Why now? She’s resisted the Romney camp’s entreaties for months, after all, saying that she was working behind the scenes to bring all factions of her party together. Fellow social conservative Rick Santorum hasn’t yet endorsed Mr. Romney. Neither has Newt Gingrich. It isn’t like Bachmann’s been standing out in the cold.
From Romney’s point of view there are hazards in appearing on stage with Bachmann, as well. She was pretty tough on him before she suspended her campaign last January. Already Democrats are gleefully promoting her most biting anti-Mitt rhetoric. The liberal blog Think Progress has listed what editors judge her 10 best Romney attacks.
No. 1? “[Romney] cannot beat Obama. It’s not going to happen,” she told ABC News last December.
Well, we think there’s a mutual perceived advantage here that makes electoral sense. Bachmann’s running to retain her congressional seat, after all. If she wins, and Romney wins, and she hadn’t endorsed him, she’d be in an awkward spot. Plus, she’s got about $650,000 in debt from her presidential bid, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Romney money folks can help retire that.
As for Romney, look at where the endorsement announcement is occurring. Bachmann is a Minnesota lawmaker, yet she’s appearing next to her party’s presumptive standard-bearer down in tidewater Virginia.
We say that’s because the Old Dominion is more of a swing state than Minnesota. Right now Romney is about 2 points behind President Obama in Virginia, according to the RealClearPolitics rolling average of state polls. He’s almost 10 points behind in Minnesota.
Bachmann has long been a favorite of Tea Party adherents. And Virginia’s got lots of those: about 21 percent of the state’s voters said they were Tea Party supporters, according to a Marist survey from earlier this year.
That’s why this endorsement event has been set up as it has, if you ask us. The Romney team may be narrowcasting this, hoping for a boost in a particular state, among a particular segment of that state’s voters. On Saturday, Bachmann will be the commencement speaker at Regent University in nearby Virginia Beach. Perhaps she’ll have a few good words to say about Romney at an educational institution that was founded by Pat Robertson and remains a font of conservative evangelical thought.
A new biography of President Obama is about to hit book stores (and Amazon and WalMart and iTunes and wherever else people get their long-form printed material these days.) Is this in-depth tome – “Barack Obama: The Story,” by award-winning historian David Maraniss – a threat to the president’s reelection effort?
No, we’re not basing this on the false charge that the book reveals Obama mashed ex-girlfriends together, creating a composite character in his memoir “Dreams From My Father.” Mr. Obama disclosed that in the introduction to every edition of the book, despite what you may have read yesterday via the Drudge Report.
That mistaken charge took root largely due to an error by Politico in a report Wednesday on a book excerpt. Once they discovered that Obama had indeed disclosed his authorial technique Politico issued a correction, but it was too little, too late.
“By the time [the Politico reporter] had acknowledged his errors, the mistake had taken on a life of its own,” writes media mistake expert Craig Silverman in a post on the flaplet at the journalism site Poynter.org.
Politico’s faux pas may continue to rattle around the corners of the Internet. But what we’re talking about here is something bigger: whether the Maraniss book is a danger to Obama because it could redraw the origin story Obama has carefully constructed for himself.
That’s the theme of another Politico story. (It’s possible they felt they had to go deep think to make up for their Wednesday mess.)
Obama’s books have given him nearly complete control over his life narrative, write reporters Glenn Thrush and Dylan Byers. The president portrays himself as a searching, rational, multicultural product who struggled to find his place in a world of black and white.
“But Maraniss’s biography threatens that narrative by questioning it: Was Obama’s journey entirely spiritual and intellectual? Or was it also grounded in the lower realms of ambition and calculation?” write the Politco reporters.
Excerpts from the book published in Vanity Fair haven’t contained explosive new information. They focus on the young Obama’s relationships with serious girlfriends. They depict Obama struggling indeed with his identity – but also as somebody eager to get ahead, with his eye on the next big thing for himself.
