Richard Barberio, Political Science, presented the paper

Richard Barberio, Political Science, presented the paper “Presidents Playing with Fire: The Use of ‘Backfires’ to Manage Scandal” to the Northeastern Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting, in Philadelphia, PA on November 9-11, 2017. The paper explores response strategies employed by presidents faced with scandals. Existing political science scholarship on this topic centers on two strategies; stonewalling and cooperation. The paper’s argument is that there may be a third form of strategic response, building a “backfire” to lessen the damage caused by a scandal. The paper argues that backfires rely on misdirection, such as the manufacturing of competing scandals or other forms of spectacle. Analysis of scandals during the Nixon, Clinton, and Trump administrations indicates that while systemic factors increase the likelihood of a backfire, the individual president’s approach to the use of the power of the presidency is an equal if not greater factor in the likely use of this type of response.