July 24, 2013
It is commonplace these days for candidates who are Christian, especially Republicans, to inject God into politics, particularly in campaigns.
Newt Gingrich expressed a popular conservative GOP view during his failed presidential bid last cycle when he said, “Our rights come from our Creator, and it is impossible to define America if you do not talk in public about where your rights come from.”
Fittingly, Gingrich’s campaign-advertising firm was the Strategy Group for Media, where God is viewed as a director, but Rex Elsass is the owner and Gingrich’s former longtime national spokesman, Rick Tyler, now is the president.
Headquartered in the beautifully renovated and historic Gooding House near Powell, Strategy Group has emerged as a national powerhouse in GOP campaign circles, and its trophy cases bulge with Pollies, the Emmys of political advertising. The firm’s clients include Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and dozens of other federal and state candidates.
Famously, Todd Akin, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in Missouri, sought refuge at Gooding House and spiritual guidance from Elsass and his disciples last year after uttering the “legitimate rape” comment that cost him the election.
In a realm where it is not uncommon for a candidate to publicly express his piety and love of neighbor while simultaneously plotting to figuratively slit his opponent’s throat, there may be no more schizophrenic-appearing firm than Strategy Group.
Within the walls of Gooding House are religious pictures and inscriptions — some of them not far from the lavish in-house bar. Every Monday morning at 8, Elsass leads a Bible study, and every Thursday afternoon at 4, employees gather around the bar for happy hour.
Elsass himself is a caricature of contrast. Gregarious, back-slapping, personally likable, generous and wildly successful — he has a private jet and two Bentleys — Elsass also is known for producing some of the nastiest TV spots in the business, including one suggesting that a Democratic Supreme Court justice traded rulings for money. In the 1990s, while working for the Ohio Republican Party, he was a leader of an infamous squad of dirty-tricksters known as the “nasty boys.”
Some years ago, after a troubled period in his life, Elsass was born again. He infused Strategy Group with his evangelism, and yet the firm — which, in fairness, produces many positive and uplifting ads — won’t hesitate to destroy an opponent if that’s what it takes to win.
I asked Elsass early last year how someone so religious rationalizes such attacks. He rightfully noted that most of the firm’s ads are informational and positive, but said tough ads are part of the business: “We’re charged with the mission of trying to win elections. I think we do that with honor and integrity and the highest ethical standards.”
Sadly, words such as honor, integrity and ethics have become foreign concepts in politics. Winning is what counts, and Strategy Group certainly isn’t alone in the industry when it comes to doing whatever it takes.
But the firm now is gaining unwanted national attention for an internal holy war pitting Elsass against three top executives he fired for allegedly trying to steal clients and go out on their own. They include Nick Everhart, the former president who once was like a son to Elsass but now is being sued by the company. Documents made public in court records and discussed in a story on the second page of this section bespeak godly motives and are filled with references to God.
He hasn’t told me this, but I’m guessing God wants nothing to do with the lawsuit or the whole sordid business of politics that he gratuitously gets dragged into these days.