As Donald Trump insists to supporters that the election is about to be stolen from him, his campaign is putting its poll-watching operation in the hands of a man intimately tied to the racist machine that has tried to delegitimize President Barack Obama for the past eight years.
The campaign has hired a man named Mike Roman to run its voting integrity efforts in November, the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs reports.
Roman’s major contribution to American public life is that his website, ElectionJournal.org, first published video of guys from the New Black Panther Party standing outside a Philadelphia polling place in 2008.
Fox News quickly picked up on Roman’s video and used it in a months-long smear of the Obama administration. It was mid-2010, and the right was hungry for something to substantiate the notion that Barack Obama was a white-hating racist.
Roman’s video clip of would-be paramilitaries outside a Philadelphia polling place in 2008 couldn’t slander Obama on its own. Fox News turned to a longtime GOP operative named J. Christian Adams, who insisted he’d witnessed Obama officials at the Department of Justice trying to sweep the NBPP incident under the rug during his time at the agency.
Adams’ story is riddled with factual holes. The administration had in fact won a default judgment against the guy holding the billy club in the video, after Bush administrators opted not to pursue the case. Some members of Fox’s own team eventually turned against the smear, though not until the network had aired Adams’ claims and Roman’s video in roughly 100 separate segments.
The episode captures the essence of anti-Obama derangement from those first two years he held office. Right-wing radio figures like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh would insist the Obamas hated white America. Operatives like Roman and Adams would furnish a sorry excuse for proof of that charge. And the main column of the Republican Party would wake up knowing it would be a little easier to flat-out obstruct an absurdly popular president than it had been the day before.
Roman’s elevation now to an important position in the Trump campaign’s endgame preparations is a reminder of how the cult-like Obama hatred that the GOP harnessed for electoral gains eventually consumed the party. Thanks in part to his role in fueling the “racist Obama” narrative, the career operative got a chance to start writing for Breitbart. He penned 13 pieces for the site, most of them about voter fraud, while running a separate blog covering the subject and designing a smartphone app that was supposed to help conservatives root out election cheats at the polls.
Trump’s new hire has had a litany of odd jobs in Republican politics going back to his time with Philadelphia’s city government in the early 2000s. But he kept a hand in the voter-fraud paranoia realm throughout his various different stops around the right-wing infrastructure. Some of that work, like the Breitbart posts, was intended for the red-meat conservative public. But he also appears to have been a go-to name for conservative operatives looking to tilt at the election-rigging windmill.
When right-wing activist James O’Keefe tried to pull together one of his undercover video operations in the Boston area in 2010, at the behest of right-wing button-pushers Foster Friess and John Fund, Roman was one of the people the disgraced smear merchant reached out to for tactical advice. A couple years earlier, O’Keefe had managed to destroy an organizing collective called ACORN — which Roman himself had been targeting for years on his election fraud website, with minimal success — with deceptively edited videos that tricked the media into believing ACORN had tried to help cover up child prostitution.
The particulars of Roman’s resume only reinforce the sense that Trump’s outfit is gearing up for a voter suppression effort far more explicit and modern than the traditional GOP approach. Republicans used to rely on a tactic called voter caging, where operatives would try to get tens of thousands of voters tossed off the rolls because they hadn’t responded to a sham letter generated by the party ahead of election day.
Old, subtle, low-fi methods aren’t a natural fit to Trump’s brash persona, or a campaign powered by people who roar for violence — with their candidate’s encouragement — anytime someone protests at a rally. In Roman, Trump’s hired a man familiar with a much louder, more confrontational approach to keeping political opponents off the Election Day scoresheet.
In southern Pennsylvania in 2004, Republican poll-watchers challenged every voter they thought looked like a Democrat. A voting line at the University of Pittsburgh stalled out for hours as GOP operatives tried to force provisional ballots on student-aged voters they believed were not properly registered, and stubborn election officials called the central office to confirm registrations one by one. With Trump urging supporters to go police polling places around the country next month, the confrontational tenor of that day in 2004 may end up looking downright quaint.
Roman was in charge of Election Day operations in Pennsylvania that year for the Republican National Committee. Two years later, he ran voting day nationwide for the party.
His work at the helm of the GOP’s Election Day machine must have been good, judging by the jobs that came afterward. He was a regional political director for Rudy Giuliani’s failed bid for the 2008 nomination. He helped Scott Brown win a special Senate election in Massachusetts the next year, and then guided Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) to a win in 2010.
After a year as chief of staff to a one-term Illinois Republican, Roman found an odd niche inside the Koch political empire. The multi-billionaire conservative tycoons hired Roman to run a sort of in-house security operation, patrolling for leaks and keeping tabs on opponents.
Roman reportedly took to the job with conspiratorial zeal, Politico’s Ken Vogel reported in 2015, running the brothers’ intelligence agency “all cloak and dagger — like the CIA.”