“The problem is that Obama doesn’t want to be nailed down,” write Messrs. Thrush and Byers. “He is a control freak when it comes to messaging his own life – he won’t utter any words he thinks he couldn’t have written himself.”
Well, Mr. Maraniss is a thorough reporter, so it’s possible there are revelations to come. But based on the evidence so far we’d say this won’t have much effect on Obama’s poll numbers.
For one thing, time has passed. Voters have four years experience with Obama as president and have developed their own story about his personality in their heads. That’s the Obama biography – or rather, the millions of individual Obama biographies – that will most matter at the poll.
For another thing, since when is ambition a disqualifying trait in politics? To become president, candidates must be more than pure seekers of truth. The young Abraham Lincoln used to lie on the floor and moan to friends about how he was losing his chance to be remembered by the world. Mitt Romney has been running for the Oval Office for a decade. The office in question here is chief executive of the US, not the oracle of Delphi.
That said, the book is sure to provide source material for Romney researchers. They’ll comb every page for stuff that could portray Obama in an unflattering light. And in today’s Twitter-fueled dragster-fast news cycle, those bits will find a willing audience.
“Instead of being welcomed for what it is, Maraniss’s book is going to be mined for ‘potentially game-changing’ ancecdotes,” writes Slate political blogger David Weigel Thursday.
The title of Weigel’s post? “David Maraniss, Meet the Freak Show.”
Reporters at the blog Stylite.com tracked down the shirt Ann Romney wore on CBS's morning show Monday – and found out it cost $990. We mention this only because we, too, were struck by Mrs. Romney's shirt. It had a very large bird across the front, and was unusually eye-catching and hip for a political spouse. It also made Mitt Romney, who was sitting beside his wife in his customary suit and tie, look somehow even more buttoned-down than usual.
In fact, the shirt almost overshadowed what Mrs. Romney actually said in the interview. Asked about popular misconceptions about her husband, she said she felt he had been wrongly characterized as "stiff" – when in fact, he was a "wild and crazy" guy.
"I still look at him as the boy that I met in high school when he was playing all the jokes and really just being crazy, pretty crazy," she told Charlie Rose. "And so there's a wild and crazy man inside of there."
Maybe she meant it in a Steve-Martin-and-Dan-Aykroyd kind of way.
This was actually just the latest in a series of "wild man" comments Mrs. Romney has made about her husband, in an evident effort to loosen up his image.
Earlier this month, in a radio interview, she responded to another question about Romney's perceived stiffness by saying: "I guess we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out, because he is not!" She also called him "the life of the party."
Likewise, in a recent interview with "Entertainment Tonight," she called him "a very funny guy," and offered as proof: "He doesn't comb his hair when we are not going places."
Even as far back as December, Mrs. Romney was referring to her husband as "my most disobedient child," saying: “The five boys – can you imagine? – at the dinner table, they never behaved. And Mitt was the worst of all.”
Now, it's common practice for political spouses to offer voters behind-the-scenes glimpses of the candidate's lighter side, to make them seem more human. And sometimes these "relatable" anecdotes don't exactly go over the way they're intended – as when Michelle Obama told an interviewer back in 2007 that daughters Sasha and Malia didn't like cuddling with their dad in the mornings because he was "too snore-y and stinky," possibly forever linking President Obama and morning breath in the minds of many voters.
But even more important than not being unnecessarily icky, the picture the spouse conveys needs to seem honest. Efforts to present a candidate's more down-to-earth side still have to comport with voters' general sense of who he or she really is. Otherwise, they ring hollow or smack of desperation.
Back in 2000, Al Gore's wife Tipper – who, like Mrs. Romney, was seen as far more easygoing and personable than her spouse – was repeatedly called on to try to lighten Mr. Gore's image, with decidedly mixed results. (Much of it seemed as forced as the couple's infamous seven-second kiss at the Democratic convention.)
