Tuesday night will mark the end of one of the most stunningly dishonest political campaigns in American history: that of Steve Stockman for Senate. Stockman’s campaign seemed to violate every ethical and social norm in politics. Usually, when political campaigns violate the rules, it is because of their lust to win. Stockman seemingly never cared about winning the Republican nomination from Senator John Cornyn. Instead, the entire campaign came across as a strange grift; a con performed by a fifth rate Harold Hill who somehow thought that the Tea Party made a better racket than leading a boys band. Stockman, who served one term in the House in the mid 1990s before returning to Congress in 2012, has gained attention for his Twitter trolling and strange publicity stunts in office but precious little else.
It was easy to portray Stockman’s campaign as just some kind of hustle or strange performance art—-the marriage of Andy Kaufman and Michele Bachmann. The Texas congressman seemed to be invisible on the campaign trail… and everywhere else. At one point, he hadn’t made a public appearance for weeks while his staff refused to respond to basic inquiries. Instead, the Texas congressman limited his interactions to the public to ghostwritten tweets by his communications director and blast emails attacking Cornyn in BIG CAPITOL LETTERS.
But while Stockman’s attacks on Cornyn were spectacularly over-the-top——it’s one thing for a Tea Partier to attack the No. 2 Republican in the Senate as an insufficiently conservative member of the establishment but constantly calling Cornyn “a liberal” lent itself to parody. However, compared to most of the statements coming from the Texas congressman’s campaign, it’s relatively truthful. After all, it’s not a bald-faced lie.
Stockman’s campaign has repeatedly claimed endorsements that it did not receive. In January, his campaign’s website had a section called “past and present endorsements.” It was heavy on the “past endorsements,” including that of a conservative activist who had been dead for months.
Stockman’s campaign has also recently sent out a press release claiming that he had been endorsed by the head of a prominent Tea Party group. He hadn’t been and the quote he cited was three months old. His campaign has also explicitly lied about its rare interactions with reporters and published fake newspapers that featured insanely outrageous claims “Stockman’s Sanctity of Life Act Overturns Roe v. Wade” while managing to violate campaign finance laws at the same time.
Perhaps the ultimate chutzpah is Stockman’s campaign now issuing threats that “any person or media organization” that publishes Stockman’s mugshot from a 1977 arrest when the Texas congressman was caught trying to smuggle valium in his underpants into jail to serve a weekend sentence. In a statement, Stockman’s campaign claims that, based on the advice of unnamed court officials in Michigan (where the arrest occurred), they have grounds to file criminal complaints for reporting about an arrest that Stockman once freely talked to journalists about.
This is not Stockman’s only brush with the law. His campaign has also run into issues with the FEC for campaign finance irregularities and his campaign finance disclosures about his own income have been incomplete and raise serious questions about how the congressman earned a living when not serving in public office.
But Stockman’s ultimate sin is a campaign that has shown a fundamental disrespect for the democratic process. He’s not trying to win or even advance an ideological agenda. Instead, it’s the worst kind of grift that is designed to separate gullible donors from their money and put it in his campaign’s coffers. There is not even the pretense of actual interaction with voters. Tea Party leaders have complained that Stockman has not shown up to any events. One Texas Tea Party activist noted in an epic understatement: “Day to day, just getting hold of him, that’s just not Steve, I guess.” Instead, the Stockman campaign simply sends blast emails to potential donors and tweets a lot.
American politics has been rife with liars, crooks, and con artists ever since our country’s founding. But they invariably put in at least some effort to convince voters of their virtue and donors to cut a check. Stockman is different. He has failed to give Texans even the modicum of respect required to actively scam them. Stockman just may be the lamest, laziest grifter in the history of the United States and his departure from public life can only improve the political discourse in our country.