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08.13.10

Ready for Another Quayle?

Ben Quayle, son of former vice president Dan, has already been linked to a raunchy website and vicious campaign attacks. Benjamin Sarlin on how the Quayle family is reacting to his political travails.

Ben Quayle’s family connections may be powering his campaign, but that doesn’t mean the political neophyte isn’t making a name for himself quickly—intentionally and otherwise.

The political neophyte, who’s running for Congress in Arizona, is battling a scandal of the decidedly weird variety. The owner of a raunchy adult-themed website told reporters this week that Quayle co-founded the venture and even wrote some of its original posts. For the Quayle family, it’s been a difficult reintroduction to politics.

“He’s a nice guy, he’s a fun guy to go out and have dinner with, but you get him on the subject of politics and he’s dead serious…he becomes almost a different guy talking about it,” Davis said. “His mom and dad are not outspoken like that.”

“I think we were all blown back by this latest one, because we thought it was below anyone’s level,” said Tucker Quayle, Ben’s brother. “But it will blow over because there’s nothing there. People think it’s a sexy story and it’s disappointing as a reflection of our future.”

Ben Quayle had recently staved off a series of vicious low blows from his chief adversary in the crowded Republican primary, Vernon Parker, making the latest hit all the more painful. Previously Parker had accused Quayle of “ renting” two children, later revealed to be his nieces, to pose as his kids in a mailer, and of racial insensitivity for calling Parker, an African-American, a “national poster boy” for the Democrats. The Phoenix New Times suggested that Parker’s campaign could be behind the latest attack linking Quayle to TheDirty.com, based on ties between the website and campaign consultant Jason Rose, who offered a coy non-denial.

But was the site’s owner, Nik Richie, lying, when he said Quayle co-founded TheDirty.com and sought out the “hottest chick in Scottsdale”? Quayle denied his involvement at first, then said he may have given legal advice to the site and later that he may have even posted a comment or two.

"The Quayle campaign told The Daily Beast that their candidate was too busy to give an interview, but made his brother, Tucker, available on his behalf instead."

“I think he’s taking a sliver of truth, an acquaintance Ben had many years ago, and turned it into this story,” Tucker Quayle said, adding he was outraged that “the media has given credence to a slandering misogynist at face value.”


Ben Quayle makes a promise to "knock the hell" out of Washington in his new campaign ad.

Video screenshot

Adding insult to injury, Ben Quayle seemed poised for a breakout on the eve of the latest allegations. Seeking to distinguish the candidate in a crowded primary for Arizona’s open 3rd Congressional District seat, his campaign put a TV ad out this week in which Quayle stared straight into the camera, pronounced Obama “the worst president in history,” and pledged to “knock the hell” out of Washington.

Like the unsuccessful Alabama candidate Rick Barber’s “gather your armies” ad, Quayle’s intense anti-Obama rhetoric made news well beyond Phoenix. The Democratic National Committee went after Quayle personally, firing back that he was “son of the worst vice president ever”—a move that, in effect, marked him as their favored opponent. The ad was a viral hit as well; comedian Andy Cobb even filmed a parody.

Comedian Andy Cobb parodies Quayle's ad.

Video screenshot

Quayle’s stance as butt-kicking Washington outsider may strike some as surprising, given that he spent four of his formative years around the White House. And there’s no doubt the Quayle legacy still drives his current campaign: According to the Center for Responsive Politics, his largest financial backer is Cerberus Capital Management, his father’s investment firm, and his donors include a number of the ex-vice president’s old backers. George H.W. Bush held a fundraiser for Quayle at his Houston home. Dan Quayle even announced his son’s candidacy for the first time on FOX News. And the eye-catching ad was produced by a family friend, Fred Davis, who worked on the elder Quayle’s 2000 presidential campaign as well as John McCain’s 2008 run.

Davis told The Daily Beast that the ad’s message came straight from Ben Quayle, who wrote it himself—or at least provided the script indirectly in an impromptu speech to Davis over lunch.

“He’s a nice guy, he’s a fun guy to go out and have dinner with, but you get him on the subject of politics and he’s dead serious…he becomes almost a different guy talking about it,” Davis said. “His mom and dad are not outspoken like that.”

The campaign is selling Quayle’s D.C. background as a key qualification for office, arguing that his upbringing has taught him the best ways to whip Washingtonians into shape.

“He’s got the connections, but if you listen to the ad, he sounds like anything but an insider,” Davis said. “I think the advantage he brings is that he already was an insider, he’s nonplussed by it, he knows how the game works, and yet he wants to go back there and knock heads.”

Quayle’s introduction to politics is a very recent phenomenon; he had avoided the spotlight since the end of his father’s political career. Instead he focused on his career, taking jobs with law firms in California, New York, and Arizona, before founding an investment company with his brother Tucker, Tynwald Capital.

“Ben and I were born into politics, so I guess we all needed a break to some degree,” Tucker Quayle said. “But we have dinners Sunday night every week with the family, and he became a lot more vocal in expressing his opinions and getting frustrated with what was going on in Washington.”

After the bare-knuckle brawl Ben Quayle has faced, however, his brother may think twice about following his lead.

“Given what my brother’s been through, I’m not considering doing it,” Tucker Quayle said, when asked if he had thought about running himself. “Never say never, but I have a successful career and I’m going to continue to build that now.”

Benjamin Sarlin is Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.