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The GOP's dueling delusional campaign ads
Slick ads attacking Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty as reasonable moderates show just how divorced from reality today's Republican Party is
 
David Frum
David Frum

Does Monty Python produce attack ads?

Because this slickly produced ad attacking GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman sure looks like a joke. 

The ad accuses Huntsman of (1) worrying about excessive partisanship; (2) wanting to put a price on carbon emissions; (3) describing health care as a “right”; (4) promising to “put people first”; (5) supporting John McCain for president; and (6) drawing political support from Democrats and independents.

No, seriously, that’s what it says. And in case you are wondering, yes, those points are all meant as derogatory accusations. If you’re not a Republican, you may have to watch two or three times to understand how any of this could be seen as bad. But notice the visual cues: For instance, a shot of The New York Times building as Huntsman’s voice talks about reaching out to Democrats and independents. (NYT = lamestream media = bad.)

What’s next? Black-and-white ads in which gravelly voiced narrators sneer, “What do we know about Congressman Jenkins? He says he was climbing the tree only to steal apples. But our video cameras clearly show him rescuing a frightened kitten!”

In a normal universe, being for cooperation, against pollution, for health care, for people, for your party’s presidential nominee, and winning lots of votes would be admirable positives, not critical deficiencies. But since 2008, the Republican Party seems to have stepped into some dimension outside space and time, in which the rules of political physics have all been inverted.

We do not have to accede to the Democratic partisans and the talk radio shock-jocks who jointly defame and misrepresent Republicans as angry, irrational, frightened extremists.

And how did other Republicans respond? Perhaps suspecting that the ad was produced by the Tim Pawlenty team, they hit back — hard.

Using the same intro footage and the same mock-campaign ad music, someone compiled video clips of Pawlenty (1) endorsing the climate work of the National Academy of Sciences; (2) promising to enroll all citizens of Minnesota in a health plan of some sort; (3) candidly acknowledging that his state faced large budget deficits as a result of the recession; and (4) promising to spend federal stimulus funds “quickly and effectively.”

Again, non-Republicans may blink and say, “Where’s the attack?” But notice the picture of Pawlenty in a tuxedo shaking hands with President Obama at a state dinner. Not only did Gov. Pawlenty once think that everyone should have health coverage — he has actually been present in the same room as the president without physically assaulting him! What a RINO!

Granted, there’s a lot of insider baseball in these ads. They are made by professionals for other professionals. These attacks are intended more as brushback pitches than as serious hardballs. Both Huntsman and Pawlenty remain deep in the second tier — Pawlenty with the support of 6% of Republicans (behind Herman Cain), according to Gallup, and Huntsman with the support of only 2% (behind Michele Bachmann). The audience for these ads is less the Republican primary voter, much more fellow campaign professionals.

And yet, perversely, it is precisely this insider quality that makes these ads so disturbing. They drop the veil on what Republican professionals inwardly believe their Republican audiences want to hear. It's not a very complimentary estimate, and I am convinced it is a wrong estimate.

As individuals, Republicans are responsible, reasonable people who raise families and care for their communities. Why do we refuse to think of ourselves that way in the aggregate? 

Republicans do not reject the authority of science. They do not deride health coverage for all. They do not relish conflict for its own sake. They do not think governors should refuse when offered federal dollars to avert immediate and catastrophic cuts in services. They do not think it is impossible to spend public money "quickly and effectively." They do not think it is a betrayal of principle to seek votes outside the hard Republican base.

Most important: Republicans have the power to debunk the unflattering self-appraisal presented in the dueling Pawlenty-Huntsman ads. We do not have to accede to the Democratic partisans and the talk radio shock-jocks who jointly defame and misrepresent Republicans as angry, irrational, frightened extremists. The things Pawlenty and Huntsman are saying in these ads are the things Republicans should expect their candidates to say — along with a pro-enterprise message on taxes, regulation, and government spending, of course. The ads' satire should be our party's candidate profile description. And I have no doubt that in good time, it will be so — if not in 2012, then certainly in 2016.

Editor's note: This article originally stated incorrectly that the Huntsman campaign had produced the anti-Pawlenty ad. It has since been revised. We regret the error.

 

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