Over the last eight years, the Bush administration’s approach to governing has been characterized by a reflexive penchant for secrecy, a willingness to stonewall legitimate investigations, and an aggressive media relations strategy, which sees the press as just another interest group, rather than as playing an important public function.
In recent days, the McCain-Palin campaign has doubled down on that same governing style in shutting down the Trooper-Gate investigation.
When Trooper-Gate first broke, Palin pledged full cooperation. But in the last week, the McCain-Palin campaign has brought in a high-powered ex-federal prosecutor and a team of communications experts to all but shut down the probe.
Essentially co-opting the office of state Attorney General, and working closely with Palin’s own lawyer, the GOP operatives — led by Ed O’Callaghan, a former terrorism prosecutor with the US Attorney’s office in New York, and Megan Stapleton, a GOP operative who had worked on Palin’s 2006 campaign for governor — have ensured that many of the key witnesses subpoened in the case, including the Palins themselves, have refused to testify. (No witnesses showed up to a committee hearing today.) At daily press conferences, they’ve disparaged a respected former public employee, Walt Monegan, offering an entirely new line on why Palin fired him. They’ve made flatly false statements designed to paint the Democratic legislator overseeing the probe, Hollis French, as having overstepped his authority and as running a partisan witch-hunt. And they’ve aggressively challenged reporting that they’ve perceived as unfavorable — in one case, as we reported yesterday, by phoning a reporter at home to complain about an accurate story.
There’s little question that despite — or perhaps because of — these efforts, the tone of the Trooper-Gate coverage has grown noticeably more negative in the last few days. And Alaska-based commentators and bloggers have reacted with fury in recent days to the McCain-Palin camp’s tactics.
In an unusually pointed editorial published yesterday, the state’s most prominent newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News concluded: “Palin and McCain are trying to ignite a partisan firestorm that wipes out the Troopergate investigation until after the election.”
And in an opinion piece published Tuesday in the same paper, conservative radio host Dan Fagan — a frequent Palin critic — referred to Palin’s “transparent delay tactics,” and argued that “Americans deserve to know what Palin is trying to hide before we vote her a heartbeat away from the leader of the free world.”
Bloggers have been even more critical. One at Alaska Report, a liberal site that has tracked corruption in Alaska state government, wrote yesterday: “National political assassins have invaded Alaska. They were visible and in full force at the McCain-Palin press conference yesterday. Alaskans don’t roll that way.”
And another at Mudflats — tagline: “Tiptoeing through the muck of Alaskan politics” — added: “The damage that this stonewalling has had on Sarah Palin’s ‘image,’ that the out-of-state lawyers and the McCain campaign were trying so fervently to craft, has yet to be measured.”
There may be signs that the angry reaction to the GOP tactics has spread beyond opinion writers. Matt Zensey, the ADN‘s editorial page editor, told TPMmuckraker that letters to the editor had been running at somewhere between 60 and 66 percent anti-Palin in recent days.
“We are not alone among those who are taken aback” by Palin’s abrupt transformation from a being an advocate of openness and accountability to stone-walling the investigation at every turn, said Zensey. “People are noticing the disconnect.”
Zensey said that the take-no-prisoners tactics of the McCain-Palin PR team are not in keeping with Alaska’s tradition of civil political discourse. “The 11-minute tirade that Megan Stapleton launched against Walt Monegan is something that was unfamiliar to a lot of Alaskans.”
Zensey added: “The politics of personal destruction have come to Alaska.”
Still, what ultimately matters is whether the dissatisfaction with Palin’s about-face on Trooper-Gate filters into the broader narrative of the presidential campaign. Already, though, Democrats may being taking comfort in the fact that, in recent days, her national approval ratings appear to have slipped noticeably.