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Did The GOP Fall For The Obama Campaign’s Osama bin Laden Trap?

Mark McKinnon thinks Republicans are making far too much out of the President’s touting the death of Osama bin Laden as part of his campaign, and potentially falling into a trap by doing so:

It’s history folks. It happened. We can’t and shouldn’t ignore these seminal events of our times for some ridiculous PC notion that these are sensitive issues and if we talk about them we are exploiting them or offending brave citizens or soldiers who lost their lives.

Now I personally don’t think Obama has to hit things very directly on the nose regarding bin Laden. I always prefer a subtle glove rather than a high-fived slap. But, Obama has every right to tout this significant accomplishment. And if he wants to suggest Mitt Romney might have done otherwise, that’s his right as well. That’s what campaigns are all about.

It is Obama’s right and obligation to characterize his record and run on it.

And when you look down the list of Obama’s accomplishments, if you’re honest about it and take out the politics, you would have to say eliminating Osama bin Laden is right there at the top.

So I say to Republicans: take an aspirin. Applaud Obama’s significant foreign- policy achievement. Get some credit for being honest and then take that credibility and turn the argument back to the economy, where the turf is much friendlier.

McKinnon goes on to note that Republicans seem to be making the same mistake that Democrats did in 2004 when they complained about the Bush campaign’s 9/11 ads. The only thing that the complaining, and the press coverage that it generated, ended up doing was to reinforce the message that the Bush campaign was trying to communicate with the ad, not to mention all the free publicity the ad itself got as a result of the coverage. The same thing seems to be happening here. Every news story about the “controversy” ends up including most, if not all, of the ad itself.  The same goes in the “new media” since pretty much every blog post I’ve seen on this advertisement, whether on a liberal or conservative blog includes the ad, kindly embedded by the post author for the readers convenience. Given the fact that this ad is only a a web ad, meaning that people either have to go to YouTube to view it or see it someplace where it’s been embedded, the one thing that continual discussion of the controversy and the outraged response of Romney supporters, conservatives, and pundits on the right means is that the Obama campaign is getting free television coverage for its ad without having to pay a single dime for advertising. For that reason alone, it strikes me that McKinnon has a point here and that Republicans have seemingly fallen into a trap here.

Much of the hubub on the right about the ad seems to be centered not so much around the idea that Obama was touting the death of bin Laden in a campaign but that he was suggesting that Mitt Romney might not have made the same decision. Leaving aside the merits of that argument, is there really anything unusual or unseemly about it? McKinnon suggests that there isn’t and, Michelle Cottle doesn’t have much patience for those who think otherwise:

Boo hoo hoo.

Obama has made an attack ad. A tough one. One that suggests Governor Romney doesn’t have the right stuff to cope with the very dangerous world we live in. An attack that arguably—gasp!—politicizes national security.

Oh my God. The nerve. You know who this puts Obama on par with? Every fricking Republican who has run for office since 2001. Oh, yeah, and Hillary Clinton, whose infamous 3 a.m. phone-call ad from 2008 is being revisited in the wake of Obama’s new one.

Let us take a brief stroll down memory lane to the 2004 Republican Convention. The not-so-subtle theme: vote for John Kerry and al Qaeda will invade your homes and eat your children. This is only a slight exaggeration. Dick Cheney hasn’t uttered a word in the past decade that didn’t raise the specter of terrorists at the door. And Rudy Giuliani? Joe Biden said it best when he noted that for a long stretch, every sentence that came out of Hizzoner’s mouth consisted of “a noun, a verb, and 9/11.”

At the very least, then, there doesn’t seem to be much that’s unusual about the Obama campaign’s ad, and notwithstanding the protestations one might here in the media I personally have no doubt that if a Republican had been President when Osama bin Laden was killed that we’d see something similar from them in the course of a re-election campaign. That’s the way politics works, whether we like it or not. But McKinnon’s point, I think, is the one that is most important. The more the GOP complains about an “unfair” ad like this, the more attention they draw to the very point that the Obama campaign wants to make, and the broader (free) exposure the ad gets in the media. Wouldn’t the smarter strategy be to do exactly what McKinnon suggests, let the President take his victory lap, acknowledge the credit he’s entitled to, and move on to the issues that might actually be stronger for your candidate? It certainly seems so to me.

