Campaign Crawlers

Mitt’s Mistake

Obama's relationships, just like Reagan's, are relevant: Will Romney fight like Truman -- or wimp out like Dewey?

By 5.22.12

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"The major issue of this campaign is the direct political, personal and moral responsibility of Democratic Party leadership--in the White House and in Congress -- for this unprecedented calamity which has befallen us." -- Ronald Reagan accepting the Republican presidential nomination, July 1980

"He had just one strategy -- attack, attack, attack, carry the fight to the enemy's camp." -- Historian David McCullough on Harry Truman's upset 1948 win over Thomas E. Dewey

Why is Barack Obama's life just like Ronald Reagan's when it comes to the presidency?

What if Barack Obama had spent 20 years with the black Thomas Sowell as his mentor -- instead of the black Jeremiah Wright?

Who died and left liberals in charge of defining the rules of acceptability in the 2012 campaign?

Why is the Romney campaign apparently deciding to play by those liberal media rules?

And what's up with Speaker Boehner saying on ABC's This Week:

"The issue is not Reverend Wright. The issue is the economy. This kind of nonsense shouldn't happen. The election's going be about the economy and getting Americans back to work."

And Karl Rove, who said this on Fox News Sunday:

"Trying to dredge up Jeremiah Wright, right or wrong, after this issue was litigated four years ago by John McCain, who decided not to litigate it, was stupid. And so, you want to try and do things that are helpful, not hurtful."

These questions and more come to mind as Governor Romney and his team abruptly fled the field of battle the other day after someone leaked (to the New York Times) a proposal to a pro-Romney SuperPAC that, as described by the Times,

…calls for running commercials linking Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign.

Like clockwork, the Governor whose head-on attacks on Newt Gingrich helped win him the nomination immediately caved to the predictable screeches of liberal outrage. Outrage over a proposed attack ad that in fact never actually existed.

Romney, recall, confronted with a Gingrich surge during the primaries never flinched when a pro-Romney SuperPAC did for real to Gingrich what was only being proposed for Obama. Suddenly Romney was no more Mr. Nice Guy -- smilingly attacking Gingrich for whining when Gingrich angrily reacted for being attacked by Romney's SuperPAC as an "influence peddler" "erratic" and someone who had resigned the Speakership "in disgrace." Brutal anti-Gingrich commercials hit the air, like this one called "Baggage" in which Gingrich was pictured as unethical, cashing in on his political connections for big bucks, a pal of Nancy Pelosi and a supporter of abortion. And this one titled "Whoops" in which Gingrich was assailed for repeated mistakes of judgment.

Romney and his team had not a problem in the world with all this -- and frankly they shouldn't have. Politics ain't bean bag, as Mr. Dooley once said, and Gingrich of all people should have been better prepared for inevitable attacks like this. He wasn't. Game Romney.

Now up against the final test against President Obama, of a sudden Romney is once again Mr. Nice Guy.

As the Times recorded here, Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades was first to sound the Romney retreat at the very idea of a commercial linking Obama to his longtime mentor Wright, saying:

"Gov. Romney is running a campaign based on jobs and the economy, and we encourage everyone else to do the same." 

Then came candidate Romney himself. Wrote Times reporter Michael Shear:

"I repudiate the effort by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they've described," Mr. Romney said during an interview with the conservative Townhall Web site. "I would like to see this campaign focus on the economy, on getting people back to work, on seeing rising incomes and growing prosperity -- particularly for those in the middle class of America."

Mr. Romney used the opportunity to accuse Mr. Obama of running a "campaign is a campaign of character assassination" but said of the PAC that "I repudiate what they're thinking about."

In other words, the Romney high command has apparently decided to run this campaign according to liberal ground rules. If liberals -- they of the party that supported slavery, segregation, lynching, the Klan and every skin color based policy existing from the days of slavery to the rule of the Obama "Justice" Department say its so, it seems that the Romney folks are willing to amiably go along. And Speaker Boehner -- tellingly -- agrees.

Uh-oh. As Sean Hannity has said, Romney is making a mistake. So too has Mark Levin noted. And Rush. And others.

