Dirty Tricks Without Illusions
Friday, January 18, 2008
Allen Raymond is out of prison now, and out of politics, too. The former Republican campaign operative did his time in federal prison for dirty tricks in the 2002 election. Now he's sitting on the couch in the bright, airy living room of his big brick house in Bethesda, looking back over the wreckage of his political career.
"When I got into politics, I had no illusions," he says. "But I left completely disillusioned."
A decade ago, Raymond was running six states for the Republican National Committee, but his old RNC cronies abandoned him as soon as he got into trouble. "I didn't even get a phone call," he says. Now he's out of work, with no hope of ever getting a job in politics again.
"Who would hire me?" he asks. "And why would I want to work for anybody who would hire me?"
Raymond, 40, emerged from federal prison in 2006 after serving a three-month sentence, and now he has written a book about his career in politics. Titled "How to Rig an Election," it might be the most cynical American political memoir to appear since 1905, when Tammany Hall ward boss George Washington Plunkitt published a famous book revealing that his political philosophy was "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."
Raymond also seen his opportunities and took 'em, and now he updates Plunkitt for the age of the campaign consultant: "The worst kind of client you can have is one who holds too firmly to his or her ideals. . . . Election operatives like myself and the kind of politicians who hire us have ensured that idealists can't win elections. Only the cynics are making the laws."
In the book, Raymond confesses to the crime that sent him to prison: a conspiracy to shut down the phones used by New Hampshire's Democratic Party on the day of a very close Senate election by flooding the lines with computer-generated calls. He also confesses to countless other questionable acts during his decade-long career -- acts that fall somewhere on the spectrum between the merely tawdry and the truly sleazy.
His worst deed, he says, was not the one that sent him to prison. It was arranging for white ethnic voters in New Jersey to receive recorded phone messages touting a Democratic congressional candidate in an accent Raymond describes as "angry black man." But as he tells that story, he can't help smiling, even though his candidate lost by 481 votes.
"Some people say, 'That's terrible!' " he says. "But as I said in the book, what's more terrible -- that I'm doing it, or that I'm getting the reaction that I knew I was gonna get? To me, you're hired to do a job, and the job is to win. There's a lot of money being spent and there are careers on the line and there's a lot of power on the table, and so you have an obligation to do the best job you can to get the outcome your clients want, which is to win."
Raymond didn't perform his dirty tricks because he was a passionate ideologue or even a committed Republican. He could have worked for either party: "I wasn't in it for a cause. To me it was a business. Politics is an industry. There's a lot of money there."
What Raymond loved about politics was the game, the competition, the bare-knuckle combat. "You're shooting bullets over your opponent's bow, you're trying to kill him politically," he says. "I mean, it's all nonsense -- believe me, it's all nonsense -- but there's a sense that you're living by your wits. It's not a 9-to-5 job. You're not working for IBM. And there's a sense that I eat what I kill and that's how I'm going to survive. That was the fun for me."
'The Truth Is Malleable'
Allen Raymond might fall into the category of "colorful rogue" except that he's not particularly colorful. With his bald head, pudgy face and rimless glasses, he looks like a prosperous dentist and speaks like a former preppy, which he is.