Inside the McAuliffe Campaign: Polling, Dancing, and Tumult as the Finish Line Approaches -- Part 2

Paid operatives stand with tiki-torches in an attempt to smear Glenn Youngkin as a racist (Credit: @holmes_reports)

In this second part of an exclusive for RedState, fictional freelancer Martin I. Tiburon provides a glimpse at the inner workings of a gubernatorial campaign. Here he details the events that played out in Virginia on October 29. (Read Part 1 here.)

 

Operation Trader Vic

It was apparent I was going to learn about the dark plans that had been kept under wraps, as the week only got tougher for the McAuliffe team. At the campaign appearance, Biden was not his expected, charismatic self, then Terry McAuliffe danced — again. Next came the real trauma; we learned that Donald Trump would not actually be making an appearance in Virginia before the Tuesday vote.

In the conference room, the team was gathered again, this time all in a state of anger. Trump’s arrival was what the campaign needed, because then Glenn Youngkin, who has been as aloof as possible towards the former President, could be properly demonized and saddled with every single negative that Trump possesses. It would be all that was needed to power the Democratic candidate’s resurgence and make it back to the governor’s mansion. Trump staying away would make everything that much tougher.

“Is he allowed to do that?!” bellowed McAuliffe, “He’s on the record saying he was coming; he should be held to that!”

As attempts were made to calm Terry, while he mentioned possible FEC violations, Rubenstein picked up his phone. He called the fundraising office and told them to flood email inboxes with the announcement Trump was still coming. 

Before he hung up, Rubenstein said, “Squeeze out whatever dollars we can on the orange devil, for the last time.”

Then he looked everyone over before settling his gaze on Renzo, saying calmly, “Okay, what’s the plan?”

There was a tone of surrender in his delivery. Finally, I was about to become privy to the secret plot that has been held in their back pocket. I forced myself to remain calm, as all of my senses came alive; I was about to hear just what Operation Trader Vic entails.

Renzo walked everyone through the plan.

“So okay, Youngkin has a rally planned in Charlottesville, this Friday.” He looked everyone in the eye individually, even myself.

I have to admit, my heart was racing. Also, my phone was recording.

He went on. “This plays right into our plans. We all remember the darkest day in Trump’s entire term took place in that city.” Renzo was referring to when some white supremacists staged a rally that fateful Saturday and then, after counter-protestors arrived, one racist drove his car into their crowd, killing a young woman.

“What we will do is have a group of our own show up at his event, dressed exactly like those idiots that day, even give them those stupid torches to hold. This will look like those same racist fools have shown up to support Youngkin.” 

Terry McAuliffe burst out in boisterous laughter. “Holy crap! This is PERFECT!!! Marty McFly will not even know what to do!” His laughter continued. 

“I already primed the pumps with some local media. Our dorks in Social have mocked up a bunch of Facebook posts and tweets,” Renzo continued. “We’ll make it totally look organic. I fed some of the images of the postings of these guys supposedly planning things to local reporters, and that way when our crew arrives they’ll believe it is real.”

“Plus they’ll be all excited to break a national story, so they’ll be motivated to run with it.”

“Next, I’ll tip off all our regulars at the same time about any local reports — Acosta, Hayes, Tapper, Kessler, Corn. The whole thing will explode, it’ll run the entire weekend, and by Monday nobody will want to even say the name Glenn Youngkin.”

AP/Reuters Feed Library

I looked around, and Zo had convinced the group. The candidate was especially sold, grinning wildly. “Oh man, this is so great. So — who we using, the volunteers and door knockers, or…”

“No,” said Renzo, firmly. “This cannot be connected to us. We have to use cutouts, to keep this away from the campaign. We have a group ready from the Virginia Democrats outfit set to go. They will be the ones going out there, and we’ll have them paid off from the outside, not through any of our channels. We have The Lincoln Project paying them, and they are more than thrilled to be backing this.”

I looked over at Rubenstein, the lead in this office, and he slowly nodded his head, satisfied that they would be insulated from responsibility.

On Thursday afternoon, some of the volunteers came in with boxes, the kids setting them near the conference room. About an hour later, I saw a college-aged male with strawberry blonde hair arrive from a back door. He and a friend began carrying out the supplies. Even later, a huddle took place, and I saw people waving their arms, wearing concerned looks. I drifted over to listen in. 

There was a problem. A large order of “Make America Great Again” hats had been ordered, but not wanting to give any money to Trump, they placed it with an imposter outlet from China. But now, it was delayed by a few weeks; the hats were probably still floating in the harbor off Long Beach. Operation Trader Vic was being impacted by the supply chain crisis experienced in California. 

That evening, with my curiosity more than piqued, I figuratively tapped Renzo on the shoulder virtually. Weeks back, I was granted access to the campaign’s Slack channel, and at 11pm on Thursday, I saw he was online.

I probed to see how things were setting up for the next day’s plan to unfold.

How is everything going with OTV? I asked cautiously. I sensed Zo was looking for an ally, as he replied rather quickly.

  • Dude, these guys are going to give me an ulcer before I am 40!
  • Whoah, that doesn’t sound good. What’s wrong, anything I can help with?
  • Nah, it’s just deealing with these cement-heads. You know how they are, young frat-jocks overdosing on testosterone. They act like they are major D.C. operators, when they can barely operate a garage door. It’s mostly fine, I’m just herding cats, you know?
  • Yea, I get ya. What is the problem?
  • I’m here trying to coordinate tomorrow, get everything laid out and choreographed properly. They are busy having a MAGA party!
  • Um…they what?
  • Yes! I’m not sh***ing you – they are dressed up right now and having a F***ING PARTY!

