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Michigan Republican Party's tactics remind me of Watergate, because both were unnecessary

Back in the 1960s, there was a hilarious TV sitcom called Get Smart, which portrayed the adventures of the world’s most inept spy.

Maxwell Smart was a bumbler who talked into his not-so-secret shoe telephone, carried around a device called the cone of silence, and never really had a clue as to what was going on.

Well, the Cold War is long over, but if he were around today, Smart would clearly have a future in politics.

This week, we learned that the Snyder re-election campaign has evidently revived some version of the classic department of dirty tricks, tactics made most famous by another Richard, the late President Nixon.

The Michigan Republican Party now admits it sent two staffers into a Mark Schauer fundraising event wearing high-tech hidden camera glasses.

Democrats later got possession of the disc, apparently because the Republicans clumsily lost it. My understanding is that it shows the two paid staffers chowing down on appetizers and worrying that the people at the event were on to them. They apparently made small talk with Lisa Brown, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, but not Schauer.

You might think Republicans would now be embarrassed.

But you’d be wrong.

Darren Littell, the state GOP’s communications director, said of spying, “Republicans do it; Democrats do it. This is a newer approach.”

Well, he has a point.

My guess is that they'd all be better off sticking with their grainy old VCR tapes, and talking into their shoes.

Two years ago, Mitt Romney’s campaign was seriously damaged by a secret video recording made at a Republican fundraiser, in which he said that he had to write off 47% of the voters, because they were freeloaders who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them.

The ethics of shooting that video are debatable, but it was not commissioned or made by the Democrats.

The bartender filmed it on his own, and gave it to the media. But that gave both parties ideas. Yet if the Republican staffers at the Schauer event were hoping to record the Democratic candidate for governor secretly proclaiming allegiance to, say, Joseph Stalin, they were disappointed.

Actually, they seem to have left, in good Maxwell Smart fashion, before Schauer spoke but after they, the spies, had consumed a lot of pineapple.

This is funny, except that it’s not.

And it does remind me of Watergate. If you don’t remember, the scandal that destroyed Nixon started when a bunch of bunglers were arrested trying to bug the phones at Democratic National Headquarters. Then as now, that’s a place where people spend all day begging donors to give them money.

What was most baffling is why the White House took the risk when it was clear the Democrats had no chance to win that election.

Here, too, it seems to me the risk to the Snyder campaign far outweighs the opportunities. The governor is ahead in the polls, and has vast cash reserves for a fall media blitz.

Schauer’s campaign is hardly as hopeless as George McGovern’s, but he is an underdog. Kids love toys, and I think sometimes new high-tech gadgets become irresistible, whether using them makes any sense or not.

My guess is that they’d all be better off sticking with their grainy old VCR tapes, and talking into their shoes.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan. 

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