Perhaps it's just us, but when Ann Romney talks about her husband like he's the world's biggest cutup, it doesn't exactly sound convincing – or even all that helpful. We'd argue Mrs. Romney is a far more effective advocate when she speaks about her husband's strengths as a husband and father, or as a fix-it guy.
Given that the Obama campaign is reportedly trying to portray Romney as a Don Draper-esque throwback, maybe Romney should instead try to turn that into a strength. Perhaps some faucet-fixing anecdotes from Ann are in order?
Jimmy Kimmel hosted the White House Correspondent’s Dinner four days ago, but he’s still continuing to roast politicians. Though by “roast” we mean he’s singeing President Obama while turning up the heat higher on his Mitt Romney jokes.
Take his monologue from “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last night. (OK, the show appears at midnight on the East Coast, meaning it’s technically this morning. We get it.) Mr. Obama got off relatively easy. Perhaps that was because he was in Afghanistan to sign a new strategic relationship pact with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. It’s difficult to mock a president carrying out crucial foreign policy duties.
But Kimmel gave it a go. “President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan today to commemorate the anniversary [of Osama bin Laden’s assassination],” he said. “He had an inspiring dinner with the troops, followed by dinner at ‘TGI’m-leaving,’ and got right the heck out of there.”
Come on, Jimmy, you can do better. How about this: “President Obama just flew back from Afghanistan tonight. Boy is his left arm tired.”
Or this: “President Obama just signed an agreement with Afghanistan to get US forces out. We’re leaving one person behind to help defend the country. Ted Nugent.”
Feel free to groan, we’re not proud. Anyway, Kimmel’s bit on Romney was tougher. Funny, but tougher. The late-night comedian put up a clip of Romney and his wife Ann appearing on CBS earlier in the day. In that CBS interview Mrs. Romney insists that the former Massachusetts governor is not a stiff. Then she leans over and puts her arms around her husband and gives him a hug.
At that point Kimmel stopped the clip. “Look at how stiff he is while she’s holding him!” he says. “It’s like she’s trying to shake him out of it.... By the way, what was that [fabric print] on the shirt she was wearing? It looks like a cross between a parakeet and a serpent.”
Then Kimmel restarted the clip, which his staff had doctored. What followed did not happen in the actual CBS interview, trust us.
“It’s nice for me as a wife to say this is the person that’s really there,” Ann Romney told CBS interviewer Charlie Rose. “I still look at him as the boy that I met in high school when he was playing all the jokes.”
At this point in the clip, Mitt Romney’s arm comes shooting up, holding a rubber chicken.
“And really just being crazy,” concludes Mrs. Romney.
Then, her husband whacks her with the chicken, knocking her backside-over-teakettle out of the chair.
Kimmel’s audience loved the altered clip, roaring with laughter.
It’s true that Kimmel’s treatment of the president vis-à-vis the presumptive GOP nominee is just a bit of entertainment ephemera, with little or no bearing on the campaign at large. But we feel this does illustrate at least one interesting point: In presidential politics, a challenger is just a challenger, someone whom it’s funny to make the butt of rubber-chicken jokes.
The incumbent is the President of the United States, capital “P,” capital “U,” capital “S.” That can be harder for comedians, not to mention their political opponents, to get a handle on.
As the New York Times political blog, The Caucus, notes today: When it comes to campaigns, a sitting president has “incalculable advantages." One minute they’re issuing harsh ads questioning whether their opponent would have killed Osama bin Laden. Then the next, just as opponents are crying “foul” over the ad, the nation’s chief executive is suddenly in Afghanistan, doing the nation’s business on a big stage.
“The weaving of campaign and official business is the hallmark of presidential reelection campaigns, perfected by previous administrations of both parties. And Mr. Obama’s team will be no different in making use of the trappings of his office,” wrote correspondent Michael Shear.
