Opinion Brief

The Right's 'shameless' plan to tie Obama to Jeremiah Wright... again

After a barrage of criticism, conservatives abandon a scheme to make the president's controversial ex-pastor an even bigger issue than he was in 2008. Smart move?

Conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade, reportedly commissioned a plan by GOP strategist Fred Davis to "do exactly what John McCain would not let us do" in 2008: Mount a direct attack on President Obama for his past association with his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The $10 million plan, reports The New York Times, called for highlighting Wright's "black liberation theology," and then countering charges of racism by hiring an "extremely literate conservative African-American" spokesperson to lead the attack and cast Obama as some sort of failed "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln." (Since the Times story was published, Ricketts has disavowed the plan.) The super PAC that was offered the plan turned it down, and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney has repudiated it. Hitting the Obama-Wright connection didn't work in 2008. Would it be any more effective this time around?

This would have disgraced the GOP: This sort of "shameless" smear campaign would backfire, says Steve Benen at MSNBC. For one thing, Wright's sermons were aired in a "near-constant media loop" in 2008, and few voters cared. More importantly, this overtly race-based strategy, which gallingly calls for hiring an African-American spokesperson to call Obama a phony "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln," is less likely to win over "fence-sitters" than it is to make them sick.
"Race and Wright and Ricketts ... oh my"

Actually, every mention of Wright hurts Obama: The Democrats are staging a "coordinated, strategic freakout" over this, says Bryan Preston at Pajamas Media, because they know Wright is poison for Obama. The fiery pastor was Obama's "mentor for 20 years." He should be an issue, especially now that a new book charges that Obama's camp tried to buy Wright's silence in 2008. And don't forget, this plan was merely pitched to a super PAC — this has nothing to do with Mitt Romney's campaign at all.
"Why was David Axelrod tweeting at 5:42 this morning?"

From an economic standpoint, at least, this plan makes sense: Forget whether Jeremiah Wright attacks hurt Obama or not, says Matthew Yglesias at Slate. In this era of super PACs, a strategist hired by a billionaire doesn't have to bring down the target's poll numbers to succeed. If Joe Ricketts, "personally, is really into talking about Jeremiah Wright," and you're a political strategist, then you draw up a scheme to go after Wright. "Coming up with a cost-effective plan for damaging Obama's re-election campaign is pointless." Instead, you devise an attack that "resonates personally" with the mega-donor. A political operative's task isn't to win — it's to profit. And the only way to profit, in this case, is to capitalize on the Obama hatred of the guy signing the checks.
"Planning $10 million worth of Jeremiah Wright attacks makes sense even if it doesn't work"

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