So, Newt has launched an attack ad on Mitt, and no doubt the Democrats are watching with glee. There are no doubt worries that attack ads damage the Republican Party, just as many worry that American politics is too divisive. Does all the “infighting” damage Republican chances?
Attack ads are part of politics. Politics is divisive. This is because folks disagree, and they rightly disagree on important points of principle and policy. Of course the candidates attack each other, and why not? The prize is big; these are passionate people who feel they deserve a run at the number 1 job on the planet. Otherwise, they might as well play paper and scissors for the right to run.
Cast your mind back to 2008, and the exchange of “shame” accusations by candidates Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton.
You can see her attack here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pPV1yd7sQg&feature=share and Obama’s response here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkR9kw81Cx8&feature=share. You can also see the Obama attack ad, comparing Hilary Clinton to Big Brother in Orwell’s 1984 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6h3G-lMZxjo, which is quite a laugh given that Democrats are the Orwellian nightmare party!
Both parties share the tactics of attack, and it goes a long way back. Hilary’s barb that Obama was following Karl Rove’s playbook was foolishness; it doesn’t take a village to work out that attacking the candidate, or in soccer parlance playing the man rather than the ball, goes back a lot further than Rove.
In fact, the earliest example of attack ads was launched by Lyndon B Johnson in 1964, in his attack on Barry Goldwater. Known as the “Daisy Spot”, it showed an innocent girl picking daisies followed by a countdown to nuclear catastrophe, which shocked audiences at the time. The idea was that Goldwater’s aggressive stance on the Cold War would lead to nuclear destruction. [You can view the ad here: http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/media/daisyspot/]This will be the same Johnson who thought escalating Vietnam was a good idea.
Hilary and Obama attacked each other without pulling their punches. She lost, Obama won, and despite all the punches Hilary laid on Obama he won the White House. Like Hilary’s husband said in 2008, “This is a contact sport, politics. You can’t complain about being attacked. It’s like Yao Ming complaining about being fouled playing basketball.”
The narrative that the attack by candidates is damaging is simply a way of attacking the Republicans, while President Obama as incumbent and the official nominee come September can stand serenely above the action and appear, well, presidential. That is, until his Republican opponent is selected and can turn his attention to attacking Obama’s record 100%.
For this reason ending the attacks is important, we need to see the main bout start. The chief result of Newt’s attacks on Mitt is to bring Mitt onto the canvas ready to land his punches. Newt’s attack ads are the last attempts to land some body blows on Mitt, but Mitt’s mitt appears to be the bigger and stronger of the two. Once the attacks are done, the choice is made, the Republican nominee can step onto the canvas and win the prize fight that will take him to the White House.
Bill Clinton was right, this is a contact sport. He was wrong to compare it to basketball though. This is a fight, and it is a fight to the end. Unlike Johnson’s Daisy ad the countdown is not to nuclear destruction, but losing to Obama will see more destruction of the American economy and the nation.
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