1 Year later – reflections on LARPing and Jake Rush : I would do it again

It took me several months to get off my couch after the walloping the Jake Rush for Congress campaign took from incumbent Ted Yoho (Rep FL3), but let’s back up to exactly 1 year ago today.Jake-speech-crowd in Alachua

At the close of March, 2014, the Jake Rush for Congress was on cloud nine.  The campaign had successfully kickedoff with a 2 day announcement and had just closed a successful, first fundraising quarter.  The campaign felt good about meeting the campaign’s internal fundraising goals, and in what would be later confirmed, in an almost unheard of manner the Jake Rush campaign had out-raised a sitting congressman for the quarter.

The campaign was on its way to proving viability.

The euphoria was short lived.  On April 1, 2014, I found out what is LARPing and how it differs from gaming.  Sadly, it was no April Fool’s joke.

What is LARPing?

LARPing or Live Action Role Playing –  It is a ‘slightly’ nerdy hobby where the “participants in a LARP physically portray characters in a fictional setting, improvising their characters’ speech and movements somewhat like actors in improvisational theatre.”

My simplistic analogy is that it’s Dungeon and Dragons meets improv theater.

I came to realize that for the most part, LARPing is geeky but harmless.  LARPing is a massive industry with associations, conventions and enormous online communities.  In fact, LARPing even went “mainstream” during the summer of the campaign with the debut of ABC’s television show, The Quest.

None of this mattered in a Republican primary in a very conservative district that Cook ranks as R+14 where Romney took 62% to President Obama’s 38%.

Breaking the News in Today’s Politics

An interesting aspect to this story is how the “news” of Jake Rush’s past participation in LARPing broke.

It began with a fellow gamer, Larry Henson, who was disillusioned with Jake Rush running for office as a conservative candidate.  Mr. Henson admits sending an email on March 23rd to Yoho’s campaign and several media outlets outing Jake Rush as a LARPer including photos and other information.  At that time, no credible media outlet picked up the story.

Interestingly, someone repackaged the original information Mr. Henson sent into a more professional political hit piece.

On March 23rd, an anonymous Google account rushrealitysquad@gmail.com with the Subject: The Real Jake Rush resent the repackaged information far and wide.

Like many stories in today’s political area, it started on a political blog as a sensational, muckraking, hatchet job.  The blog never asked for a comment from the campaign nor checked its accuracy before posting the blog story.

Curiously, the original blog post is no longer available – possibly because the Washington Post referred to the blogger as “stretching as far as he possibly can to suggest that Rush is palling around with dog-menacers and book burners.”  In an ironic twist, as this episode proves nothing on the Internet is truly removed.

The story combined with the visuals of a congressional candidate – especially a conservative candidate – dressed in costumes was too much for the media and Internet to resist.

While it was later confirmed that many of the salacious items were inaccurately attributed to Jake Rush, the Internet did what the Internet does.

What followed were endless Internet stories, link bait articles, and SEO spins – almost all never asking the campaign for any comment.

It was regurgitate, link, and full speed ahead valuing speed and snark over accuracy.

The narrative fell right into the wacky, Florida meme and became national news before lunch.

The days and weeks that followed were tough.

The Internet trolls were relentless with obvious fake account after fake account reported to Facebook and Twitter for harassment and cyber-bullying.  Looking back, the campaign should have hired Curt Shilling to handle the endless trolling.

After seemingly interminable Internet stories both defending and mocking the campaign, the events culminated with an attempt to show the press and voters that Jake Rush could laugh at himself and put the issue behind him with a national appearance on The Colbert Report (that experience is an entirely different blog post).colbert

While the campaign eventually received an apology from the gamer, Larry Henson, writing “What I did was petty, shortsighted, and foolish.”, the campaign was never able to recover from the gamer visuals and national spectacle.

Like many mysteries in politics, exactly who re-packaged and re-broadcasted the information remains unknown, but I believe I know exactly who repackaged and resent the information.   Out of the original distribution list comprised of media outlets and the opposing campaign, ask “Cui Bono?”

Reflections on Jake Rush for Congress

They say you learn a lot in defeat, and this is no different.   It has been one year, and I learned several things.

First, Jake Rush is absolutely unflappable.  Whether it is Jake Rush’s normal disposition or Rush’s law enforcement training, Jake Rush never cracked.  In today’s political age, politicians often backtrack at the slightest push-back; not Jake Rush!  Often, Jake Rush was the one calming the campaign down.  In the face of unrelenting chaos, Jake Rush stood tall and never blinked.  In the pressure to close the campaign, Jake Rush decided to move forward because he was committed to finishing what he started and further exhibiting that there is nothing to be ashamed about being a nerd.  I’d climb in a foxhole with Jake Rush any day.

Second, I learned just how difficult it REALLY is to challenge an incumbent.  Every political operative knows in theory how difficult challenging an incumbent is.  No political operative knows exactly how difficult it is until you undertake the endeavor.  So many people privately offered support and agreed the incumbent was/is not in their best interest(s), but few would publicly do so.  The exact same people who spent a year saying “I wish someone would challenge” where nowhere to be found after the paperwork was filed.  In the face of incumbency, even the most seasoned political actors lose their “courage”.  The fact remains: to beat an incumbent Congressman, a challenger must run close to a perfect campaign and receive some luck.

Next, I also learned about Cassandra and the mental gymnastics political actors will perform to explain away inconvenient truths during a political process.    As it turns out, when it comes to Florida’s 3rd Congressional district, everything Jake Rush campaigned on has turned out in to be true.  However, like Cassandra, at the time, Jake Rush was not believed.

Finally, upon reflection, I can say I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Don’t get me wrong – there are a TON of things I would do differently given the chance, but in the final analysis, I take great, personal pride in working with Jake Rush and calling him a friend.

Even though Ozean made its bones operating in hostile political environments, this campaign was different.  Yes, the end results were awful and the undertaking reinforced all my cynical thoughts about the political process, but after stripping away all the hyperbole, the Republican party and politics need more Jake Rushes.

Jake Rush is confident and comfortable in who he is.  Jake Rush is an intelligent, courageous, and honest man.   Jake Rush is thoughtful in his approach to issues never shying away from truth.

Why do I say that would I do it again?  It’s simple:  Jake Rush’s performance and fortitude under tremendous pressure began the process of restoring of my faith in good people willing to run for office.

I don’t know if Jake Rush desires to ever step foot in the political arena again, but the fact remains Jake Rush would be a terrific public servant.

About Alex Patton