Of course, given what he’s been saying since the end of the 2008 campaign Republicans are unlikely to take advice from Mark McKinnon at any point in the future. In this particular case that’s unfortunate because it strikes me that he’s completely correct about this. Consciously or not, the Obama campaign set a trap for the GOP, and they seem to have fallen for it. At this point, perhaps it’s time for them to move on before they do actual damage to the campaign.

Update: As mantis points out in the comments, The Daily Show once again does an excellent job of making the point:

Indeed.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    It would not be the first time Obama rope-a-doped the GOP. He knows they can’t help themselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  2. mantis says:

    At the very least, then, there doesn’t seem to be much that’s unusual about the Obama campaign’s ad, and notwithstanding the protestations one might here in the media I personally have no doubt that if a Republican had been President when Osama bin Laden was killed that we’d see something similar from them in the course of a re-election campaign.

    Indeed. The Daily Show did an awesome job imagining what an ad for George W. Bush would be if bin Laden had been killed before the 2004 election. Watch it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

  3. Kit says:

    Republican strategy has generally been to contest everything that Obama says or does. If they start giving him credit for killing bin Laden, where does it end? With admitting that he is American? That he is Christian? Better keep to what has hitherto been a winning formula.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 35 Thumb down 2

  4. merl says:

    Bush would have posed with bin laden’s corpse or pretended that he personally killed him. Instead of being happy like normal people, the repubs have to whine and cry about his killing. right wingers are very sick people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Did The GOP Fall For The Obama Campaign’s Osama bin Laden Trap?

    Yes, they did. A textbook case of being rope-a-doped. Every second devoted to bin Laden is one second less devoted to the economy. The free advertising thing is yet an added bonus for Team Obama. The RNC and Romney & Co. are playing checkers. Axelrod is playing high-level chess.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  6. Andy says:

    The Daily Show does an excellent job of pointing out Republican hypocrisy. But personally, I’m kinda tired of the lowest-common-denominator “look, he did first” post hoc justifications. It’s one of the reasons I’m a man without a political party – it’s hard for me to accept behavior from adult politicians and their enablers that my grade-school kids know is wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  7. Jenos Idanian says:

    Just remember — “setting a trap” like this does NOT count as using the assassination of Bin Laden for political purposes. Because shut up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 14

  8. legion says:

    Heh. And Obama is just twisting that knife more every day. Right now he’s doing a public speech live from Afghanistan. That sound you just heard was Brit Hume’s gargantuan head exploding.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  9. al-Ameda says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Yes, they did. A textbook case of being rope-a-doped.

    I couldn’t agree more, Nich.
    At the very least Obama was demonstrating real political smarts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  10. @Jenos Idanian:

    Is that any more offensive than using 9/11 for political purposes like Republicans did in 2004 and 2008?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  11. al-Ameda says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Is that any more offensive than using 9/11 for political purposes like Republicans did in 2004 and 2008?

    I was not offended by the use of 9/11 for political purposes. We all know that it is natural that ANY political party would use the images of 9/11 and the “War on Terror” for political advantage in an election campaign. How it’s done – e.g. impugning the patriotism of fellow Americans – does make a difference in how we perceive it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  12. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yup. Imagine Bush running an ad in 2004 where he said “aren’t we glad it wasn’t President Gore who had to deal with 9/11? Let’s not make that mistake this time, either, and elect Kerry.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 11

  13. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @Jenos Idanian: What’s wrong with using bin Laden’s ticket to paradise for political purposes? Politics ain’t a game of hearts. It’s a contest. There are winners and losers. Shit, if I were Obama I would have gone more over the top in using bin Laden to my advantage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  14. bobbo says:

    The parallels to Bush’s use of 9/11 are basically apt, though it is just a little weird to say that Obama’s success in hunting down Bin Laden is the same as the utter intelligence failure that occurred on 9/11.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  15. anjin-san says:

    Is that any more offensive than using 9/11 for political purposes like Republicans did in 2004 and 2008?

    Yes, of course it is. Anything Obama does is automatically wrong and sets a new low bar. Why can’t you see that?

