It’s often said that generals have an unfortunate tendency to fight the last war. Judging by a leaked “super PAC” ad campaign apparently being contemplated against President Obama, some Republican political strategists have the same problem. After nearly four years of an Obama presidency, they’re still fixated on Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
According to a report in Thursday morning’s New York Times, a super PAC called the Ending Spending Action Fund was contemplating a proposal for an ad campaign timed to hit during the Democratic National Convention which would focus on Wright. (In light of the publicity around the proposal, the group has reportedly decided against the ad campaign.)
According to the Times‘s Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg:
The plan, which is awaiting approval, calls for running commercials linking Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign.
“The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way,” says the proposal, which was overseen by Fred Davis and commissioned by Joe Ricketts, the founder of the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade. Mr. Ricketts is increasingly putting his fortune to work in conservative politics.
Even if the ads will never run, the proposal reflects a fantasy that has been nurtured in some more fervent conservative circles—that Wright was the ace never played against Obama, that if only Sen. John McCain had run a Wright-centric campaign four years ago, we’d be enduring, err, enjoying a McCain-Palin administration right now. Given both the broader 2008 context (a crashing economy) and the nature of Obama’s appeal (post-partisan and optimistic), it’s dubious whether a fear-mongering, arguably race-baiting ad campaign that painted issue No. 1 as something other than the economy would have gotten any traction.
This is reinforced by the fact that Wright was not the invisible man that rabid conservatives seem to think he was. Neither his rhetoric nor his relationship with Obama was a particular secret. He got wall-to-wall media coverage to the point where Obama gave a high profile speech addressing his inflammatory, unacceptable rhetoric. Within two days the speech had been clicked on 1.6 million times on YouTube, making it the most popular video on the site. And in late October an independent GOP group spent millions running Wright-centric ads in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, all states which Obama ended up winning. To suggest that the American people didn’t know about Wright is to suggest that the American people are fools.
But really that’s what the really obsessive Obama-haters seem to think: The American people aren’t smart enough to see Obama for what he is. They seem to view Wright as the magical prism which will finally allow the main stream of American voters to see Obama the same way they do—as, in the words of Colorado GOP Rep. Mike Coffman, “in his heart … not an American.” (Coffman, who made the comment in the context of avowing ignorance of whether the president was actually born here, was later forced to retract his statement.)
Of course we’re not discussing whether the McCain campaign should have focused on Wright four years ago. The question today is whether the running of a flight of Wright-focused ads would help Mitt Romney in November or merely scratch an itch peculiar to an especially obsessive subsection of the conservative coalition.
The Romney campaign came up with their answer to that question, issuing a statement today saying that they “repudiate any efforts” at character assassination. Team Romney understands something that Wright-aholics seem blinded to: If there was ever a time to play the Jeremiah Wright card it was in 2008. Obama’s no longer an ill-defined figure in the eyes of the American public—we’ve lived with the man for four years now. People will vote for him based on his policies and how he’s handled the office, not on some wild-eyed conspiracy theory about his secret un-American-ness.
And to the extent the proposed ad tries to connect the dots that the histrionic reverend is responsible for a radical president with a fundamentally different view of America, it stretches credulity. As MSNBC’s “First Read” noted this morning, “While we know that there are conservatives who want to portray Obama as a socialist tied to people who hate America, his actual record over the past four years—championing legislation that once had GOP support (stimulus, health-care reform, even cap-and-trade) and killing Osama bin Laden—doesn’t back-up the conspiratorial narrative portrayed in this plan.” (Indeed the surest way to bring an end to the free market system as America knows it would have been to let matters run their course: No TARP so the financial system would collapse; no bailout for the auto industry; no oversight of Wall Street, ensuring that self-absorbed barons of finance would rinse and repeat.)
The proposed ads will not air, cooler heads apparently having prevailed. If Ricketts had pulled the trigger on this plan, he would ironically be playing out one conservative talking point scenario: What is bad for America (specifically in regard to degradation of political discourse) would have proved to be good for Obama (as swing voters roll their eyes at the GOP’s apparent over-the-top obsession with irrelevancies).
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, May 17, 2012
As we know, Mitt Romney is not all that likeable. Now Mike Huckabee, there’s a likeable guy. He used to say (and maybe still does) that he’s a conservative, but he’s not angry about it. It was a clever line, positing himself as the happy warrior and other Republicans as needlessly unpleasant. Huckabee has an easy smile and a friendly laugh. He plays bass. He invites liberals on his television and radio shows to have respectful discussions about issues. So how do we interpret it when Huckabee allows fundraising letters to be sent out under his name that say things like this:
“Listen, you’re a person of faith and so am I. In his administration and now on his re-election campaign, President Obama has surrounded himself with morally repugnant political whores with misshapen values and gutter-level ethics.”
