Marek Warszawski

Nunes’ ad strategy: When you have no confidence in your message, attack the messenger

What’s wrong, Devin? Scared of a little sunshine?

Politicians who can’t stand on their own track record, or who have something to hide, typically are.

Officially, Congressman Devin Nunes is running for re-election to the House of Representatives in California’s 22nd district against challenger Andrew Janz in November.

Unofficially, Nunes is campaigning against The Fresno Bee. The same “left-wing rag” that has endorsed him every two years since 2002.

What have we done to trigger Nunes into chipping off at least $30,000 from his $7 million war chest in an absurd, desperate attempt to discredit Central California’s leading news organization? Let’s sum up:

● We had the temerity to ask Nunes why he doesn’t hold town halls or do meet-and-greets with anyone except wealthy donors. (For this, he went on a petulant rant.)

● We reported Nunes is an investor in a Napa Valley winery, owned by a friend, that was sued by an employee for civil rights violations, intentional infliction of emotional distress and sexual harassment following a fundraiser held on a yacht.

Never did the story imply that Nunes was present or had knowledge of the events. It simply reported on the lawsuit, and Nunes was given the chance to respond. He’s a part-owner of the winery and our Congressman. That makes it newsworthy.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, exits the White House in 2017. Pablo Martinez Monsivais Associated Press

● We, through our McClatchy D.C. colleagues, reported Nunes used political donations to pay for $15,000 worth of Boston Celtics tickets, nearly $43,000 on hotels, meals and site rentals in Las Vegas and thousands more on wineries and limousine service outside his district.

Those are facts, not attacks.

● The Bee’s editorial board called Nunes a “stooge” in a headline and charged him with “doing dirty work for House Republican leaders trying to protect President Donald Trump in the Russia investigation.”

Nunes may not appreciate being described in such a fashion. Except he himself all but confirmed it during a closed-door fundraiser that was secretly taped. Whoops.

● I, too, have been tough on Nunes, and for reasons that have nothing to do with Trump, Russia, collusion, deep states or Communist fish.

Why? Because after 16 years on Capitol Hill, you can’t point to any major legislative victories that benefit his constituents. Water? Not an extra drop. Immigration? Still no bill for farmworkers or Dreamers. Highway 99? Still dreadful. Tariffs on Valley-grown nuts and fruits? Not a peep.

As opposed to previous elections, Nunes is facing a strong opponent in Janz. But because he has no platform to campaign on besides a few conspiracy theories, he resorts to attacking the local newspaper.

Take Nunes’ latest radio ad. A female voice tells us Fresno businessman, philanthropist and Nunes campaign chair Bob Smittcamp wants us to hear this message, though evidently not enough to lend his own pipes.

“On behalf of the campaign committee, we’re responding to The Fresno Bee’s personal attacks on Devin and by extension on us.”

Except there haven’t been any personal attacks on Nunes. Only illumination of his business and campaign dealings and criticism about his job performance. All fair game.

And the “by extension” part couldn’t be more preposterous. Besides the fact that Nunes isn’t “us” by any means – when was the last time you sat courtside at an NBA game or ate at a five-star restaurant on someone else’s dime? – the criticisms are of Nunes alone.

Rep. Devin Nunes has served eight terms in Congress and is running for a ninth. But instead of campaigning against Democratic challenger Andrew Janz, he’s campaigning against The Fresno Bee in radio ads. J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press

“We have implemented sound strategies to ensure the Valley’s strong representation in Washington and for Devin to travel the country to help Devin elect other Republicans who will support water and other Valley priorities.”

What those “sound strategies” are, the ad doesn’t say. They certainly haven’t produced results, even though Nunes is such a star in the GOP. See the disconnect?

Oh, by the way, guess where Nunes spent his August recess. Not at home meeting with constituents but in Azerbaijan. Are there Republican candidates there, too?

“Based on our direct personal experience we know that The Bee’s stories attacking Devin are entirely false.”

What’s false? Please tell us. Not his eyebrow-raising campaign-donor spending. Not his financial ties to a Napa winery that got sued and settled. And certainly not his self-admitted protection of Trump, “or else this all goes away.”

“Derived from baseless insinuations by liberal groups this reporting violates basic journalistic standards on ethics, objectivity and fact checking.”

Refuse to speak to us, then claim “fake news” when stories aren’t balanced per paragraph or facts come out that Nunes would rather keep hidden away. It’s a flimsy tactic.

“As lifelong members of the Valley community and overseers of Devin’s campaign activity we view these false charges by The Bee as intolerable attacks on our own integrity and honesty.”

Again, what false charges? The ad doesn’t say, because they’re make believe. Just more distortion to cover up Nunes’ sorry legislative track record and abandonment of his district.

Everyone assumes Nunes’ seat is safe, since voters of the 22nd district tilt so heavily Republican. But his attack ads on my place of employment suggest he’s squirming behind the scenes.

When you don’t have confidence in your message, attack the messenger.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee