Commenter “T” writes:
Because Newt can be seen as cranky, his attack ads seem more in keeping with his persona. That doesn’t make them right, or even effective, just more consistent. because of that consistency, IMO they can also be more readily dismissed by the viewer.
Mitt, OTH, has tried to position himself as an exectuive, a CEO, the country’s potential CEO. When his campaign unleashed their onslaught of ads against Gingrich (both in IA and FL), they struck me as totally out-of-character to this persona. As a result, I’m more disappointed in Romney at the moment than Gingrich…
So my question is: Given this result from such venomous ads how can Romney’s campaign believe they’re running an effective campaign, especially now, in light of yet another non-Romney resurgence?
Commenter “Lisa” responds:
I have to say I am so tired of hearing about Romney’s “venomous ads.” I live in a state (Utah) where all I have been hearing for months are the anti-Romney ads. They aren’t kind and loving. Are we to believe that Gingrich and Santorum are as clean and white as new fallen snow in this political game and Romney is the devil incarnate? Please. Politics is a dirty game…If Romney doesn’t attack he is “too weak and doesn’t have the fire in his belly.” If he attacks, he is vicious and dirty and “has a glass jaw.”
I’m offering these comments because they highlight an issue I’ve thought about many times before, one that’s become big this primary season: so-called “attack ads.” We hear about it every time there’s a big election: voters want candidates to be positive and not attack each other, but attack ads work.
Well, of course they do. And I think it’s very silly to play a game of “who started it,” because—and here I’m in full agreement with “Lisa”—politics is a dirty game.
The dirtiness is hardly new, as anyone who’s ever seen this ad can testify (I remember it well):
Of course, one big difference is that this is a primary, not a general election, and yet another example of the circular firing squad that is sometimes Republican politics. But that’s not new, either, although I agree that it has reached previously unscaled heights (or would that be “depths”?) this year. And that’s very worrisome; any candidate who survives is tainted goods, and the statements of his Republican opponents will become fodder for many Obama campaign ads. On the other hand, perhaps it will all be old news by then, and the candidate somewhat inoculated against the reviving of attacks of which the public has become heartily sick.
But I have long had trouble with the use of the words “venomous” and “attack” because of the way they tend to be thrown around. The same is true of “eviscerate” and “destroy,” both of which I’ve seen a lot of lately (the words, that is, not the acts). Do these words really apply to these ads? Or are many of them just pointing out flaws in the candidate’s record or positions? Is it just ads that are erroneous that you mind?
Also, as with “T,” do you think Romney is especially hurt when he does this, and Gingrich isn’t because people expect it of him? I disagree entirely; I think negative ads are always a double-edged sword for all candidates who use them. And while it’s true that Gingrich’s negative ads may be in line with his persona, many people reject that persona, and Newt himself explicitly rejected it in his earlier statement that he wouldn’t attack the others, he’d focus on Obama. Also, as “Lisa” has pointed out, Romney was in a position where almost any response of his would have would be criticized, either for being too mean or too nice, too aggressive or too passive.
One other thing to remember in this particular campaign is that it features a huge use of PACs. How much control does a candidate really have over their content and tone? I confess that I don’t know. The law states the answer must be “none,” and although it’s naive to believe that that’s really true, I do wonder how much of their direction comes from the candidates and how much is independent.
It’s my impression that in this campaign the worst ads by far have been from candidates’ PACs. One difference, however, between Romney and Gingrich is that many of Gingrich’s “attacks” on Romney have come out of Newt’s own mouth, and these truly have been more vicious than those of anyone else in the race. I think this has hurt him far more than it has helped.
So I’ve got a request: I would love for someone to give me a YouTube link to the offensive ads in question, especially ones that were official ads from the candidate rather than from PACs. Those ads either weren’t ever shown where I live or I just don’t watch enough TV to have seen them.
[ADDENDUM: By the way, I’m still looking for an answer to the request I made in that last paragraph.]