Yeesh. Should this lead us to change our opinion of Huckabee? Or can you be a likeable guy and a vicious partisan at the same time? Now maybe Huckabee never saw the letter, but I doubt it. It’s not like he’s running a corporation with 50,000 employees that puts out hundreds of documents every day. And honestly, I always found Huckabee to be a contradiction, someone with a pleasant persona and some decidedly unpleasant views. But this is a good reminder that we shouldn’t substitute our impressions of someone’s manner for a judgment about how they’ll perform in their public duties.
This works in the opposite direction, too. Let’s take Rick Santorum. His views on just about everything are pretty much what Mike Huckabee’s are. He got a lot of attention for his harshly judgmental opinions about gay people, but I can’t remember Huckabee ever saying anything substantively different. The reason Santorum stands out is that he is a deeply unpleasant person. He always looks like he just stepped in dog poop, the dog poop being the moral sewer that is American culture. You can see him tense up when he’s confronted by people who disagrees with him, while Huckabee smiles and laughs, disarming people with his affability. But they both believe the same things. I doubt a Huckabee presidency would have been much different from a Santorum presidency.
It’s easy to get this kind of misleading impression about someone, particularly because figuring out the substance of what someone believes can be a lengthy and tedious process, but we’re all very good at making quick judgments about whether or not we like a person. And the consequences can be serious. You might remember that when John Roberts got nominated to the Supreme Court, he was roundly praised for being so personable and reasonable. He smiled and spoke slowly and carefully. He talked in baseball metaphors. Everything about his manner made him seem moderate and thoughtful. And in the end, he turned out to be the very definition of a radical conservative judicial activist.
BY: Paul Waldman, The American Prospect, May 16, 2012
The good news about the proposed Joe Ricketts race-baiting campaign targeting Barack Obama is that it got flushed out before it had a chance to become a reality. And now it never will.
This is exhibit A of all that is wrong with politics.
When the Supreme Court rules that anyone can say anything—often anonymously—with unlimited money, then they will.
There was once a time in our politics when candidates and parties could be held responsible for what they did and said. Because they were the ones doing and saying it. And you’d generally have adults somewhere around the table who, if presented with a plan like the one given to Ricketts, would have said: “Not just no, but hell no. Burn every copy of this document.”
God bless whoever leaked the document to The New York Times. I’ve never met Ricketts, and for all I know, he may ultimately have had the sense to kill the plan. But the fact that he was even considering it tells me all I need to know about the guy.
This is madness. Of course it’s too early to know, but if things keep going the way are, Mitt Romney has a very good chance to win the election in November. And can you imagine the distraction this campaign would have been if launched in the fall?
It’s not hard to figure out the winning strategy for Romney.
It’s the economy, not Jeremiah Wright, stupid.
Whether you like or agree with Barack Obama, or voted for or against him, the one thing I presumed most of us agree on is that with the 2008 election, we thought we had put the issue of race in American campaigns behind us.
Campaign watchdog Fred Wertheimer sums it up pretty well: “In the case of tax-exempt groups, citizens have absolutely no idea what’s going on here. They have no way of knowing how groups are trying to influence their votes.”
Thanks to a leaked report to The New York Times, we know about this one. But just think about all the other plans out there that won’t be leaked.
BY: Mark McKinnon, The Daily Beast, May 17, 2012
At first blush, it looked so deftly orchestrated on Tuesday—Mitt Romney giving his blistering “prairie fire” speech on the debt, and John Boehner telling Pete Peterson and crowd that he relishes forcing another debt-ceiling showdown. The old one-two. Dominated the headlines. The speeches appeared to reflect a shift in focus to debts and deficits. But is this really where Romney wants to go? And in the company of Boehner? What’s next, an ethnic sensitivity speech at Mel Gibson’s place?
First of all, Romney’s speech was completely out of control. Several people have torn it to pieces already, so I needn’t do that. What remains interesting, though, is why he would choose to talk in such an incendiary way about a topic that is such an obvious liability for him.
Why is it a liability? Because of the two candidates running for president, only one has proposed a tax plan that would send the deficit soaring to ever-new heights, and that candidate is Romney. It’s hard to come up with a concrete number, because Romney won’t say which loopholes he’d close. But the deficit will balloon by at least several hundred billion dollars, and maybe a few trillion. The reason it will do so, of course, is that the most important thing for Republicans to do is to reduce the tax revenues the federal government collects, especially from the top 1 percent. Indeed, under Romney’s proposal, they will see their average tax bill fall by around $150,000 a year. If Romney wants to open up that conversation, he can be my guest.