Of course, it's also possible that Hollywood is just full of Democrats who find it easier to relate to Obama's style (and politics) than to Romney's. We'll let you discuss that amongst yourselves.
Talk about low-hanging fruit. All the Obama camp needed to do was collect the most pungent of Gingrich’s attacks on Mr. Romney during primary debates and interviews, add a heavy dose of sarcasm, and stir.
Gingrich is throwing his support behind Romney?, the video asks.
“As a man who wants to run for president of the United States who can’t be honest with the American people, why should we expect him to level about anything if he’s president?” the former House speaker asks matter-of-factly in one clip.
Next question: Is it Romney’s business record that Newt supports?
“You’d certainly have to say that Bain at times engaged in behavior where they looted a company leaving behind 1,700 unemployed people,” Gingrich says, referring to the private-equity firm that Romney formerly headed.
Then: “There was a pattern, in some companies, a handful of them, of leaving them with enormous debt, and then within a year or two or three, having them go broke. I think that is something he ought to answer.”
Follow that with slams on Romney’s Swiss bank account, a “Romney machine” that’s “not capable of inspiring positive turnout,” positions that are “anti-immigrant,” and another attack on Romney’s honesty, and you’ve got a tidy message against the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
Romney finished the competitive part of the primary season with the lowest likability of any major-party nominee in modern history – thanks in part to attacks from Gingrich and the other GOP candidates. Now Gingrich is reportedly set to endorse Romney in the next couple of weeks. The Obama campaign is making sure we don’t forget what Gingrich thought just a few months ago.
The GOP thinks it has a killer app.
The Republican National Committee unveiled its Social Victory Center on Tuesday, a Facebook application that lets users engage in campaign mainstays like phoning undecided voters, joining volunteer efforts, and distributing voter-registration materials from their couches or favorite cafés.
The app is an attempt to reverse the digital edge Democrats built by harnessing social media more adeptly during Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. Republicans hope that it will help them with two key demographic groups, in particular: young voters and women. Fifty-four percent of Facebook's 161 million active US users are women, and 58 percent are under age 34, according to the RNC.
To be sure, the Social Victory Center will get Republicans into the social-media battle, and its use of Facebook is promising, analysts say. But they question whether it will be the game-changer that Republicans hope it will be.
"At some level, what they’ve done is they’ve taken the same kind of tools that were in the MyBarackObama.com toolkit four years ago and posted them to Facebook," says Colin Delany, the founder of epolitics.com. "But at the same time, they will be able to leverage a certain amount of social data – what's being shared, what's being viewed – and there is a possibility that they'll get a higher adoption rate because it's within Facebook."
For their part, Republicans are casting their attempt to play catchup as an advantage.
"Technology changes fast enough that you need to hit the reset button fairly often and frequently, and that's effectively what we've done," said Tim Schigel, chairman of tech firm ShareThis and a consultant to the RNC on technology. "There's a lot of learning from the past but ... to rely too much on technology that was used in the past was a mistake, and that might actually be something that slows down the Obama team because they've built so much.... We don't have that baggage."
It could also mean, however, that the RNC has a long way to go in building up the app. While it has numerous, far-reaching functions, the actual information on the application is sparse, says Karen Jagoda, co-founder of the E-Voter Institute, a nonpartisan trade association for Web companies interested in politics.
For example, Ms. Jagoda notes that the only volunteer opportunity near her California home is 120 miles away.
"I don't think it's quite ready for prime time," she said after looking through the app on Tuesday afternoon.
Though, she added, "I think its got the bare bones of what they're trying to accomplish."
Its features include:
- Piping news and video from the RNC or state Republican committees directly to users.
- Acting as a portal to help users find local campaign events and create their own events.
- Directing volunteers to nearby efforts and providing an online forum for discussion.
- Storing a bevy of documents and information – from absentee-ballot applications to notifications about early voting to handouts for a local PTA meeting.
