Did The GOP Fall For The Obama Campaign’s Osama bin Laden Trap?
The GOP's response to the Obama campaign's Osama bin Laden ad has not been helpful.
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: