Aside from the death threats to Todd Akin, the insider account of a Karl Rove fundraiser was enormously revealing. First of all, you get an eye into the Crossroads strategy, and since it promises to have $300 million behind it, it’s a heavy part of the strategy to recapture the White House:
Then came the main event: Rove, joined by former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, laid out his strategy for winning the White House. “The people we’ve got to win in this election, by and large, voted for Barack Obama,” Rove said, in a soothing, professorial tone, explaining why the campaign hadn’t launched more pointed attacks on the president’s character.
Rove explained that Crossroads had conducted extensive focus groups and shared polling and focus group data with “all the major groups that are playing” in the election. “As many of you know, one of the most important things about Crossroads is: We don’t try and do this alone. We have partners,” he said. “The Kochs—you name it.”
What had emerged from that data is an “acute understanding of the nature of those undecided, persuadable” voters. “If you say he’s a socialist, they’ll go to defend him. If you call him a ‘far out left-winger,’ they’ll say, ‘no, no, he’s not.’” The proper strategy, Rove declared, was criticizing Obama without really criticizing him—by reminding voters of what the president said that he was going to do and comparing it to what he’s actually done. “If you keep it focused on the facts and adopt a respectful tone, then they’re gonna agree with you.”
You can see this in the above ad, which I think is tremendously effective. As I said
earlier today, there’s a plausible path to victory for the Republicans, if they’d only stay out of their own way. It’s rooted in describing the circumstances of the economy, saying “Are you better off than you were four years ago” over and over, and making the case for giving someone else a shot at turning things around. That’s the underlying case made here when the unemployed college graduate says “I can’t wait around another four years.”
The problem has been that the Republican Party cannot help but inflate this to ridiculous and offensive heights, describing the too-moderate policy interventionism of the Obama age as Kenyan colonial socialism. The id of the conservative base, rather than the intellect of the Republican establishment, has driven the response to Obama, and made that message exist on a plane of alternate reality. And even Crossroads has been tempted by that. As for being “focused on the facts,” that seems like a laudable but impossible goal for this crowd.
This also gets back to referendum versus choice, the idea that you can win by focusing on Obama’s failures, but you lose by making it a choice between competing ideologies, given what we know about the last time we tried the opposition’s favored policies.
Rove’s other problem is that he’s getting involved in races that will hurt the person he’s trying to help:
After screening a collection of television ads aimed at such Senate battleground states as Massachusetts, the fundraising began in earnest. CEO Law said that because of the “tremendous generosity” of many of the people in the room, American Crossroads is two-thirds of the way toward reaching its $300 million goal. But it still needs much more. With advertising rates going up and the necessity of “dealing with the gender-gap issue,” they could easily spend more than $300 million.
Barbour made the final pitch. “You all give so unbelievably generously. But you know what, I don’t have any compunction about looking you in the eye and asking for more,” he said. He compared the importance of a donation to American Crossroads in this cycle to donations made to “the charity hospital” or a “big not-for-profit cancer research program that you give to.”
Set aside for the moment the fact that conservatives know they have an enormous, unscalable problem with women, or that they’re pitching to the fabulously wealthy the attempt to purchase the political system like donating to get your name on a wing of a hospital. The highlighted portion is interesting. In Massachusetts, the major candidates have agreed on a type of non-aggression pact on outside spending. Despite skepticism, this has held. On two occasions where an outside group spent money against Elizabeth Warren, the Scott Brown campaign actually did donate an commensurate amount of their war chest to charity. I don’t know if it’ll hold forever. But the Warren campaign is leaping on this, at least to add some bad publicity if the Brown campaign doesn’t comply. This is from a letter from Warren campaign manager Mindy Myers to Rove:
You may not be aware, but earlier this year, both candidates signed what has become known as the “People’s Pledge” to discourage outside groups from participating in this election. Under the terms of the pledge, if either candidate is helped by spending from outside groups, that candidate must contribute half the amount spent to their opponent’s charity of choice. So far this year, Senator Scott Brown has twice paid a fine because of violations of the pledge by his allies.
We understand your organization is opposed to Elizabeth’s candidacy and seeks to help Republican candidates who will continue to push for tax breaks for big corporations and billionaires and the weakening of Wall Street reform. However, we believe that differences between the candidates on these issues are best debated between the candidates and not via heavy ad spending from outside groups.
I don’t know why it’s not an equal amount, meaning that Rove’s impositions into the race would still add a financial advantage. But I’m sure this would get a lot of earned media in Massachusetts as well, at a cost to Brown’s cultivated image. It’s something worth watching.