When users click through each of these things, the app publishes that activity into their friends' Facebook feeds, thus ensuring that their friends see what SVC users are reading, attending, and doing.
But spreading the word digitally is only part of the program. The app also lets users make phone calls to undecided voters in a dozen swing states. Users input their phone number and are given a call from a central database. Once they pick up, their phone is connected to a potential voter. The volunteer, with a script prepared by the GOP's political team on the screen in front of them, asks the voter questions and fills out a form in the app.
It's a function that allows the RNC to use huge numbers of activists in deeply conservative or liberal states that would otherwise find it difficult to contribute in more competitive states.
"We have scores of people around the country in these red or blue states that – in the past – we haven't had anything for them to do," says RNC Political Director Rick Wiley. "The old model was to deploy them across the country and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on hotel rooms and flights, and now they can do it from their living room."
Jagoda is skeptical that volunteers making calls from one state will be able to do much more than gather information from voters in another state.
"If someone is passionate about politics in Wyoming, are they going to connect with somebody who is an independent voter in New Mexico?" she says. "I'm not convinced that passion in politics translates across state lines as much as some people think it does. It's one thing to get excited about a presidential candidate, it's another for a senator or a congressman or a governor in another state."
Mr. Delany of e-politics agrees: "It’s good for engaging the loyalists and giving them something to do," he says, but "not likely to make a huge difference in the outcome of the election."
What could be more helpful, Jagoda says, is the granular data Republicans get from the app about its users. The party could leverage that information for a variety of purposes, from get-out-the-vote efforts to tailored messages to users who are interested a single issue, like education or the economy.
The degree to which Republicans use this information to forge connections with voters will determine the app's effectiveness, Jagoda says.
After inputting her information into the application, she says: "Let's see how much they encourage me to come back to this app. If they put it out there and just let it sit there, I don't give it too high a chance of succeeding. If they know how to work it, we might see some interesting surprises out of this."
Delany says the RNC could be shooting for around 2 million accounts – a level of participation similar to MyBarackObama.com, the non-Facebook site established by the Obama campaign in 2008.
The Obama campaign has just released a new attack ad that accuses Mitt Romney of sending jobs overseas and stashing his cash in a Swiss bank account.
The 30-second spot, titled (surprise!) “Swiss Bank Account,” begins on the defensive. It describes as “over the top” and “erroneous” a recent commercial from a GOP-leaning super PAC, which charged that billions of dollars from President Obama’s energy projects have gone to factories in foreign countries.
“President Obama’s clean-energy initiatives have created jobs in America, not overseas,” the narration says.
Then the ad pivots, and the rhetorical knives come out. “What about Mitt Romney?” appears on the screen.
“It’s just what you’d expect from a guy who had a Swiss bank account,” the spot ends.
Is the ad effective? That’s not going to be clear for a while, if ever: Figuring out the particular reasons that presidential candidate poll numbers rise and fall remains more a dark art than a science. For the record, political scientists are highly dubious that attack ads such as this are as powerful as pundits and consultants think they are.
That said, as communications professionals, we have a couple of comments about the spot. First, it’s got too much going on. The initial defensive burst is confusing, particularly when it’s followed by the quick cut to Romney, swooshing graphics about jobs in Mexico and China, and so on. We think the only thing voters will remember is the phrase “Romney Swiss bank account.”
Of course, from the point of view of Democrats, that would be fine. They’re happy to drive home the theme that Romney is a Richie Rich who’s got Swiss bank accounts and a car elevator in the Cayman Islands. Or some such.
“It’s all about turning Romney into the walking embodiment of the type of economic behavior that led to the meltdown,” writes the left-leaning pundit Greg Sargent on Tuesday on his Plum Line blog in The Washington Post.
And that’s our second point: This ad hits Romney square in his empathy gap. A recent Washington Post/ABC poll found that only 37 percent of voters think Romney “better understands economic problems people in this country are having.” Forty-nine percent thought Mr. Obama the better answer to that question.
