Transcription – Chris LaCivita Interview

Q: Why?

LACIVITA: It’s just — I mean, no one pays attention to billboard advertising. It’s just not, you know — I mean, you do it for public — you know, you’ll do it for earned media or you do something, you know, but it’s not an effective tool of campaign advertising. But I remember the two top guys, Blair Hull and this other gentleman who were running were beating the living hell out of each other with tens of millions of dollars of TV advertising. [01:44:00] And Blair Hull, who was going to win, I mean he was — and even though he was a very crippled candidate, and they were pounding him, and this guy named Barack Obama has no money, no contacts, no nothing, was just sitting back watching the two top guys take each other out. We now call that the Mike Rounds effect, Mike Rounds being the governor of South Dakota, soon to be US Senator, who won because the two Republican nominees’ top guys took them out, and he slid up to top and won the nomination. But, you know, mutually assured destruction results in a victory for someone. And so, Blair — and then Blair Hull’s divorce papers get popped out, found out that he engaged, whatever, there were some things that he did, and Barack Obama literally walks in, wins the nomination by default. Jack wins the Republican nomination and, you know, we’re plotting and doing all these things, and Jack’s married to a former movie star, Jeri Ryan, [01:45:00] who was on Star Trek. And there’s a lot of things that I can’t discuss, just because I’ve signed a confidentiality agreement, but there’s nothing bad. I mean in today’s world of politics it’s, you know, a husband and wife have a dispute, accusations are made in the context of a child custody case, not a divorce case, child custody, that are made in California, and the court papers are sealed, and the judge — and so people are saying oh, there’s stuff in there about Jack Ryan, and it’s going to come out, and blah-blah-blah. And so, and it’s all sexy, because it’s a former movie star. And so, they make — you know, they force us to — we go to court to try and keep the child custody papers sealed, and a judge in California, I’ll never forget the ruling, he said, it may be in — because they had a son, a young son. He said, “It may be in the best interests of the child to keep [01:46:00] these sealed, but I’m unsealing them.” So he unseals these records, and there were some, you know, things that again, involving a married couple that aren’t that bad. It’s not like he had a girlfriend or a boyfriend or whatever. I mean, you know, accusations that were made between a husband and a wife. But the Republican Party of Illinois, still smarting over the fact that Jack had beat their ass in the primary, decided, you know, I don’t — we’re not particularly happy with this. We think this is awful, and you’re a bad representation, and so they essentially forced Jack out. Now understand, we had spent — Jack had spent $5 million of his own money, he was prepared to spend probably $10 million more to engage in a race against Barack Obama. We had done over $100,000 in opposition research on Obama, we had [01:47:00] tons of ideas and I mean, it was a real — this was a real operating campaign, it was the real — I mean, we were prepared. And, you know, I remember Jack coming to me and saying, “Can I win this race?” Because all Jack wanted to do was talk about education. He had some great ideas about education, and he said, “Do you think I can win this race?” I said, “Look, it’s a crapshoot. It’s a Democrat state, but in a presidential year, but if we” — and I remember telling him this, and it was telling him this in a hotel room when we were meeting. And I told him, I said, “We have to create a — we have to blow the state up. Just, you know, we have to make Obama’s unfavorables as bad as yours. We have to totally annihilate him politically, and make him untenable. And hopefully, [01:48:00] people will walk in and say they’re going to vote for the lesser of two evils, and hopefully you’ll be the lesser of the two evils.” That was my strategy at that point, just because of some of the things that were said about Jack that the press would — and Jack wasn’t, you know, that’s not what he wanted to do, he didn’t want to run that kind of campaign. But what pushed that chain of thought for him along was the fact that he’s got his own party deep sixing him, demanding that he push out, and that he pull out, and if you’re not getting any support from your own party, I mean then what’s the point? So here he secures the nomination soundly, and his own party is out there knifing him. So he just says to hell with it, he drops out. He drops out, and the party replaces him with some guy named Alan Keyes, who at the time was living in Maryland. And who couldn’t raise any money, was not a credible candidate, and didn’t lay a glove on Obama. And Obama walks into [01:49:00] the Senate — you know, get reelected, and the rest is history. I can assure you of this. Had Jack Ryan had the support of his party, he would have stayed as the party’s nominee, and I don’t know how 2004 would have ended up at the end of the day.

Q: Do you think that at a minimum, Obama would have been —

LACIVITA: Damaged goods. He would not — there’s no way that — there is no way that he would have been viewed as cleanly and as, you know, just I mean, there wasn’t anything out there on him. I mean, he had no — there was no serious opposition. I mean, none of the issues that were raised by the Clintons had been raised prior to that point, when he would have been at his most vulnerable, when (inaudible) would have been at his most vulnerable with dealing with that. And we would have had a resource [01:50:00] advantage. Clearly had a resource advantage. So, and it’s one of those moments in history when, you know, hindsight, but wow.

Q: Well, that’s part of the 2004 story.

LACIVITA: It absolutely is.

Q: (inaudible) Well, listen, Chris, thank you so much for your time and talent and commitment to this enterprise.

LACIVITA: Well, I’m glad to be here and thanks for the opportunity. Appreciate it.

Chris LaCivita Interview, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University, The Election of 2004 Collective Memory Project, August 11, 2014, accessed at

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