They should.

Is the central issue in this campaign the economy? Yes. Issues one, two and three. With national security being close behind. The traditional formatting of a presidential campaign.

But to simply walk away from the Jeremiah Wright controversy, as Sean Hannity observed the other night, is a mistake. Potentially a big one.

Why?

Whether they understand it or not, Team Romney is casting their candidate as 1948's Thomas E. Dewey to Obama's Harry Truman. Modeling their campaign after John McCain's losing 2008 campaign instead of Ronald Reagan's winning 1980 campaign. For all the close feelings between Romney and former President George H.W. Bush, Team Romney has apparently zero intention of learning the lessons of Bush's come-from-behind 1988 victory over the liberal Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, a campaign piloted relentlessly by the late Reagan aide Lee Atwater.

Atwater, a skilled student of the famous Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu, ran the Bush 1988 campaign as Truman had run his own forty years earlier. To wit, as the man who acquired the nickname "Give 'em hell Harry" well knew: attack, attack, attack.

This problem that already seems to be surfacing with Romney -- but is not too late to reverse -- is exactly what so many conservatives feared. Another election bumbled away or made unnecessarily close in the name of caution. This is a moderate Republican specialty, with Dewey the legendary example. When GOP nominees go down this path the results are foreordained.

The most famous -- and vividly so -- was 1948 with the liberal Republican and New York Governor Dewey.

1948: Here's Truman (at 3:34 into the clip) earning his reputation as "Give 'em hell Harry" right out of the box with his famous acceptance speech launching his blowtorch of a campaign. In his very first sentence, Truman snaps to the first nationally televised convention audience:

"Senator Barkley [his VP running mate] and I will win this election and make these Republicans like it, and don't you forget it."

Here too in this same clip (17 seconds in) is Dewey starting off his 1948 race by setting a serene tone of being somehow above it all, refusing proudly to attack Truman. Dewey begins by saying "I pray God" that he was up to the race.

Over and over Dewey followed exactly the advice that Governor Romney seems to be following today.

• Appearing in Iowa at Drake University, Dewey in 1948 sounded eerily like Romney in 2012 on Reverend Wright, saying that he refused to indulge in:

"…loose talk, factional quarreling, or appeals to group prejudice."

Again, Romney's words on the proposed SuperPAC ad?

"I repudiate what they're thinking about."

• In that same 1948 Iowa speech, Dewey again went out of his way to appear as the Romney-esque nice-guy, following the strategy of being Mr. Steady, Mr. Above-it-All:

"I will not contend that all our difficulties today have been brought about by the present national administration… only part are deliberately caused for political purposes. It is not too important how these conditions came about. The important thing is that as Americans we turn our faces forward and set about curing them with stout purpose and a full heart."

As Dewey toured Iowa that September saying these kinds of things, the Des Moines Register published a poll saying Dewey was beating Truman 51 percent to 30 percent. In fact, Truman carried Iowa 50.3 percent to 47.6 percent.

And what was Truman saying?

Things like this:

-- Standing in no less than the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City that fall, Truman said Dewey represented "selfish men (who) have always tried to skim the cream from our natural resources to satisfy their own greed."

-- In Ogden, Utah he called the GOP "bloodsuckers who have offices in Wall Street."

-- In Reno, Nevada Truman said the GOP was run by "a bunch of old mossbacks still living back in 1890."

-- Campaigning in Roseville, California, Truman said Congressional Republicans had "tried to choke you to death" in a dispute over federal money for electric power.

For all of September and October this went on. Truman doggedly trekking from one end of America to the other calling Republicans bloodsucking, selfish, greedy, old mossbacks who were trying to choke Americans "to death." Dewey taking exactly Romney's above-it-all stance, ignoring precisely the kind of talk Romney is labeling "character assassination."

Truman won. Pulling off the upset of the 20th century and perhaps in the country's entire political history. In the end, Americans decided they wanted a fighter in the White House.

Let's cut to the chase here, shall we?

Had Barack Obama spent 20 years of his life being mentored by, say, Thomas Sowell, he would be a totally different man than he is after actually spending those 20 years for real under the tutelage of Jeremiah Wright.