Renzo then posted a picture they apparently had sent him, a cell phone shot of them in khaki pants, white shirts, and the tiki torches held over their heads, cans of beer strewn all over. It was an ugly sight.

Zo then asked if I could come in early the next day, and help him with coordination. Jake was apparently going to be out at an appearance with Terry, and Christine would be with the press at the Youngkin event; Renzo wanted me to help him out with coordinating the infiltrators.

I took another look at the photo he put up. Part of me wanted to decline, but the better part of me was all for it. This could become something else entirely.

I got in by 7:30 am the next day, let Renzo know I was there, and then tucked myself away, watching.

Things appeared normal, but there was an underlying tension in the office. As a number of people cleared out by around 9:00, the team gestured me to join Zo, and we set up in the conference room. Four laptops and a few phones were placed around for us to monitor various feeds of information. Emails, social media, and the direct lines to the agitators. Early on, things were not going well.

For starters, steady rain was hitting Charlottesville — but the real inclemency was in the thinking of the operators. Two of the players had come down ill, which I took to mean “hung-over.”

But the leader of the group assured us replacements were already in place. This made Zo a bit nervous, but that fell away when he suddenly proclaimed, “You have GOT to be kidding!” 

Asking what the problem was, he said they sent him a picture. He held out the phone for me to see. “I mean hell, they barely even match.”

Because of the MAGA hat snafu, they wore mismatched headgear, and their pants were not a uniform khaki, but an array of earth tones. He shrugged and said, “I mean, I guess it still works…”

Then something hit me. “Hang on — let me see that again,” I looked at his group once again.

“Ummm…Zo? There’s another issue.”

He leaned in beside me and asked what I meant.

I zoomed in to highlight two of the members. “Doesn’t this look like a girl?”

He mumbled a profanity, but I informed him there was more to be concerned about. I scrolled the picture over to show another member of the crew.

Despite the hat and sunglasses, it was unmistakable. One of these staged white supremacists…was clearly an African American.

After more vulgarities, he lunged for a phone.

“That’s it, I’m calling this off!” he announced, then began dialing furiously. 

I was scrolling through Twitter when I hit upon a posting. 

“Oh man…I hate to say it, but I think it’s too late for that.”

“What?! Why???” He rolled his chair over and there it was.

From Channel 29 News, one of the local reporterettes had posted a pic of the group on Twitter.

We sat in silence as we just stared at the post. The group was huddled in front of Youngkin’s bus, drenched in their random fashions, clutching their torches which bore no flames. It seemed clear, in the vacuum of that conference room, the effect was underwhelming. 

It was then that one of the phones vibrated, and I reached for it. It was a text, from one of the guys.

  • Mr. McAuliffe, quick update-

It’s raining so the torches you got for us aren’t working. Also our khakis are soaked so the Nazi flags from Oriental Trading are starting to bleed and the swastika is blotted out. We’ll try a photo by Glenn’s bus, and look racist.’

After I read the message to him, Renzo sunk his face into his palms.

“Did he actually say that — he said, ‘we’ll try looking racist’, for real?!”

I handed him the phone with the text message still on display. Then Zo grabbed for another phone. In moments, he was barking at one of his soldiers.

“Listen to me, you idiots need to get out of there, NOW! Clear out, and avoid any press around there…What?! No- NO!! Stop posing for cameras. Get – The – Hell – Out – of – there!”

He threw the phone out of the door, landing somewhere deeper in the office.

For the next few hours, Zo fielded media inquiries. It was supposed to have been a jocular time, with prepared talking points to feed to the press hyenas. Instead, in an unplanned manner, he was on defense, the stack of PR comments abandoned. Time was spent denying McAuliffe’s involvement.

Then during one call, I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to look at my laptop. Two members of the group were identified by people online as being connected to the Virginia Democrats.

Renzo now was directing the gang on what they needed to in order to scrub their social media profiles. The rest of the day was spent putting out fires, deflecting the press, and trying to get control of the narrative. The kids in the social media department were stressed out, trying futilely to combat all the memes that began circulating. One had McAuliffe dancing at an event, the video animated, with him twirling tiki torches on stage.

Things were not optimal, but through a long and valiant effort, it did look as if the office was shielded enough. No direct connection to the campaign could be made.

Then, the Lincoln Project made a public announcement that they were the force behind the appearance. Renzo saw the release and gave up. He made no sound, as he closed his Acer laptop, grabbed his messenger bag, and walked out quietly.

EPILOGUE

It was later that night when I found him, at The Big Stick bar, near the Navy Yard. He was sullenly watching game 3 of the World Series, while muttering about how their own bullpen was depleted ahead of the Tuesday vote. I took no pleasure whatsoever in breaking the news about my truthful role in the campaign. He took it well enough, a man beat down by much bigger problems.

So, I simply explained I’d be filing my piece soon, and my time in the office was finished. He drained his pint of IPA and never looked away from the television screen.

In a meek voice, Renzo asked, “Any chance you could take me with you?”

Even now, I cannot say for certain if it was gallows humor or a genuine request. 

 

Editor’s note: this is a parody piece (that is, satire). Direct all resulting scorn and praise to Brad Slager at the usual places.