The usual sports metaphors barely do justice to how easy it is, in theory, to build an attack ad around your opponent demanding half the country “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Softball pitch down the plate? Kickball, maybe? Tee ball?
Evidence is mounting that Mitt Romney’s leaked remarks about how 47 percent of Americans see themselves as “victims” are doing significant damage to his campaign both nationally and in key swing states around the country. While the hidden camera video has gotten plenty of play on its own in the press, Democrats are piling on as much as possible with a growing number of attack ads.
The degree of difficulty may be low, but the current body of ads connect Romney’s quotes to an impressive array of themes in a very short amount of time. Here’s how Democrats are using the hidden camera footage as a Swiss Army knife of messaging.
Widening The Empathy Gap
A huge chunk of the Democratic National Convention’s primetime speeches, most notably Joe Biden’s and Michelle Obama’s, were devoted to casting Obama as a compassionate man of the people, and Romney as a cold and callous businessman who only is comfortable around other businessmen. There’s a reason for that: strong majorities of voters routinely tell pollsters they think Obama cares about people like them while saying the opposite about Romney.
So one of the first priorities of the Obama campaign ads has been to capitalize on that advantage, most notably in this spot that simply superimposes excerpts of Romney’s fundraiser comments over images of ordinary Americans.
“Rather than callously writing off half the nation, we’re both giving voice to those ‘victims’ Romney scorned and clearly telling those who have worked hard and paid their fair share exactly what kind of President our opponent would be,” Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher told TPM.
This is clearly the angle that worries Romney the most based on his own recent ads. The Romney campaign has reportedly replaced all of its ads in nine swing states with a personal spot in which the candidate says he and Obama “both care about poor and middle class families — the difference is my policies will make things better for them.”
Framing The Budget Wars
Bill Burton of Priorities USA, the Democratic super PAC tasked with re-electing the president, recounted earlier in the campaign that they had trouble convincing voters in focus groups that Romney had supported Paul Ryan’s budgets privatizing Medicare while cutting taxes for the rich because they didn’t believe any presidential nominee would endorse such an idea.
To overcome this obstacle, Burton sought to wear down Romney’s image by portraying him as an uncaring plutocrat in order to lay the foundation for later attacks focusing on actual tax and budget policy. Whatever the cause, Romney’s personal popularity is now at historically low levels for a major party nominee and there’s mounting polling evidence that swing voters, including seniors, are growing concerned about Ryan’s proposals.
Now Priorities USA sees Romney’s “47 percent moment” as its best bridge between its personal attacks and policy attacks. “It has broken through in a really profound way,” Burton told TPM Friday, noting one recent PPP poll in Florida showed a whopping 89 percent of voters were aware of Romney’s comments.
“The reason this was such an important moment is it fits in the narrative arc of what we’ve been saying about Romney the whole time: he doesn’t share your values and his policies are designed to help the wealthy at the expense of the middle class,” Burton told TPM.
Reviving Romney’s Tax Problems
Calling half the country “victims” is probably not a great idea in general, but Romney also explicitly framed his argument around the notion of tax fairness — 47 percent don’t pay income tax, which he suggested makes them “dependent” on government funded by the other 53 percent. This left a giant opening for Democrats’ next favorite topic: Romney’s taxes.
Buoyed by Romney’s recent release of his 2011 tax returns, the Obama campaign produced not one but two ads tying his fundraiser comments to his 14 percent tax rate. The second one is the most brutal:
This is the kind of stuff Republicans decry as “class warfare” in its purest form. The narrative is simple: Romney wants to take “hard working” people’s money because he thinks they aren’t “pulling their weight.” Obama wants to make guys like Romney pony up more of their fortune, “almost all from investments,” instead.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.