    The GOP endlessly exploited 9.11 because they love America. Images of Bush at ground zero and the burning towers were far more important to the war on terror than actually killing Bin Laden. Between 2001 & 2008, islamic terrorists were an existential threat to America, and a President that fought them was a hero like no other. In 2009, terrorist suddenly became sort of like gnats – an annoyance, not a real threat. Why does Obama even waste time on them? What a showoff.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

  16. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: It’s not the mention of getting Bin Laden. It’s explicitly saying Romney wouldn’t have done the same.

    What’s been absent from this discussion is that there were four outcomes for Obama:

    1) Order the raid, it’s a success: win.
    2) Order the raid, it fails: possible loss.
    3) Don’t order the raid, word never leaks out: no effect.
    4) Don’t order the raid, word leaks out that Obama “let Bin Laden get away:” major loss.

    On that matrix, Obama took the safest possible option.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 15

  17. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian: So, you voted for Rudy “Noun-Verb-911″ Giuliani, right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    2) Order the raid, it fails: possible loss.

    Possible loss? You’re kidding, right?

    The Republican House would probably have initiated impeachment proceedings, and voted to impeach Obama, and the Senate would not have convicted (why does that sound so familiar?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  19. Jenos Idanian says:

    @al-Ameda: …followed by a massive public surge in popularity for the picked-upon underdog and backlash against the Republicans for the whole move. Just like in 1998.

    Net win.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  20. Jenos Idanian says:

    I’m going to assume the down-votes for my 13:04 comment were for the grammatical error in the final sentence. It should have been “safer option.”

    My apologies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  21. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    It’s not the mention of getting Bin Laden. It’s explicitly saying Romney wouldn’t have done the same.

    Again, politics ain’t a game of hearts.

    Team Romney’s mistake was responding to that ad. That’s the essence of being rope-a-doped. Neophyte trial attorneys make that sort of mistake all the time. For example they reflexively object to every objectionable question. Bad idea. The small marginal gains they might obtain are outweighed and then some by the fact jurors hate that sort of thing.

    Team Romney completely should have ignored that ad. Merely by responding to it they’ve given it more legs. The next day Romney should have given a speech in which he praised Obama for icing bin Laden. Then he should have moved on and started bashing Obama 24/7 on the economy.

    To win you have to think strategically, not merely tactically.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  22. Jeremy R says:

    The first half of that Daily Show takedown is here:
    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-may-1-2012/victory-lapse

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    followed by a massive public surge in popularity for the picked-upon underdog and backlash against the Republicans for the whole move.

    The same way it happened for Carter too. I forgot how the public came to view Carter as heroic for even trying to order that mission.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  24. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian:
    And just to pile on,

    It’s not the mention of getting Bin Laden. It’s explicitly saying Romney wouldn’t have done the same.

    Which is a door Romney himself opened when he explicitly said he wouldn’t go into Pakistan after OBL. And when Romney (and GWBush before him) explicitly downplayed the importance of _ever_ getting OBL.

    This isn’t something the eeeeeeevil Obama has done to the GOP – it’s something the utter incompetents the GOP puts forward keep doing to themselves. Don’t blame Obama for pointing it out.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  25. michael reynolds says:

    So, it’s wrong to point out that Obama did exactly what he said he’d do: get OBL.

    And it’s wrong to point out that Romney said he wouldn’t have done what Obama did.

    Why? Um. . . Because then Obama might win, that’s why.

    It’s fun watching Republicans try to reason.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 1

  26. You may remember my previous comments about “blowback and cynicism,” so obviously I was thinking along similar lines.

    From the start I thought any attempt to diminish the accomplishment would be met by a big “huh?” from the middle voters and independents.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  27. grumpy realist says:

    @Jenos Idanian: Actually, not. It was pointed out that there were several variants on the type of mission they could have done (1. Bomb everything to smithereens 2. go in jointly with Pakistan, and 3. do what they did. )

    It’s pretty gutsy to make the decision to send in a small strike force, without the knowledge of our so-called “ally” (yes, and there WAS blowback from our not telling them, wasn’t there?), simply in order to be able to cut down on the loss of life and prove that in fact, Osama was actually dead. It was ELEGANT. And there were a hell of a lot of ways that it could have gone wrong.

