If there is an eventual vice presidential vetting of Gov. Susana Martinez, R-N.M., it will begin here.
The nation’s first female Hispanic governor has been lauded as a rising Republican star, burnishing a unique profile fit for a national ticket.
But secret recordings obtained by the liberal magazine Mother Jones threaten to blemish her image before it's even fully established.
In candid conversations with her closest political aides that were published Wednesday, Martinez dubs her 2010 Democratic opponent “that little bitch,” complains that teachers “already don’t work … 2 1/2 months out of the year” and exhibits a penchant for punishing political opponents similar to the merciless retribution that landed Gov. Chris Christie’s administration in hot water.
According to the story, she’s enabled by her top political consultant, Jay McCleskey, who's referred to as “the shadow governor.” Some of the most inflammatory remarks come from a 2010 deputy campaign manager, who mocked the speech of a former legislative leader.
"Kennicott mocked the language skills of Ben Luján, a former state House speaker and a political icon to New Mexico Latinos: 'Somebody told me he's absolutely eloquent in Spanish, but his English? He sounds like a retard.'"
But perhaps more than anything, writer Andy Kroll's extensive reporting portrays Martinez as being petty and vindictive – a politician who places a premium on settling scores as opposed to building bridges. Most politicians would reveal such human flaws if they were surreptitiously recorded in the comfort of what they believed were private confines, but that doesn’t make the raw comments any less jarring.
On one hand, this is an unfavorable character sketch of Martinez, who faces re-election this year. Denigrating teachers is a no-no. Hurling the B-word is bad form.
On the other hand, the comments reveal what much of the public already assumes about politicians: They’re thin-skinned, calculating and programmed to put their own interests first.
Martinez dove into a state Senate primary race to help defeat a candidate she didn’t like. She refused to help the state party after it selected a chairman that didn’t have her blessing. She mockingly questioned the utility of a state commission on women.
Initial Republican reaction publicly has been to rally behind Martinez, in part due to distaste for Mother Jones, the outfit that rocked the 2012 presidential campaign with its publishing of Mitt Romney’s infamous 47 percent comment.
“Any time Mother Jones attacks, Republicans will rally around the ‘victim.’ It's hard to imagine a more reviled outlet than Mother Jones,” says Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush. “Tell me the worst thing she said – not her aides, but her.”
After this reporter pointed to Martinez’s remark about teachers and the salty language used to describe her 2010 opponent, Fleischer still wasn’t convinced.
“That’s it? That’s a big nothing. All those trees cut down for that? Remember Clinton on mic about Jesse Jackson? Remember Obama and people from small towns? More flexibility with Putin? Those were far more serious and no real damage was done. This is nothing,” he argues.
Rick Tyler, a GOP consultant who worked for Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign, expressed a similar sentiment: That this was an unabashed hit job to pre-emptively injure a sterling Republican contender in the making.
“Only the left reads Mother Jones and they hate any Republican, especially a Hispanic woman who wins in a state that has a deeper GOP deficit than California. I read [heralded liberal community organizer Saul] Alinksy, too. It’s the only tactic they know – destroy your enemy at all costs,” Tyler says. “I like her. She fights.”
At the same time, Tyler acknowledged that these conversations would certainly be revisited if Martinez looked to run for national office. He just doesn’t see anything in the piece as an outright disqualifier.
“My gosh, she said a swear word in a private conversation! She’s off the list!” Tyler jokes.
Kroll declined to comment on the GOP claims, but at the conclusion of his 4,800-word tome, he asserts that Martinez still has time to harness her “keen strategic instincts" and "curb her worst impulses” to avoid a Sarah Palin-like ending to her political career.
But if Martinez, as expected, cruises to re-election this fall, it’ll take more than crass language and coldhearted political calculation to diminish her in the eyes of the Republican vanguard.