That’s what the Obama campaign is trying to do here: define Romney as someone remote from your concerns.
Will that matter? It may not, or at least, not as much as Democratic strategists hope. “Republicans win all the time without closing the empathy gap,” George Washington University political scientist John Sides wrote recently. That’s because voters inherently see Democrats as more empathetic – but that perceived empathy is no guarantee of victory.
“In general, be wary of any claim that there is a single path to victory, particularly if that path involves a candidate’s personality,” he writes.
President Obama’s jokes were pretty pointed at Washington’s “nerd prom” – the White House Correspondents’ Dinner – over the weekend. He went after every subgroup gathered in the giant Hilton ballroom, with the possible exception of rehab-prone starlets.
Journalists? Check. “The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is known as the prom of Washington, D.C. – a term coined by political reporters who clearly never had the chance to go to an actual prom,” Mr. Obama said.
Congress? Double check. “I want to especially thank all the members who took a break from their exhausting schedule of not passing any laws to be here tonight,” joked the president.
Mitt Romney? Send him the check! Obama tripled down on remarks that skewered his presumptive fall opponent. Such as when he said, "Recently, [Mr. Romney’s] campaign criticized me for slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon. In fact, I understand Governor Romney was so incensed he asked his staff if he could get some equal time on ‘The Merv Griffin Show.' ”
Hmm. Did Obama go too far? We’d say that if nothing else, Obama’s humor was edgier than that of past presidential performances. For instance, he referred to the recent flaplet over the fact that when young, he was served dog in Indonesia. (“As my stepfather always told me, ‘It’s a boy-eat-dog world out there.' ”) He waved Republicans' talking points back in their faces. (“I have not seen ‘The Hunger Games.' Not enough class warfare for me.”) He even sort of made an I’m-looking-at-you gesture toward the Supreme Court. (“In my first term, we passed health-care reform. In my second term, I guess I’ll pass it again.”)
Not everyone approved. At one point over the weekend, the Drudge Report led its home page with the headline, “Barack bizarre: President jokes about eating dogs?”
But we’ll agree with The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza on this one: What Obama did was what presidents usually do with such appearances, which is to appeal to their committed voters. Only partisans follow this kind of thing closely, and Democratic partisans will chortle at Obama’s humor. Partisan Republicans wouldn’t have approved of it under virtually any circumstances.
“What these presidential speeches tend to do is affirm the already deeply-held feelings of each party’s base,” wrote Mr. Cillizza on his blog The Fix on Monday.
In other words, Obama’s reelection effort is not going to sit there and let the Romney team pour money into negative advertising that defines the president in the way Republicans would prefer. Obama is going to hit preemptively and hard, and he is going to walk right up to the line of propriety, and maybe past it, when it comes to campaigning.
After all, in recent days the Obama reelection team has questioned whether Romney would have ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Politics ain’t beanbag, as pundits like to say on cable news. (What is beanbag? How do you play it? We have no idea, and we bet they don’t either.)
In that context, a little humor about Romney (“It’s great to be here this evening in the vast, magnificent Hilton ballroom – or what Mitt Romney would call ‘a little fixer-upper’ ”) may be just a foretaste of the dialogue to come.
Jimmy Kimmel was pretty much en fuego on Saturday night, wasn’t he? As our own publication’s report said of his appearance as headliner at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he had them “rolling in the aisles” of the huge Hilton ballroom.
We’re pretty sure that’s a figure of speech. They cram so many tables into that event you couldn’t roll a foot without knocking a waiter into Lindsay Lohan’s lap.
Anyway, Kimmel was bipartisan in his targets. Of failed GOP hopeful Rick Santorum, he said, “I guess it just wasn’t Rick’s year. Rick’s year was 1954.” He said libertarian Ron Paul “looks like the guy who gets unhooded at the end of every Scooby Doo episode.” Prior to telling a risque joke about the Secret Service, he told President Obama to cover up his ears, “if that’s physically possible.”
