In 2006, Virginia Senate incumbent George Allen dashed his political career when he threw an obscure racial epithet at a young man who had been sent to record him in the hopes of capturing just such an incident. The era of real-time gaffe tracking was born. A progressive super PAC named American Bridge 21st Century is recording every utterance of the republican presidential contenders in the hopes of capturing a terminal slip of the tongue. American Bridge President Rodell Mollineau lays out the stakes for Bob.
Song: Stars & Stripes Forever
Stars & Stripes Forever
The gaffe-tracking enterprise that Paul Waldman mentioned a minute ago has become industrial in scale, thanks to groups like American Bridge 21st Century, a progressive so-called super-PAC that deploys trackers with video cameras to primary states to capture every word uttered by a Republican candidate. After all, a really serious gaffe can kill an election run.
Consider the mother of all gaffes, Senator George Allen's “macaca” moment in 2006. The Virginia Republican noticed one of his opponent’s trackers at a campaign event and proceeded to mock him with an obscure racial epithet.
This fellow here, over here with the, the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere.
In that moment, Allen’s race for reelection and his hopes for the presidency were over. Rodell Mollineau, president of American Bridge 21st Century, says that the moment was a game changer for real time gaffe tracking.
It was truly one of the biggest unforced errors in the, the history of politics –
- what happened with George Allen. You know, as far as some of the candidates that we’re, you know, listen, we're not tricking anybody. People say stupid things and we're not forcing anyone to say the things that they are saying.
But we are there to observe it and record it and to make sure that voters know just what are on the minds of some of these candidates. We’re not editing video. This is going to be extremely transparent.
One right wing video assassin, James O'Keefe, has artfully edited video material to, in some cases, grotesquely misrepresent what took place.
Do you swear to me at this moment, hand on the Bible, that you will not alter context, meaning in any way for the political advantage? I mean, will you sign that oath?
I do. I will definitely sign that oath. The day that we go down any sort of path like that is the day that we go from being what we aspire to be, which is a respected political organization, to being Andrew Breitbart James O’Keefe or TMZ, or a tabloid.
The work that we’re doing and showing voters who these Republican candidates are, to us, is really meaningful. And we would never do anything to jeopardize that.
Okay, as long as you're in an oath signing frame of mind [LAUGHS]
- will you – will you also agree, here and now, not to take an innocent “could happen to anyone mistake,” a slip of the tongue and portray it as a somehow a smoking gun?
I mean, one candidate, for example, confused Iran and Iraq, which could kind of happen to anybody. How bloodthirsty will you be?
I'm not sure if the candidate you're talking about is Tim Pawlenty, and I hate to kick a candidate when he's down and, and out. But if it is Tim Pawlenty, American Bridge actually did catch Tim Pawlenty confusing Iraq and Iran. But it wasn't a simple mistake.
A reporter actually asked him a question, and this is where the benefit of being able to see the video from start to finish helps put things in context.
Now, granted, there are a couple of things. One, he was at the Cato Institute, which is a think tank here in Washington D.C., giving a speech on foreign policy. That’s the first thing.
Two, he's running to be the leader of the free world. And three, the reporter asked him about Iran. So Tim Pawlenty talked for about a minute, a minute and a half about Iraq. And the - the reporter was patient and then finally interrupted him and said, no, no, no, I'm asking you about Iran. And Tim Pawlenty said, yes, I know, and then continued to speak for another minute on Iraq.
I don't consider something like that bloodthirsty, and I don't necessarily think that was unfair either.
Inevitably, Republican activists will be doing approximately the same thing with Democratic candidates and with the President. Are you ready for that?
Of course. The tracking and the research, it’s part of politics today. I'd like to think that our organization can and will do it better than anyone else, in the most comprehensive way, so that we have video archives and footage of these candidates all the way through the general election.
And the other thing, too, is this isn't just the 2012 project for us. This will be a permanent piece of democratic infrastructure. And some of these candidates run again and again and a yen, and one of the things that they – they hope and pray are that people – the press, voters - forget some of their more inartful comments. So these archives of video and of research will live and breathe for some years to come.
Rodell Mollineau is president of American Bridge 21st Century, a super-PAC that describes itself as a progressive research and communications organization committed to holding Republicans accountable for their words and actions and helping you ascertain when Republican candidates are pretending to be something they're not. Your business card must be the size of a sandwich board.