Friday, November 16, 2012

Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword

There are plenty of lessons for republicans to learn from the recent election defeat, and I hope this is one of them: Reagan’s eleventh commandment must be obeyed: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."

The key to President Obama’s ultimately successful campaign strategy was a summer spent “carpet-bombing” Romney with attack ads. Were the ads fair? No. Were they even truthful? No. Did they violate the principles Obama announced when he ran four years ago? Yes. Were the ads effective? Yes. And Romney is hardly in any position to complain.

Rewind to the Republican primaries. Newt Gingrich stung the Romney campaign with an important victory in South Carolina. How did Romney’s supporters respond? They assassinated Gingrich’s character with vicious ads. No great campaign of ideas – just savage attacks. The ads that were run against Gingrich weren’t fair, just like the ads Obama ran against Romney, and as Obama’s ads were effective over the summer, the ads against Gingrich were effective during the republican primary.

And then it happened. Unfairly attacked, Gingrich predictably hit back. Gingrich went after what should have been a strength for Romney -- Bain Capital. Gingrich’s negative attacks against Romney gave the Obama campaign free market testing for its own unfair negative ad campaign. Now I don’t think for a second that Gingrich’s attacks caused Obama to attack Romney – Obama was going to character-assassinate Romney in any event. Smearing Romney was the only way for the incumbent in the midst of a failed presidency to win. But I am suggesting that when Obama ended up saying the same things about Romney that Gingrich had been saying earlier, it lent an air of credibility to Obama’s attacks that they did not deserve. Obama ended up reinforcing false charges that had first been leveled by those of Romney’s own party. But, again, Romney is in no position to complain. His supporters started it – they carpet-bombed Gingrich at the first sign of trouble. What did they think would happen?

Perhaps a campaign of ideas will never work, at least not in this day and age. Perhaps the only way to win today is by paying for lies on television. I hope not. In any event, I hope that three years from now, when republicans start this process all over again, that they remember the wisdom of the Gipper. Leave the vicious lies to the left next time.