics is nothing new. But using Karl Rove's name and saying that he would be an enemy of the president for life if he didn't get out--that's a different situation because of the context. I mean, here's a kid, Murphy, who is an amateur, but he acts like a pro. And the party, they're pros, but they act like amateurs.

Thanks to Kos for catching this first.

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