Last week, the Republican Governors Association, chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), launched an attack ad that wasn’t just ugly, it displayed unusual hostility for American norms.
In this case, the spot targeted South Carolina gubernatorial hopeful Vincent Sheheen, an accomplished lawyer who’s worked both as a prosecutor and a criminal-defense attorney, and who’s now taking on incumbent Gov. Nikki Haley (R). The RGA made the case that Sheheen’s defense work is proof that he “protects criminals, not South Carolina.”
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that in “all criminal prosecutions,” the accused will “have the Assistance of Counsel” for a competent defense, but for Christie’s RGA, those who serve in this vital, noble role in the American justice system are necessarily disqualified from higher office.
The condemnations came quickly last week, and late Friday, the American Bar Association joined them. The RGA heard the criticisms, weighed the arguments, and decided to launch another attack ad on criminal-defense work.
The Republican Governors Association doubled down Monday on a line of attack on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen.Sen. Sheheen, D-Camden, who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, is a general practice lawyer. The RGA has focused on several cases where Sheheen helped get reduced sentences for those convicted of crimes against women, and they honed in one such case in their second ad on the issue.
Like the first one, this second attack ad, which you can see in its entirety here, concludes, “Vincent Sheheen: he represents criminals, not us.”
There is a striking audacity to the RGA’s strategy. After last week’s ad, the attorney representing Christie’s own campaign in the New Jersey Bridge scandal called the commercial “a disgrace.” Charlie Condon, the former South Carolina Attorney General and the former chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association, called for the ad to be “taken down.”
The non-partisan South Carolina Bar Association pushed back even harder, as did the American Bar Association.
And it’s at this point that the Republican Governors Association appears to have concluded, “Look at all the attention we’re getting! Let’s make the same scurrilous attack all over again!”
So much for constitutional conservatism. By the RGA’s reasoning, John Adams’ defense for the perpetrators of the Boston Massacre in 1770 means he shouldn’t have been permitted to become president, and more recently, John Roberts’ defense of a mass murderer should have kept him from joining the Supreme Court.
Of course, I rather doubt the RGA would concede the point. In fact, it’s unlikely they’re thinking about niceties such as principles and respect for the American system at all. Rather, this is about the ends justifying the means – if Christie’s group can run an attack ad that works, they will, regardless of any other consideration.
If the attack ad gets attention, they’ll do it again because for the RGA campaign operation, propriety is ultimately irrelevant.