He’s a shrewd political operative and Republican Party consultant who has been called “the maestro of opposition research,” but George Mason University alumnus Danny Diaz, BA Communication ’00, says the practice is as old as the republic itself.
“It’s always been a feature of political campaigns,” he says. “You have to understand your candidate’s strengths and vulnerabilities and be unvarnished about it. And you have to understand your opponent’s strengths and vulnerabilities and be unvarnished about it.”
In October, Diaz, who served as the campaign manager for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, spent a little more than an hour at Fenwick Library talking politics with interested students and members of the Mason community as part of the First Tuesday speaker series sponsored by Robinson Professor Steven Pearlstein.
Speakers in the series included Mason Visiting Professor Anne Holton, the former secretary of education for Virginia and the wife of U.S. Senator Tim Kaine; former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, now a Distinguished Visiting Professor in Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government; and Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty.
“People have this weird way of looking at how campaigns work,” says Pearlstein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the Washington Post. “But people who are involved in politics are smart and love their country. I just wanted [the students] to see that.”
Diaz, who lives in nearby Vienna, Virginia with his wife and four children, served two stints with the Republican National Committee, including one as the RNC’s Director of Communications, and worked on the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush (2004), John McCain (2008), and Mitt Romney (2012). He was among those who helped prepare eventual U.S. Supreme Court justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito for their confirmation hearings.
Diaz went into great detail about his time leading the Jeb Bush campaign that ultimately fell short of achieving the 2016 GOP nomination despite an overwhelming early edge in name recognition and money.
“The timing just wasn’t there for us,” he says.
The insider’s look at the political realm was just what sophomores Annika Tobe and Gabriella Hensinger said they had in mind when they chose to hear Diaz speak.
“I thought it was very interesting, especially with him being an alum who has a lot of experience,” said Tobe, a government and economics major. “I really learned a lot.”