While the term “vetting” has acquired a certain popularity in the wake of Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States, few people are aware that it was originally a horse-racing colloquialism referring to the requirement that a veterinarian examine the horse to ascertain its health and soundness before it could be entered into a race. Over the course of time, “vet” (sometimes spelled “vett) entered the American English lexicon as a term describing scrutiny of a person, place or thing.
In politics, it refers to a thorough examination of the finances, personal conduct and previous media coverage of a prospective candidate for office as part of an overall effort to gauge the electoral viability of the candidate in a primary or general election.
By “thorough examination” I mean a dispassionate and empirical analysis that focuses narrowly on factual data and broadly on the political context in which that data exists and operates. It follows that there are two principal ways to vet a candidate: the easy way, reserved for candidates in one’s own political party and the hard way, ordinarily employed for candidates in the opposing party.
Publicly vetting a candidate for one’s own political party is always a tricky proposition: the line between sincere criticism and outright defamation can sometimes be measured with a micrometer and great care must be taken to ensure that the facts gathered as part of the vetting process are accurate and relevant, and that the conclusions drawn on the basis of those facts are reasonable and presented in a courteous and civil manner that respects both dignity of the candidate and Ronald Reagan’s famous Eleventh Commandment (Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.)
By this standard, one would think that all Republican candidates for office ought to be assured a fair – if sometimes bruising – vetting by fellow Republicans that hopefully will leave them either stronger for the ordeal or convinced of the futility of their effort. If one happens to live in New Jersey and believed this, I’m sorry to say that one would be wrong.
Regular readers are familiar with defense of the Bayshore Tea Party and other groups and individuals last year from the brutally defamatory attacks against them conducted by GOP State Committeeman Rob Eichmann, muckraking oppo-researcher Bill Winkler and Conservative New Jersey blogger Richard Zeundt.
These attacks were vicious, highly coordinated and undertaken with the tacit approval of the so-called Conservative Leadership Council (CLC) a secretive cabal of right-leaning Republican powerbrokers – led by former gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan and NJ State Senator Mike Doherty – and determined to harness the power of the Tea Party movement for its own political ends. Any group or person that refused to bow to the CLC agenda was targeted by Eichmann, Winkler and Zeundt for defamation and personal destruction, starting with the Bayshore group and then continuing to other organizations. It is worth noting that Doherty has since abandoned Movement Conservatism by joining the reelection campaign of Leonard Lance, the incumbent RINO who represents the 7th Congressional District.
In the aftermath of the blogging war that ensued, the Tea Party movement fractured apart and the Conservative Movement all but collapsed. Fearful of incurring the wrath of the CLC and enduring a “vetting” process at the hands of Eichmann, Winkler and Zeundt that is little more than a Jacobin witch trial replete with lies, half-truths, innuendo and character assassination, many Tea Party groups and individuals now avoid becoming actively involved.
By way of current example, I need only point to Bader Qarmout, a conservative Republican and Sussex County entrepreneur who is challenging Joe Kyrillos in the GOP primary to run against U.S. Senator Robert Menendez this November. For the past month or so Eichmann, Winkler and Zeundt have been waging one of the most vicious campaigns of personal destruction I’ve ever witnessed – one replete with Open Public Records Access (OPRA) searches.
Here’s the head-scratcher: Qarmout is a political neophyte who has never held office or even been involved in political causes. He has no meaningful name recognition outside of his hometown of Newton and zero campaign experience – or even a credible campaign organization – and a cursory glance at his candidacy is enough to conclude that he has as much chance of defeating Kyrillos as the Titanic had of surviving the collision with that iceberg.
And yet, Eichmann proceeded to uncover a plethora of personal and professional baggage, from the sublimely ridiculous (posting campaign lawn signs too early in the primary) to the profoundly serious (selling counterfeit cigarettes and liquor license infractions). This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing to do, as it would come out eventually – either later in the primary campaign or in the general election campaign.
It wasn’t so much the information uncovered that was wrong, but the manner in which it was used: instead of presenting his findings in a dispassionate political analysis, Eichmann twisted and distorted it to portray Qarmout as a shady, soulless crook and a phony conservative – all without ever picking up the phone to actually speak with the target of his attacks.
To the likes of Eichmann, Winkler and Zeundt, Bader Qarmout is not a person or even a candidate…he’s an obstacle in Joe Kyrillos’ path to nomination by acclamation, which necessarily means he’s a target that must be eliminated. Eichmann is doing everything in his power to accomplish this, which doesn’t say much beyond the defamation of Qarmout but speaks volumes about the character and integrity of Eichmann and his cohorts, which is to say: there is none.
Zeundt is an arrogant egotist – convinced that he alone is the arbiter of all things conservative – who is incapable of ever admitting a mistake unless compelled to do so after being publicly humiliated. In this respect, he’s a textbook Conservative Jacobin who cleaves to his own perception of conservatism with no tolerance for deviation.
Eichmann and Winkler? Not so much. Both are political opportunists who gravitate to any group of power players they believe can advance their careers or agendas. As faithful lackeys of the CLC, they did their best to strongarm the Tea Party movement and ultimately failed after I exposed them – along with Lonegan and Doherty.
Now that they are no longer capable of hijacking Movement Conservatism, the CLC – in the person of Mike Doherty – currently seeks the embrace of the Establishment GOP. Makes sense…you go where the political bread gets buttered, right? And at this time the butter churn is located in the Leonard Lance re-election campaign, where Mike Doherty is Lance’s campaign manager for Sussex County. By a curious dint of coincidence, Eichmann and Winkler worked for Doherty last year (it was Doherty’s shameful refusal to publicly disavow their attacks on the Bayshore group that earned him the moniker “West Point Weasel.”)
Is it possible that Eichmann and Winkler are still associated with Doherty and are now allied with the Lance campaign? While there is no readily observable evidence of such an association, it certainly fits the observed facts and explains why Eichmann’s attacks on Bader Qarmout are so viciously malicious: it is imperative that Qarmout drop out of the primary so that Kyrillos faces no opposition and therefore no one to call out that the emperor wears no conservative clothes. It also explains why the reader has yet to see a similar proctological exam performed on Joltin’ Joe. Interesting, no?
All of this raises a couple of intriguing questions in light of the fact that David Larsen – arguably the only remaining high-profile Movement Conservative (other than Scott Garret) is running for federal office and stands directly in the path of Leonard Lance’s uncontested nomination in the most conservative congressional district in New Jersey:
Will Eichmann and Winkler attempt to do to David Larsen what they are presently doing to Bader Qarmout?
Will Dick Zeundt – who advised the Larsen Campaign in 2010 and ostensibly supports David Larsen today – tolerate such attacks if and when they occur?
One thing is certain: this GOP primary will be one of the nastiest in recent memory.