Looking out over the assembled journalists, government officials, lawmakers, lobbyists, and celebrities, he sighed and said, “Everything that is wrong with America is here tonight.”
Very nice. Maybe "The Colbert Report" will be able to work you in, Jimmy. But here’s our nerdish question: How much did Kimmel get paid for that? Is it lucrative to fly to DC and entertain a roomful of former student body vice presidents, and their guests?
Looks like it is to us. The exact amount of Kimmel’s pay isn’t public, or at least not yet. But you can get a pretty good idea of the financials of this whole dinner by leafing through the paper the WHCA has to file with the IRS. (Tax-exempt groups file a Form 990 that’s available to the public.)
We figure he made around $50,000, give or take ten grand.
In 2009, the latest year for which that form is available, the White House Correspondents’ paid $43,233 for the entertainment at their annual dinner. Since the headline comedian is the main entertainment, we’ll assume they get most of that.
In 2009, that comedian was Wanda Sykes, who was also pretty funny. But Ms. Sykes is not as big a star as Kimmel. Her talk show got canceled. His “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” appears to be going strong. So we’ll guess that Kimmel got a bit more than she did, a few years ago. That’s where our $50,000 estimate comes from.
The dinner expense data from 2008 and 2007 confirm this general estimate. Overall, the entertainment at the journalists’ dinner gets paid more than many journalists.
The dinner itself is a big financial deal. Gross receipts are about $600,000, which is more than twenty times what the WHCA takes in from other sources. About half of that pays for the room and meals, though, and $200,000 of it is used for journalist scholarships and other charitable endeavors.
A campaign ad produced by President Obama’s reelection team that questions whether presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney would have ordered the Special Forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden is generating considerable controversy in US politics, in advance of the anniversary of the raid.
Mr. Obama’s supporters have defended the ad, saying the president had long pressed his national-security apparatus to find the Al Qaeda leader. Obama then made a courageous decision to approve a raid despite less-than-perfect intelligence about Mr. bin Laden’s whereabouts, they say.
The ad was “not over the line," said Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to the Obama reelection campaign. "There’s a difference in the roles they would play as commander in chief, and I certainly think that’s fair game.”
But Republicans and even some Democrats are questioning the propriety of invoking bin Laden’s killing in such nakedly political terms. It’s one thing to promote the president’s role in bringing justice to one of the nation’s primary enemies, noted Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, Obama's opponent in 2008. It’s quite another to spin that event into a political attack ad.
“Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of September 11th,” said Senator McCain in a statement issued by the Republican National Committee last Friday.
Over the weekend, senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Obama was turning an event that had unified the nation into something divisive. By the time Obama had to make the “go” decision on the raid, it was not that difficult an executive call, Mr. Gillespie implied.
“I can’t envision, having served in the White House, any president having been told, ‘We have him, he’s here, you know, should we go in?’ and saying, ‘No, we shouldn’t,' ” he said.
The ad is the sort of political discourse that “makes politicians and political leaders act irrationally when it comes to matters of war because they’re so afraid to be called wimps,” said Ms. Huffington.
So why did the Obama team launch such a potentially controversial ad? Almost certainly, one reason is that it highlights an Obama strength: Voters rate his foreign-policy decisions higher than his economic ones.
Plus, national security is often an area of weakness with Democrats. As author and former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham notes in Time magazine, Democratic presidential candidates have continually learned the lesson that they have to act tough to counteract the GOP’s inherent advantage on defense issues.
Finally, Wednesday is the anniversary of bin Laden’s death. With the subject resurfacing in the media, the Obama team probably felt they should act fast to define the subject in the way most favorable to them. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph listed the incorrect day for the anniversary.]
“Is the bin Laden ad fair to Romney? No, not really. But politics is not for the faint of heart,” writes Meacham.