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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Ads About to Take Lower Road in a Big Way

Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg report in the NYT that top GOP strategists have joined forces with conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts to prepare for a political ad campaign that may set a new standard for viciousness. According the the authors, one part of the plan includes,

…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.

The ad would reportedly front an “extremely literate conservative African-American” who would say that Obama presents himself as a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.” This particular group of conservatives seems terminally obsessed with the Jeremiah Wright fuss, which the public may now see as a no-longer relevant yawner.
But it is a clear harbinger of the depths of the low road Republican campaign to come. It’s all part of the strategy of using Super PAC’s to do the dirty work, while the Romney campaign stays on the ‘higher’ road:

…Should the plan proceed, it would run counter to the strategy being employed by Mitt Romney’s team, which has so far avoided such attacks. The Romney campaign has sought to focus attention on the economy, and has concluded that personal attacks on Mr. Obama, who is still well liked personally by most independent voters surveyed for polls, could backfire.
…The strategists grappled with the quandary of running against Mr. Obama that other Republicans have cited this year: “How to inflame their questions on his character and competency, while allowing themselves to still somewhat ‘like’ the man becomes the challenge.”
Lamenting that voters “still aren’t ready to hate this president,” the document concludes that the campaign should “explain how forces out of Obama’s control, that shaped the man, have made him completely the wrong choice as president in these days and times.”

The ad would run during the Democratic convention in Charlotte. It also calls for billboards and aerial banners etc.
In his TDS strategy memo warning of a GOP “propaganda campaign of a scope and ferocity unparalleled in American History,” Andrew Levison predicted that the Republican PACs would take the lead in the low-road campaign. “The ads–which will come from Super-PAC’s more than official sources–will be ugly and distasteful: they will portray Obama as deeply “un-American”–foreign and alien to the heartland values and daily life of the “real” America.” the reasons, as Levison suggests,

…By the fall of 2012 Republicans and conservatives will be literally desperate to increase turn-out among a conservative political base that is very ambivalent about Romney and which has extremely little enthusiasm for him or his country-club Republican persona. There is only so much that conventional TV advertising can do to create an artificial “real folks” image for a candidate who is as ostentatiously privileged and aloof as Romney. In order to turn-out the base on Election Day Republican strategists will agree that it will be necessary to create a climate of genuine mass hysteria about the horrors of a second Obama term.
…The most important goal of this low road campaign will be to create a fierce and widespread hysteria among the conservative base–enough to overcome their lack of enthusiasm for Romney and bring them out to vote in record numbers. But this campaign will also have a significant impact on non-conservative, relatively apolitical voters as it circulates via social media and face to face communication. Among the vast majority of average Americans today there are now informal social media networks (e-mail, Facebook, photo-sharing sites etc.) of 10-30 or more family and friends. Within these networks there are almost always a small group of passionate tea-party/Rush Limbaugh advocates–cantankerous cousin Buford who continually passes around all the latest e-mail rumors (“they’re gonna’ secretly implant chips with 666 on em’ into all the dogs when they go to get their vaccinations”) and bossy Aunt Louise who thinks that photo-shopping Nancy Pelosi’s head onto a zombie or vampire photo or using the “fun-house mirror” tool on Obama is the absolute height of mordant satire. These individuals will be the conduit through which the massive low road campaign will circulate virally.

The best Democratic response suggests Levison, would be a “communications campaign that aggressively attacks the low road slanders from a relatively “middle of the road”, moderate perspective and which puts pressure on Romney to either embrace or repudiate them…forced to choose between alienating his conservative or moderate supporters.” Examples of messages Levison suggests include “”This election should be an honest debate and not a smear campaign using secret money” and “Oh come on. Get real. I’m sick of hearing lies every day on my TV and telephone.”
Clearly the Obama campaign needs a quick response team dedicated, not only to launching strong counter-punch attacks, but also sound bite-sized responses that appeal to average voters’ sense of decency. The right-wing Super PACs are poised to take the tone of campaign 2012 way south in terms of sleaze, and Dems should get ready to rumble.

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