    P.S. and if you think that we could have had a “failed” mission without someone in Pakistan making a huge stink about it, you’re more gullible than I could ever imagine.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  28. Another odd thing here is that Obama is right to claim credit for hawkishness, which isn’t something his base is terribly comfortable with. Heck, James faults him for not moving the country back to dovish territory (getting out of Afghanistan and winding down drone attacks).

    That said, I think “Romney would not have gotten Bin Laden,” if you reduce it to that, is another “huh?”

    Getting Bin Laden is the get out of jail free card for any GOP charge of “soft on terror.” He needn’t overplay that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  29. Hey Norm says:

    Watch Obama keep rope-a-doping Romney.
    Watch Romney lose it.
    It’s not a matter of if…it’s a matter of when.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. Rob in CT says:

    I’m not really happy about chest-beating about wacking Bin Laden.

    But for as long as I can remember, the GOP has kept up a steady drumbeat of “Dems are weak, self-hating Americans who won’t protect you!” Which was and is bull. More than that, I think it falls into the category of “not even wrong” (because not lashing out stupidly in response to being attacked takes strength. Freaking out and starting stupid wars is actually about being frightened and weak).

    So now the Dems have decided they can turn the whole thing on its head and use it against the GOP. For Dem pols who have been on the receiving end for decades, I’m sure it feels good. That doesn’t make it right, or a good idea, though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Wouldn’t the smarter strategy be to do exactly what McKinnon suggests, let the President take his victory lap, acknowledge the credit he’s entitled to, and move on to the issues that might actually be stronger for your candidate?

    Doug, this would involve the Republicans acknowledging an indisputable fact, something that is anathema to them (Invading Iraq was a mistake, Tax cuts do not increase revenues, climate change is real), and considering that this particular fact shows Obama in a favorable light, it is utterly and completely impossible for them to do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  32. MM says:

    @Kit: Exactly. if the GOP were smart about it they’d paint it as “take your well-deserved victory lap on this, because it’s the only accomplishment you’ve got. While you’re celebrating this year-old event, here’s a big old pile of gloom and doom”.

    The GOP has instead mostly positioned themselves to attack Obama based on the idea that not only is everything he does wrong, but it’s so buffonishly and obviously wrong that they don’t even need to explain it. It’s not so much that Obama played rope a dope, as they have painted themselves into a corner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  33. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @john personna:

    That said, I think “Romney would not have gotten Bin Laden,” if you reduce it to that, is another “huh?”

    John, just going by Romney’s own words, one can easily say “He would not have gotten OBL.” Why is that a “Huh?”

    I mean, maybe if OBL had come up and knocked on one of the windows of the Oval Office (and Romney had a 9mm handy)(as any good Republican catering to the NRA would) Romney might have gotten him*…. But he said he wouldn’t even bother looking for OBL.

    *Never mind, I just remembered his “varmint hunting” days….. He probably couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  34. Tillman says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: If Team Romney did what you said, the base would have castrated them. It might’ve been a nice move for moderates, but the base would have reacted. Better to flow with the tide than stand in its way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  35. Tillman says:

    When do you suppose Team Romney’s going to deploy the brilliant ads targeting progressive disaffection with Obama?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. anjin-san says:

    Obama is right to claim credit for hawkishness, which isn’t something his base is terribly comfortable with.

    Not sure about that. I am part of Obama’s base, and I have no problem with the actions he has taken against Al-Qaeda or in Libya. Certainly the deaths of civilians in our attacks is tragic, but I think they are lower than the ones that the Bush “blow up everything in sight” approach caused by orders of magnitude.

    Obama’s base does not consist only of Daily Kos types.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  37. Hey Norm says:

    “…Obama is right to claim credit for hawkishness, which isn’t something his base is terribly comfortable with…”

    I’m Obama’s base…and I’m comfortable with it. Bush should have gone into Afghanistan, levelled the place, and come home.
    I’m not fine with ignoring Afghanistan and going nation building in Iraq. I’m not fine with the institutionalization of torture. I’m not fine with Abu Garib. I’m not fine with Gitmo. I’m not fine with outing covert operatives. I’m not fine with the President prancing around a carrier deck wearing a codpiece.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  38. @OzarkHillbilly:

    I’m thinking that any remotely rational President, in office holding mode, and not campaign mode, would make the same call, given the same options. Romney is a “rational actor” in the sense that general got faulted for using with Iran. Rational self-interest.

