I’ll say this for the Supreme Court’s decision to open the floodgates to big money by independent groups in political campaigns. It will be illuminating and, I am certain, often entertaining to watch the big money trip over itself.
A glaring example is offered by the now-repudiated attack-ad campaign against President Barack Obama that conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts, founder of the TD Ameritrade brokerage firm, was considering among other proposals, before the scheme was leaked to the New York Times.
The proposed $10 million plan, leaked to the Times by someone the newspaper described as “not connected to the proposal” and “alarmed by its tone,” was aimed at linking Obama to — are you ready for this? — his firebrand former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Haven’t we been here before? I understand why Fox News host Sean Hannity and other broadcast conservatives like to keep Rev. Wright’s name on the air. For their target audience, such bogeyman characters help pull in big ratings.
But presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s not running a TV show. He’s running a real campaign. Voters who are frightened enough by Rev. Wright to vote against Obama, who repudiated the Chicago pastor four years ago for his controversial remarks, don’t need a new ad campaign to convince them to vote for Romney.
The high-profile Republican strategists who authored the plan also suggested hiring as a spokesman an “extremely literate conservative African American” who can argue that Mr. Obama misled the nation by presenting himself as what the proposal calls a “metrosexual, Black Abe Lincoln.”
Perhaps they figure a spokesman-of-color will help deflect any suspicion that the ad is trying to play the race card. Perish the thought.
The proposal was overseen by strategist Fred Davis and commissioned by Ricketts, patriarch of the family that also owns the Chicago Cubs. It opens with a quote from Rickets that apparently refers to a Wright-focused attack ad campaign that was produced for McCain by Davis’s firm but never used: “If the nation had seen that ad, they’d never have elected Barack Obama.”
We’ll never know, but I doubt it. Smaller efforts around the country to play up Rev. Wright and other right-wing demons from Obama’s past had little impact, and he won by a larger margin than many, including me, expected.
Intended to be launched through an anti-Obama super PAC, the so-called “Ricketts plan” has been repudiated by Ricketts. Through a statement, he says it was just one of many proposals and never was actually approved. I imagine that it never will be now, unless, say, the campaign becomes a tight race in the fall. That’s when candidates and their supporters on both sides get desperate and, sometimes, nasty.
For now, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is repudiating the scheme proposed to Ricketts. He wants to keep his campaign focused on the president’s performance at creating jobs in a sluggish economy, not his character, which most voters appear to like.
Obama’s likeability advantage is even acknowledged somewhat begrudgingly in the proposal, which laments that voters “still aren’t ready to hate this president.” That’s a big reason why Romney on the campaign stump often has described Obama as a nice guy who is “in over his head” at creating jobs. But even conceding that much ground to Obama is more than his most extreme critics can tolerate.
From the viewpoint of many conservatives, apparently including Ricketts, Obama was never really vetted by the mainstream media, even though Rev. Wright was first reported by ABC News and other mainstreamers provided most of the actual reporting that appeared in right-wing opinion media.
Nevertheless, the no-vetting myth persists. It may bring comfort to his most angry opposition to think Obama was slipped into office like an affirmative-action baby, but it takes some grasp of reality to win elections.
If anything, Team Obama was jumping for joy after this faulty plan was leaked. Unfair attacks tend to enrage Obama’s base. His supporters could use some enraging, among other forms of excitement, these days if Obama is going to get reelected. In that pursuit, the excesses of his biggest foes can be his biggest asset.