The tale of the tapes

History really isn’t the same thing, over and over again. But sometimes it sure seems that way.

Take the recent appearance of a tape of a conversation between Sharron Angle, the Republican Senate candidate the Tea Party loves, and Scott Ashjian, the Tea Party candidate the Tea Party opposes.

Angle wanted Ashjian to withdraw, telling him, “I’m not sure I can win if you’re hurting my chance.”  She said her party’s leaders “don’t want me back there … because they know I’ll shake this mess up. … I shook it up in Carson City, they hated me there … 41-to-Angle was not a compliment.”  She said, “That’s really all I can offer to you is whatever juice I have, you have as well.” She has “juice” with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and two of his more retrograde caucus members, Tom Coburn, who hates everybody equally, and Jim DeMint, who seems to mostly hate pregnant unmarried women and gays.

So, Angle claims to have had influence in Carson City that she clearly lacked—41-to-Angle actually reflects her ineffectiveness. She boasts of connections in Washington, which is the opposite of the outsider she claims to be in describing her legislative record, not to mention the premise of her campaign. Further, she’s clearly a closet atheist and a terrible political analyst because she said God all but chose her to run for the Senate, and now Ashjian has the power to overcome God’s will. If you want to know how bad it could be for Angle, notice how the Las Vegas Review-Journal tried to spin the story against Harry Reid when it finally got around to covering it.

Is this the first time an insurgent candidate opposing a supposedly unpopular senator from Nevada has been caught on tape trying to self-immolate and revealing new depths of hypocrisy? Of course not.

Let’s return to 1952, when America liked Ike but loved Lucy. Democrat Pat McCarran had been reelected two years before, but suffered from bad press (Hank Greenspun’s Las Vegas Sun reamed him almost daily) and declining popularity, thanks partly to a large influx of new arrivals who didn’t appreciate his ability at delivering federal pork to Nevada and his ties to his power on Capitol Hill, not to mention his propensity for causing controversy. Sound familiar?

McCarran’s junior colleague, Republican George Malone, had won six years before, due mainly to Democratic divisions. He was supposed to lose his reelection bid to Democratic party favorite Alan Bible, but a funny thing happened in the primary: Bible lost to Tom Mechling, who ran outside the party mainstream. Not that Bible looked like Sue Lowden or mentioned chickens, but he ran an inept campaign, enabling someone outside the party apparatus to squeak by.

Mechling barely noticed Malone.
He ran on an anti-McCarran platform, blistering McCarran as running a corrupt machine that Bible represented—and it paid off in the primary.
But during the general election campaign, instead of seeking party unity, Mechling kept pounding the Senate Goliath and painting himself as an incorruptible David.

Then came the tape. Mechling sought a meeting with two of McCarran’s financial angels, developer Norm Biltz and lobbyist John Mueller. He told them, “I would tell [McCarran] face to face I need somebody to show me around …. We want to win this election. Uh, we don’t want to keep this party split up.”  As Biltz later said, Mechling told them “that if we would back him we could have anything we wanted. We could have 50 percent of him. That was his expression.”

Biltz played the tapes for reporters, who had generally favored Mechling. The tapes demonstrated Mechling wasn’t the maverick or purist he claimed to be—that he was, in fact, a charlatan. As McCarran’s biographer Jerome Edwards wrote, “It was the tapes, not McCarran, that beat Mechling …. They tore Mechling’s previous stories to shreds.”

In the end, Mechling wasn’t what he seemed and lost to Malone. Angle seemed to be honestly reactionary and anti-politician. It turns out she is exactly the kind of person she claims to be running against, with one key difference: he’s a more honest politician, and she isn’t a good one.