    If you want a worry though, I’d dig more into why the GOP wants to get us out of so many places, and into Iran.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. @Hey Norm:

    What about drone attacks in Yemen?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Hey Norm: This, x 100.

    I am also the base, and I supported fully the initial incursion into Afganistan under the stated Coalition parameters by the last President and the raid against OBL by the current President. I am even okay with take down of the American dude in Yemen – as far as I am concerned he declared himself a traitor to the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  41. @Gromitt Gunn:

    The problem with many of these operations is that they don’t just take down “the dude.” The count is higher, and the count is what produces blow-back.

    I’m actually with James that we should scale back both conventional and unconventional strikes. I’m with him that, at the margin, they are of questionable value. Possibly counterproductive.

    I just don’t like it as politics, told as an Obama morality tale. Bacevich wrote The New American Militarism before Obama arrived on the scene. This should be told, decoded, and addressed as a bigger cultural issue.

    We shouldn’t tag-team and bring in GOP operatives to criticize Obama as if it’s all him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  42. Hey Norm says:

    @ JP…
    Frankly I haven’t spent much time reading about it or thinking about it.
    My bad.
    I imagine I’m probably OK with the drone attacks in theory…I suspect in reality they are overdoing it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  43. jukeboxgrad says:

    I am also the base, and I supported fully the initial incursion into Afganistan

    That support was close to unanimous. In the period following the invasion of Afghanistan, Bush had the highest approval ratings (not just of his presidency, but of any presidency): in the vicinity of 88%.

    ================

    As mantis points out in the comments, The Daily Show once again does an excellent job of making the point

    Yes, and I especially like this part:

    in a cacophony of galling Republican forgetfulness a/k/a Ballzheimer’s

    I had never heard that term before. I guess Stewart invented it.

    A couple of times lately I’ve mentioned that Republicanism runs on chutzpah and amnesia. ‘Ballzheimer’s’ is a terrific way to put those two things into one word.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  44. dennis says:

    @john personna:

    That said, I think “Romney would not have gotten Bin Laden,” if you reduce it to that, is another “huh?”

    You would be correct, john, if that’s actually what the campaign ad stated. The ad put forth a legitimate rhetorical question: “Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?” and juxtaposed it with Romney’s statements opposing such action. I won’t be so disingenuous as to deny that the reaction the Obama campaign sought to elicit was to have people jump to the conclusion you propose. At the same time, nowhere in the ad does it state that Romney would NOT have taken the same path. The ad is ingenious, in my opinion. It’s soft, it creates a somber atmosphere for the viewer and portrays Obama as sober and deliberate.

    I saw no bragging or chest-thumping. The ad isn’t over the top. I’ll tell you what IS over the top. Republican attempts to rewrite the economic debacle under GWB in the form of tax cuts coupled with unfunded wars and domestic programs. Don’t get me wrong; I like GWB, but even I have to admit that I ignorantly defended him while we slowly circled the drain. Just listening to David Frum last night and Joe Scarborough this morning trying to rehabilitate the 2001-2008 Republican record was causing me mental spasms.

    As Doug said, it’s politics. We can’t expect the President to not answer the 3-years-long criticisms waged against him by the Right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  45. dennis says:

    @john personna:

    “If you want a worry though, I’d dig more into why the GOP wants to get us out of so many places, and into Iran.”

    You’re exactly right, john.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  46. dennis says:

    @john personna:

    john, if you haven’t already, read Bacevich’s “Washington Rules.” Good read.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  47. An Interested Party says:

    Someone break out the fainting couches and the smelling salts! I mean, for years the GOP has tried to paint Democrats as spineless pu$$ies when it comes to national defense…and now, the President’s campaign has the sheer unmitigated gall to push back on that? How dare them! Who do they think they are, Republicans? Of all the nerve…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  48. @dennis:

    Thanks, I’ll look for that book.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  49. Rob in CT says:

    Ballzheimer’s. That’s really good.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0