A story making the political rounds this week focuses on Kevin Nicholson, who is running for the US Senate in Wisconsin as a Republican. Kevin made his announcement in July 2017; five months later, his parents, Donna and Michael Nicholson, each gave maxed out campaign contributions of $2,700 to Tammy Baldwin, the Democratic incumbent their son would presumably face in a General Election. The news quickly circulated nationwide and will undoubtedly dominate Google searches for the foreseeable future.

Let’s be clear about something. Donna and Michael Nicholson are assholes. Here’s why.

First, let me make it clear that my thoughts have nothing whatsoever to do with partisanship. I am a Democrat and would likely never vote for Kevin Nicholson under normal circumstances, but I am going to stand up and defend him here.

What Kevin Nicholson’s parents did was an ambush that strays far afield from the accepted rules of engagement for political campaigns.

Donna and Michael Nicholson’s donation wasn’t about making sure Tammy Baldwin has enough cash to buy all the lawn signs she needs; it was about publicly embarrassing and humiliating their son, and it was totally uncalled for.

The donation was not an endorsement of political policies; it was an indictment of their son’s character. As a candidate, how do you possibly respond to your parents contributing to your political opponent? The younger Nicholson’s statement handled it as best as he possibly could. “My parents have a different worldview than I do, and it is not surprising that they would support a candidate like Tammy Baldwin who shares their perspective.” At least someone in the Nicholson family has some class.

“Sorry kids. Grandma and Grandpa won’t be coming to Thanksgiving dinner because they’ll be protesting Daddy in the front yard.”

The donation may not seem like a big deal to many, but I can confirm from personal experience there is nothing worse than having your family turn on you publicly in the midst of a political campaign. After our first son was born in 2014, my wife and I had to have an awkward conversation with my mother about curbing some of her behavior involving drugs when she was around him. To say the conversation did not go well would be the understatement of the century.

In order to divert attention from the real issue, a false narrative began to develop. When I was starting out, I was an authorized signer on a credit card I used for various expenses. Although the balance was higher than I would have liked, I made every single payment on time for years. I have emails from my mother referencing the account specifically from as recent as that year. Yet somehow, the story became that my mother had never known anything about this account and that I must have stolen her identity to get the card.

It was hurtful, but not totally unexpected given the history of family dynamics I had endured for the overwhelming majority of my life. There was no reasoning with her, and she soon began threatening to “expose me” in the media. She called the police, who quickly dismissed her complaint when I was able to completely debunk her story by showing them clear evidence that she knew about the account and that I had paid it religiously. It was a nightmare, but at the end of the day we did what we felt was best for our son and we stood by our decision, consequences be damned.

A few months later, again in the midst of my political campaigning, my phone began to blow up with calls from the media. Apparently, my mother had hired just about the sleaziest lawyer imaginable, who was a well-known political enemy of mine and filed an insanely baseless lawsuit over the credit card account. But instead of serving me with the lawsuit, it somehow ended up in the hands of any media outlet that would run with it. I was forced to address and respond to allegations I hadn’t even seen yet.

The political impact was crushing, just as my mother knew it would be. She was suddenly Facebook friends with hack media personalities and political opponents who were more than happy to give her the diversionary pity party she so desperately wanted. The criticisms wrote themselves:

How can you trust a guy who was sued by his own mother?

But nobody wanted to hear my side of the story, no matter how many clearly documented facts I had to back it up. The truth interfered with the click-bait-driven narrative, so it was summarily dismissed in favor of increased sensationalism. Nobody cared that I filed a countersuit totally based on provable facts; similarly, nobody reported when my mother dropped the suit after my election was over several months later.

Was it true? No. Did it matter? Hell, no. Why? Because it was on the news.

I’m not saying that what Donna and Michael Nicholson did was on par with what I went through, but the point is that is was a cheap shot that they knew would be reported in the media and deeply embarrass him personally. Even though I do not intend to speak to either of parents ever again, for many, many reasons, it still really sucks to have to disclose private details like their drug abuse and mental illness to defend your own credibility. Nothing good can come from such blatant psychological warfare, and the collateral damage can be catastrophic.

If Kevin Nicholson’s parents felt that strongly about his political views, they could have shown it in any number of ways. If they felt they had to write a check, write it to a political action group focused on an issue you care about; don’t write it directly to your kid’s opponent. They violated their duty as parents and sold their integrity for some popcorn political headlines. I don’t care if they supported Tammy Baldwin in every election she ever ran in, nobody would have given the Nicholsons a hard time for sitting this one out solely out of respect for their own child.

A key rule of parenting is identical to a portion of the Hippocratic Oath; first, do no harm. If you don’t like your kid’s politics, don’t vote for him or her. But out of basic human decency, keep your goddamned mouths shut and respect the fact that your son or daughter is stepping into the public arena and needs your love and support regardless of political beliefs. Your job is to stand backstage and cheer your kid on, not stab him in the back while he’s facing the crowd. 

Just this one time, I’m rooting for the Republican, Kevin Nicholson. I’ve been there bro, and it’s no fun. Politics aside, I got your back, because blood is supposed to be thicker than water, despite what your parents may think.


A passionate communicator, advocate, and opinion maker with executive-level experience in law, public policy, and government. (Don't let the boyish good looks fool you.) President of Perpetual Fortitude, a Pennsylvania-based political consulting and social media management firm. (www.perpetualfortitude.com)

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