How worried are Donald Trump’s allies about Gina Haspel’s confirmation as CIA director? Worried enough to start dropping serious money in red states with Democrats running for re-election. Politico reports that America First Policies will drop nearly a million dollars to run 30-second TV spots to press for more votes for Haspel’s confirmation. This ultra-kinetic spot hits Claire McCaskill, perhaps the most vulnerable red-state Democrat in November:
AMERICA FIRST POLICIES, the political group designed to boost President Donald Trump’s policies, is spending nearly $1 million on TV and digital ads to try to pressure Democratic senators to vote to confirm Gina Haspel as CIA director.
THE SENATORS that are being targeted are CLAIRE MCCASKILL in Missouri, HEIDI HEITKAMP in North Dakota and DOUG JONES in Alabama — all senators from red states. They were going to go up in Indiana, but Joe Donnelly announced he would vote for Haspel’s nomination.
THE AD SCRIPT: “ISIS, al Qaeda, foreign adversaries. To combat America’s enemies, we need proven leadership at the CIA. That’s why President Trump nominated Gina Haspel, a decorated intelligence officer admired by allies around the globe. With bipartisan support, Gina Haspel is the leader our clandestine service needs. Because she has the experience to defend America in a dangerous world. Call Senator McCaskill, tell her to support Gina Haspel for CIA director.”
Haspel almost gets lost amidst the visual effects in the spot, but that’s probably the concept. The spot sells Haspel as a point of stability in a dangerous world, the person who can take on the job and provide continuity from Day One. It looks more like an electoral campaign ad than an issue ad, and it’s not tough to imagine a Democrat using the same motif in a presidential spot. It would suit Tim Kaine perfectly, especially since he’s someone who would tend to get lost in the crowd expected for the 2020 primaries.
But why spend $1 million to push what already seems like a done deal? Both Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly have crossed the aisle already to support Haspel, and Susan Collins has given her endorsement as well. No other Republicans except for John McCain and Rand Paul have opposed Haspel — at least not publicly. Are they concerned over other potential GOP defections? This seems like money that might be better spent against these red-state Democrats in the general election, rather than five-plus months out from Election Night.
On the other hand, perhaps Josh Hawley — the man who will take on McCaskill — needs all the help he can get:
Star-struck Senate Republican leaders anointed the 38-year-old, Stanford- and Yale- educated state attorney general as their top recruit of 2018 — a squeaky-clean figure they saw as the future of the party and an ideal opponent to take on the endangered Democratic incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Yet as the campaign season kicks into high gear, many Republicans worry that Hawley — who openly admits he had no intention of running for Senate until he was pressured into it — is squandering his shot.
In interviews with more than two dozen senior Republican strategists, donors, lawmakers and local officials, Hawley was depicted as a lackadaisical candidate who has posted sluggish fundraising numbers, turned down interviews with conservative radio show hosts, and spurned traditional GOP events considered a rite of passage for a potential U.S. senator.
“I am personally baffled and disappointed that the guy I’ve had on my show numerous times over the last four years and have been supportive of has been MIA,” Mark Reardon, a veteran conservative radio show host in St. Louis whose program Hawley has shunned in recent months, said in an interview. “I’m pissed. I’m frustrated.”
Maybe the ads in Missouri are more intended to light a fire under Hawley than Trump voters. That still doesn’t explain the spending in North Dakota and especially in Alabama, where Doug Jones’ win was entirely the result of a spectacular Republican failure in the special election primary.
Another sign that the administration is concerned is this USA Today op-ed from Dan Coats, the current director of national intelligence. Coats writes that Haspel and he have learned from history and will ensure that no one has to “relearn past lessons”:
Gina has clearly demonstrated that she is a person of high integrity with valuable frontline and executive experience as a career intelligence officer, one who is willing to speak truth to power when required on behalf of our nation. Her confirmation represents important progress for the community I represent.
As a former U.S. senator from Indiana and member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I am acutely aware of past decisions made by our country as we grappled with the aftermath of 9/11. If confirmed as CIA director, Gina is committed to making sure we never have to relearn lessons of the past. As DNI, I have made that same commitment.
I ask my former colleagues in the Senate to do the right thing for our country by confirming Gina. She represents the best we have to offer as a country. Gina is a trailblazer who has earned this opportunity by serving this country in challenging assignments at home and abroad. I, along with the CIA and the entire Intelligence Community, am eager to have her at the helm of the CIA.
And Haspel herself has now disavowed the enhanced interrogation/torture program in a letter to Mark Warner, going farther than she did in her testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee:
In the letter to Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Haspel takes a position she wasn’t willing to state publicly last week, writing that the interrogation program “is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”
“While I won’t condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world,” Haspel wrote in the letter, which was obtained by CNN. “With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”
Haspel’s written comments go further than the statements she made during her public confirmation hearing last week. At the hearing, she said she would not permit the CIA to resume an interrogation program, but she also would not condemn the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program beyond saying she supported the “stricter moral standard” that is now the law.
Perhaps the Trump administration and its allies are just playing it safe, or playing for November. There’s too much pitching going on here, though, to think that there’s no need for a sales job.