Now let’s consider Boehner’s role here. We know that he has to play to the cheap seats in his caucus, or else they’re going to dump him next year and make Eric Cantor the speaker. Fine. And we know that many independents like to hear tough budgetary talk. That’s fine, too. By these measures, what he’s doing makes very clear political sense.
But if I were Romney, I’m pretty sure I’d be leery of this. It’s apparently not likely, says Tim Geithner, that there will be a debt-ceiling battle before the election. But let’s say that at the very least, Boehner and his restive caucus make some kind of dramatic move to keep the debt issue alive over the summer: They release a list of draconian budget cuts, for example, and say that they won’t budget until Obama agrees to every single one of their cuts. That puts Romney in a spot. As he’s trying to move to the center, he has to endorse a far-right set of principles dictated by a bunch of Tea Partiers. Um, who’s the presidential candidate here anyway?
It also gives Obama a free shot at tying Romney to the hard right, and to the whole set of polarization-dysfunction issues that sent the congressional GOP’s approval ratings down into Kardashian territory during the last debt fight. Obama can say to voters: “Look at how far-right congressional Republicans are going to lead this guy around by the nose if he becomes president.” Most independents may want tough talk on the deficit, but they certainly don’t want the Tea Party running the country.
Can Romney keep his distance from Boehner? Typically in presidential election years, the presidential nominee is given lots of free rein by others in the party to run whatever sort of campaign he needs to run to win. But the strange brew of Romney’s suspect right-wing credentials and the no-compromise posture of the Tea Party wing might make that a bit trickier this time around the track.
The polls have tightened in the last month for two reasons. First, the jobs reports haven’t been so great. And second, Romney isn’t running in primaries anymore, so he’s not talking about taking away contraception and hating on immigrants and all those things. He hasn’t really done anything affirmative that I can see to move to the middle, but the mere fact that he’s not up there on a stage anymore with Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich has definitionally removed him from a certain category of crazy. But Boehner and Cantor and the House GOP caucus could certainly drag him back there.
The Tea Party obviously still has a lot of staying power. Dozens of its candidates, for Senate and House, will be out there this fall. Romney will of course stay miles away from them physically. He’s not going to be attending any Purdue games with Richard Mourdock. But the Tea Party ethos is going to be out there in the atmosphere. Boehner has to acknowledge its existence, and Romney is going to have to as well. We don’t know what he’s going to do, but we do know that he hasn’t said no to the far right yet.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 17, 2012
When it comes to moms and their babies, Romney has been hungry to suckle at the corporate teat.
Breastfeeding is having another moment. Thanks to Time magazine’s creepy cover pic of young mom Jamie Lynne Grumet nursing her three-year-old son, the nation has once again gone tits-up over how mothers opt to feed their young. The choice is not an easy one: As previous Mother Jones parents will attest, there’s an enormous emotional and physical cost to breastfeeding. On the other hand, mother’s milk doesn’t contain secret toxic chemicals, put babies at increased risk for diabetes and asthma, or enrich already-bloated pharmaceutical companies to the tune of $8 billion a year.
One person doesn’t seem very conflicted about favoring formula, though: Mitt Romney. As Massachusetts governor, he took steps friendly to Big Pharma that helped push pre-fab formulas on new moms. Romney’s pro-corporate, anti-mammary agenda could now have implications as he struggles to convince a key constituency of female voters that he’s got their interests at heart.
Romney’s role goes back to early 2006, when Massachusetts’ Public Health Council tried to ban so-called baby swag bags, totes full of free supplies that were given to new mothers as they left their delivery hospitals. Formula manufacturers had stuffed the bags with samples and coupons; the panel worried that the moms would see that as a hospital endorsement of less-healthy formulas and would influence the moms to miss out on the medical and financial benefits of breastfeeding.
“The marketing of infant formula undermines the initiative to nurse,” Phyllis Cudmore, a council member, told the Boston Globe. “I don’t think there’s any place in a hospital for corporate America trying to influence a vulnerable population.” A pediatric expert at Boston University’s medical school added: ”The commercial stuff like gift bags—it’s like Pepsi-Cola in the schools.” (Statistics show three-fourths of moms start out nursing their kids, but fewer than half are still breastfeeding after six months.)
Romney was having none of it, decrying the swag ban as “the heavy arm of government” squeezing dear ol’ ma. “I think that the mother should have the right to decide whether she is going to use infant formula or breast-feed,” he said in a press conference. “And allowing her to make that decision is best [done] by letting her have the formula, and if she wants to use it, fine.”
By May 2006, Romney had removed three anti-swag council members, including Cudmore, and added new ones who permanently reversed the ban. Shortly thereafter, in early June, Romney’s administration proudly announced that Massachusetts had beaten out three other states to get a $660 million facility for pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb—parent company to the manufacturer of Enfamil, one of the country’s biggest-selling infant formulas.