Legendary GOP Bamboozler Hitches Wagon To Tea Party Brand

September 1, 2009 10:56 a.m.

Remember Howard Kaloogian? He was the Republican House candidate who in 2006 tried to pass off a picture of a quiet Istanbul street as having been taken during a trip he made to Baghdad — then told a string of additional lies in trying to explain what happened.

Well, he’s back. And this time he’s taking the bamboozlement to a whole new level.Kaloogian is the chair of Our Country Deserves Better, a GOP-affiliated PAC which has just launched what it calls the “Tea Party Express” bus tour. The tour — which made a stop over the weekend in Elko, Nevada, where it kicked off a round of awkward dancing — is the latest effort to organize the Tea Partiers into a cohesive movement.

Also involved in the effort is Sal Russo, the heavy-hitting California Republican political consultant and former Reagan aide who ran Kaloogian’s ill-fated congressional campaign.

In 2005, Kaloogian and Russo teamed up to create Moving America Forward, which used conservative radio hosts to, as a spokesman put it, “report the good news on Operation Iraqi Freedom you’re not hearing from the old line news media.” It was a “Truth Tour,” organized by MAF and the Defense Department’s Office of Media Outreach, that Kaloogian claimed his Istanbul picture came from. Around the same time, Russo’s firm signed a contract with the Kurdish government to promote Kurdish interests in the U.S., including T.V. advertising.

Now it looks like Kaloogian and Russo may have spotted their latest opportunity for political agit-prop. As with other Tea-Party-branded rallies, the anti-government types who are showing up for the tour’s events appear motivated by a range of issues, from health-care to taxes to an unfounded fear of government control of the internet. The savvy activist who can cohere this inchoate anxiety into some kind of movement could turn himself into a powerful player in GOP circles. Never mind that Kaloogian and Russo’s GOP insider operation doesn’t do much for the supposed grassroots cred of the Tea Party brand.

The PAC’s vice chair, talk radio host Mark Williams, said as much to NPR: “It’s about time for somebody to run to the front of the parade. [To say] follow me and to try to herd all these cats into a semi-coherent message.”

And who better to do it than our old friend Kaloogian?

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