Matt Yglesias makes the point that the not-to-be Ricketts Plan made sense from the advertisers’ marketing standpoint, if not an electoral standpoint:
If you’re Fred Davis or any other consultant eager to help himself to a slice of Ricketts’ $10 million investment, coming up with a cost-effective plan for damaging Obama’s re-election campaign is pointless. What you want to do is come up with a plan that appeals to Ricketts’ sensibilities and makes him want to spend the money.
A lot of people seem to condescendingly believe that only yahoos are into anti-Obama conspiracy theories, but the reality is that this stuff appeals primarily to relatively high-information voters including many very rich and sophisticated businessmen. No less an ideological funder than David Koch thinks it’s important to note that Obama’s “father was a hard-core economic socialist in Kenya,” which is supposed to somehow be relevant to the views of a son who never knew him. These rich donor types have no real skin in the game, and the operatives’ main task isn’t to win; it’s to persuade them to spend. That means emphasizing whatever kind of attacks most resonate personally with the donors. …
The way this whole ad campaign leaked was pretty interesting. It was a report of a plan so obviously tasteless that it received criticism from everyone, even Mitt Romney. But if the ad had just run without this news report, it would have been a fait acccompli, a fact on the ground. Most everyone on the right would have rushed to defend the ad’s substance, or fallen back to praising the First Amendment without engaging on the substance.
Take the response to George Bush Sr.’s Willie Horton ad. It ran, it drew criticism, Republicans all said it was a legitimate issue, so the official story is that it was “controversial”, not “obviously tasteless”.
But when Lee Atwater showed it, before it ran, to fellow Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone, Stone offered quite a different reaction. From the transcript to “Boogie Man”, the Frontline documentary on Atwater:
REPORTER: Willie Horton will become a household name.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: No more furloughs for people that rape, pillage and plunder! Thank you, and God bless.
LESLIE STAHL, 60 Minutes: Do you think the Willie Horton commercial, though, gives hints of racial politics?
LEE ATWATER: I haven’t seen the Willie Horton commercial.
LESLIE STAHL: You don’t have a Willie Horton commercial on the air?
LEE ATWATER: No.
LESLIE STAHL: A furlough program commercial? You don’t have a crime— you don’t have an ad on the air about the crime issue?
LEE ATWATER: No.
LESLIE STAHL: So there’s no plan in this campaign at all to use the Willie Horton commercial at all to appeal—
LEE ATWATER: Well, there’s no Willie Horton commercial. I do think that the criminal furlough program that Dukakis supported, in which convicted murderers were allowed to go on weekend furlough—
ROGER STONE: I went into the headquarters to see Atwater, at his request. He locked the office door, and he popped the famous Willie Horton spot onto a television. He said, “I got a couple boys going to put a couple million dollars up for this independent.” And I said, “That’s a huge mistake. You and George Bush will wear that to your grave. It’s a racist ad. You’re already wining this issue. It’s working for you. You’re stepping over a line. You’re going to regret it.” And he said, “Y’all a pussy.”
It’s funny how transparently bereft of principles our political discourse is.