The New York Times and other outlets revealed the appalling lengths to which Republican operatives and Super PACs are willing to go to tear down the President. A proposal entitled, “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good,” commissioned by Joe Ricketts founder of TD Ameritrade, would aim to revive the ugliest anti-Obama attacks of 2008 in time for 2012. Included in that proposal: commercials linking Obama to the incendiary race comments of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr.
“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,” the proposal explains.
But let’s be honest: Democrats have been bracing for this moment. Republicans just can’t let it go. A blueprint for a campaign based on guilt-by-association, character assassination and race-baiting? Been there, seen that, expected it.
Here’s what would have been surprising and unexpected: Mitt Romney passionately decrying the effort. Romney could have pushed back and made an impassioned, John McCain-inspired public commitment to win the right way, and to outright condemn such an effort. Instead, Romney offered a tepid response in an interview with Townhall.com:
“I repudiate the effort by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they’ve described. I would like to see this campaign focus on the economy, on getting people back to work, on seeing rising incomes and growing prosperity, particularly for those in the middle class of America.”
Romney’s comments seem to indicate that his biggest problem with the PAC’s efforts are the strategy, not the moral hazard of such attacks. Romney missed a similar opportunity to demonstrate leadership back in March when Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown student a “prostitute.” These moments can be campaign gifts, opportunities to show independence. Voters love that.
Instead, Romney’s comments seem carefully choreographed to distance himself from the drama without upsetting the elements of his base that agree with with folks like Limbaugh and Rickett. Some observers say that he may be backing off in such a way that doesn’t attract too much attention to his Mormonism. If Republicans can go after the President based on his past religious affiliations, there could be a fear that some Democrats could touch on the Mormon Church’s positions on African Americans and whether Romney ever endorsed those views.
Beyond the most visceral attacks on Obama, the leaked document included other offensive insinuations. The proposal recommends hiring an “extremely literate conservative African-American” spokesperson, and refers to President Obama as a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.” That’s right, they want to find an African American who is … educated. Who wouldn’t want that job?
And which brilliant strategist believes that finding someone who is Black and anti-Obama corrects the perception that this effort is meant to stir racial anxiety? If anything, the transparency of such a decision draws attention to what the architects of this plan are trying to do: harness economic anxiety and channel it into anxiety about a changing America that manifests into a Republican victory based on fear rather than aspiration. Who wants to win that way?
Mitt Romney had a chance to stand up and boldly declare: “Not I.” Once again, he missed it.