Here’s a fun exercise for Hot Air readers. Go to the New York Times website and do a 12-month search for “Romney Mormon,” and see how many hits come back. I’ll end the suspense — “about 12,000 results,” according to the search I conducted earlier today. Now, do a search on “Obama Jeremiah” in the same time frame, and you’ll get 4,190 hits, which is more than I expected but only about a third of the Romney-Mormon search results. Actually, the same search only turns up 4,330 hits since 1851, which means that before mid-2011 the Times only had less than 200 hits for that search item. The media has been asking questions about Romney’s faith all throughout this cycle’s 365 days, whether it has to do with polygamy (473 hits), racism (501 hits), contraception (265 hits), or contributions (2,040 hits). That’s more than article a day that mentions Romney, Mormon, and polygamy at once.
But when independent groups start asking about Barack Obama’s 20-year association with Jeremiah Wright? Horror!
A group of high-profile Republican strategists is working with a conservative billionaire on a proposal to mount one of the most provocative campaigns of the “super PAC” era and attack President Obama in ways that Republicans have so far shied away from.
Timed to upend the Democratic National Convention in September, the plan would “do exactly what John McCain would not let us do,” the strategists wrote.
The plan, which is awaiting approval, calls for 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.
Chuck Todd led his Daily Rundown today with some straightforward analysis of the risk/reward of such a strategy:
Mitt Romney wasted no time in “repudiating” the idea, but pointed out the personal attacks from the Obama campaign last week:
Unlike the Obama campaign, Gov. Romney is running a campaign based on jobs and the economy, and we encourage everyone else to do the same. President Obama’s team said they would ‘kill Romney,’ and, just last week, David Axelrod referred to individuals opposing the president as ‘contract killers.’ It’s clear President Obama’s team is running a campaign of character assassination. We repudiate any efforts on our side to do so.
Guy Benson got an exclusive extended statement from Romney himself:
“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. And I think what we’ve seen so far from the Obama campaign is a campaign of character assassination. I hope that isn’t the course of this campaign. So in regards to that PAC, I repudiate what they’re thinking about … It’s interesting that we’re talking about some Republican PAC that wants to go after the president [on Wright]; I hope people also are looking at what he’s doing, and saying ‘why is he running an attack campaign? Why isn’t he talking about his record?'”
Team Obama played the victim, blaming Romney for his “tepid” reaction:
“The blueprint for a hate-filled, divisive campaign of character assassination speaks for itself. It also reflects how far the party has drifted in four short years since John McCain rejected these very tactics,” Messina responded. “Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party.”
Jennifer Rubin notes the hypocrisy:
The hypocrisy takes your breath away. After months and months of ”Mitt Romney is a MORMON” coverage and endless insinuation that Romney’s faith will be problem for him (or that he is obliged to defend the precepts of his faith), the mention of possible ads featuring the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has the left-wing media in hysterics.
If you want to argue that religion is off bounds and that what counts is a candidate’s public record, the candidates’ own words and his own explanation for how faith affects his public conduct, then that standard should be equally applied. If, however, you want to hold candidates accountable for the precepts of their place of worship, then that standard should also be applied even-handedly.
Whether exploration of faith for a given candidate is productive for his opponent is an entirely different matter. I’ve argued to my friends on the right that it’s useless to go back to the albeit-troubling record of President Obama in Wright’s church and his association with characters like Bill Ayers; Americans don’t care. Moreover, the far better evidence of Obama’s left-leaning ideology is his own record. Instead of recounting what Wright said about Jews, it’s more relevant to recount what Obama has said to and about (“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you”) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
I agree with Romney and Rubin that the Wright issue is a loser in this election. Republicans have this notion that people are unaware of Jeremiah Wright’s ranting, but the truth is that voters largely didn’t care in the economic collapse; they just wanted a change. The best argument against Obama will be Obama’s record, and every moment spent by the Romney campaign or major outside PACs talking about anything other than the core issues of the 2012 campaign — jobs, economy, deficits, debt, and Iran — play into the distraction strategy that Team Obama is desperate to use.
However, it’s ridiculous to put the onus on Romney for the action of an outside super-PAC that might focus on Wright while the media has been pursuing the “Mormons are strange” trope for the last twelve months, at literally more than a story a day.
Addendum: Nice to see Chuck Todd cover my interview with Governor Romney yesterday:
Update: David Corn thinks Mitt needs to branch out a little further:
Indeed. He should be talking with Katie Pavlich, too.
Update II: Never mind:
On Thursday afternoon, the Ending Spending Action Fund super-PAC, run by billionaire Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts, put out a statement rejecting the plan to spend $10 million to link Obama and Wright in a “big, attention-arresting way.”
The proposal “reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take. Mr. Ricketts intends to work hard to help elect a President this fall who shares his commitment to economic responsibility, but his efforts are and will continue to be focused entirely on questions of fiscal policy, not attacks that seek to divide us socially or culturally,” according to a statement from the Ending Spending Action Fund.
Will the New York Times follow suit and quit talking about Romney’s Mormonism? Don’t hold your breath.