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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Slash and Burn

As some of you may remember, the Democratic Convention was characterized by a systematic refusal to “go negative” on George W. Bush, which probably disappointed a lot of delegates, but not so you’d notice it. In fact, with a very few exceptions, speakers were prohibited from even mentioning the incumbent’s name.
My understanding is that this especially hard line on negative rhetoric was taken after KE04 operatives focus-grouped a few speech drafts with undecided voters, and discovered that they absolutely hated anything that sounded like an attack on Bush.
It’s pretty obvious by now that the GOP has taken a different tack on going negative at its Convention. And it’s almost certain to get a lot worse tonight, with the headliners being Zell Miller, who loves negative rhetoric like a wino loves cheap muscatel, and Dick Cheney, who can barely take a breath without attacking Kerry and Edwards.
There are at least four possible explanations for the different approaches of the two parties on negative rhetoric:
1) The GOP truly has given up on undecided voters, and is truly concentrating on energizing its conservative base and maybe raiding a few conservative Democrats.
2) Voters hold a double standard whereby Democrats can’t get away with criticizing the Leader of the Free World, while it’s okay for the President’s party to call John Kerry a lyin’ liberal flip-flopper, so long as the invective does not come directly from the Compassionate-Conservative-in-Chief himself.
3) Republicans have become intoxicated by their belief that the Swift Vote Veterans ads have hurt Kerry, and have decided to throw out the rule book.
4) Rove and Co. know going negative is risky, but don’t think they have much choice at this point.
Of course, it’s also possible that today’s Republicans are just mean and nasty people who do this stuff because they enjoy it. But hey, I wouldn’t want to say anything that negative about them.

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