And every political belief Obama imbibed from Wright -- the Black Liberation Theology, the "Goddamn America" psychology, the anti-American screeds against "rich white people" -- has in some fashion surfaced in the actual Obama administration.

When Speaker Boehner says the "election's going be about the economy and getting Americans back to work" -- why and how exactly does he think the economy got where it is in the first place?

Answer: America is in the considerable fix it is in precisely because President Obama spent two decades listening to Jeremiah Wright and a motley collection of likeminded socialists that Obama himself details in his 1995 autobiography Dreams from My Father.

And here's a shocker: In this respect Barack Obama should be treated no differently than -- Ronald Reagan.

Say what?

That's right.

One of the best known, most examined aspects of Ronald Reagan's life when he ran for president in 1980 was his famous turn from being, as he called himself, a "bleeding hemophilic" liberal to a principled conservative. Reagan himself would tell the story, and all manner of liberal reporters were out there digging away.

Up came all the stories of the Reagan whose experience with Communists in Hollywood labor fights now explained his "hardline" attitude towards the Soviet Union. The man whose relationship with General Electric as host of GE Theater had educated him on capitalism was correctly studied to learn that the period with GE had indeed led to Reagan's change of heart on economics. Often discussed was Nancy Reagan's father, the conservative Dr. Loyal Davis, who had been an influence on his son-in-law. Every single one of these relationships was explored to a fare-thee-well when Reagan was vetted as a presidential candidate.

The reason: there was -- correctly -- seen to be a connection between Reagan the man, his life experiences and relationships -- and a potential President Reagan.

That assumption was 100% correct.

Now that the president in question is Barack Obama and not Ronald Reagan -- suddenly this is all a mistake to do the job that was correctly done on Reagan but is mysteriously off-limits for Obama. As if Obama policies from the stimulus to Obamacare to suing Arizona over illegal immigration policies and not prosecuting the night-stick wielding Philadelphia Black Panthers have somehow sprung full blown from Obama's head or by the sheerest of accidents.

How could one ever possibly explain what critics call Obama's "apology tour" of this or that section of the world? Unless one realizes the connection to Jeremiah Wright's "Goddamn America" sermon -- both the one captured on video tape and those hundreds of like-minded sermons never to be heard although doubtless delivered over the 20 years Obama sat in Wright's pews.

How could one not possibly understand Obama's repeated views on everything from the capital gains tax to his continual use of class warfare rhetoric unless one gets the connection to the views of Reverend Wright as Obama lovingly quotes him in Dreams from My Father as snarling that America is a place "…where white folks' greed runs a world in need."

How could Governor Romney and Speaker Boehner not possibly understand that all of this experience with Reverend Wright and more -- the teachings of Black Liberation theologian James Cone, the young friendship with the old leftist Frank Marshall Davis, the attendance at socialist conferences, the relationship with Harvard's Professor Derrick Bell, the latter author of the wildly left-wing "critical race theory" that insists racism is somehow ingrained in American society -- how could anyone not think all this is in fact not connected to a bad economy and "jobs, jobs, jobs"?

Of course it is. Every last minute of Barack Obama's formative life, experiences, and relationships is responsible for the state of America today. Just as true with Ronald Reagan and the state of America when Reagan left office in 1989 -- after creating 21 million jobs and pushing the Soviet Union to the brink of collapse, a collapse that occurred a bare two years later.

This is a serious challenge for Team Romney -- and a decidedly unnecessary one.

To follow the patty-cake politics of Dewey and John McCain (or others -- the Nixon of 1960, Ford in 1976, Bush 41 in 1992, and Bush 43 in 2000 and 2004) risks one of two outcomes: a loss or an unnecessarily hair-breadth's victory.

If Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan had anything in common -- and Reagan was an active Truman campaigner in the 1948 campaign -- it was that they knew they had to hit their opponents. 

Hit them hard.

They did.

They won.

If the unfolding Romney campaign fails to understand this -- this won't just be a mistake.

It will be a tragedy.

And a totally foreseeable one at that. 

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.