Digging Up the Dirt: Mason Alum Danny Diaz Reveals How Oppositional Media Shapes a Political Campaign
October 23, 2020 / by Audrey Butler
When a candidate chooses to run for public office, they are agreeing to place not only their policies, but also their character up for critique.
People want to know who they are really voting for and the media will do its best to dig up all they can on what may lurk in their past. For that reason, the job of an “opposition media consultant” is imperative to have on the campaign team.
That was the insight offered on October 20 by Danny Diaz, a communication graduate of George Mason University who now acts as a Republican political and media strategist specializing in opposition research. Diaz was the guest on First Tuesday, a series of interviews focusing on the 2020 election cycle hosted by Mason Robinson Professor of Public Policy Steven Pearlstein.
“If you’re running a campaign and there’s a piece of research that drops on your candidate that you are unaware of, you have failed,” Diaz said, adding that “opposition research as a media strategy has been around since the very beginning of politics in America. When two people with plenty of resources are running against each other, there almost always will be opposition media.
“This is America. This is politics.”
Co-founder of Republican political shop FP1, Diaz specializes in rapid response and oppositional research as a professional political communicator. In 2002, Diaz became press secretary to the Republican National Committee and went to work for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign as a regional spokesman.
Jumping forward to 2007, Diaz held the position of deputy communication director for John McCain’s (R) presidential campaign and the next year joined the Republican National Committee as a communication director. The next campaign he helped advise was Mitt Romney’s (R) 2012 run for president; in 2016, he advised Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. Building on an already impressive resume, Diaz has helped numerous Republican gubernatorial campaigns as well.
“Opposition research is an understanding of your candidates’ history, their story, their background, what they’ve done professionally,” Diaz said, highlighting the importance of knowing information on your own candidate even before digging up background on the opponent. “The first thing you do is understand your own candidate’s record… [then] your opponent’s record, and then the contrasts——the differences between the two.”
Since Diaz began his career in politics in the early 2000s, the role of the media in campaigns has undergone a major shift. “This is an incredibly dynamic and changing landscape,” he said. “The [mainstream] media has diminished itself; it should be honest with people. Instead it has shareholders, and they need to earn profit. What sells newspapers is what goes on the cover. In 2008, it was Barack Obama. In 2020, it’s Donald Trump.”
In order to utilize and keep up with the changing outlet of information, Diaz recognizes a need to understand the uneven playing field between how different political parties are represented through media beyond a campaign.
“There is a fundamental difference between running a Republican campaign and running a Democratic campaign,” Diaz said. “The center-left media coverage day-in and day-out makes it harder for Republicans to win these races. I think it’s a huge advantage to democratic campaigns…[However] at the end of the day, American households still need to understand where the candidates stand on key issues and the differences between them. There’s only one entity that can do that, and it’s the candidate and their campaign.”
The First Tuesday political speaker series, sponsored by the Honors College and the Schar School of Policy and Government, continues October 27 at 9 a.m. EDT, with Democratic communication specialist, Lis Smith. With only two more conversations left, it is still not too late to join in this deep dive into the world of politics, and Mason students and faculty are encouraged to sign up and participate.
U.S Rep. Jennifer Wexton