Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels was characteristically candid when speaking to the Indianapolis Star’s Matthew Tully on the nasty tone and shortage of content in the 2012 campaign for the White House. Daniels advised unofficial GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, “You have to campaign to govern, not just to win,” before adding: “Spend the precious time and dollars explaining what’s at stake and a constructive program to make life better. And as I say, look at everything through the lens of folks who have yet to achieve.”
Tully then wrote, “After a pause, Daniels added with disappointment: ‘Romney doesn’t talk that way.’”
In fact, in 2012, no major candidate has been campaigning that way. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, which analyzes political commercials, while only 9 percent of the ads at this point in the 2008 campaign had been negative, a full 70 percent of the 2012 ads have been negative. Yes, the 1,100 percent increase in spending over four years ago by interest groups, fictitiously independent of any candidate’s campaign, has been 86 percent negative, but candidates’ own ads, which in 2008 were just 9 percent negative and 91 percent positive, are now, according to Wesleyan’s research, 52.5 percent negative.
Romney is obviously not alone in conducting a campaign that seems to have as its overriding objective to discredit, disparage and defeat its opponent(s). President Barack Obama’s campaign, more than six months before Election Day, is running a TV commercial in battleground states portraying Romney as a profits-before-people plutocrat who, while Massachusetts governor, “outsourced state jobs to a call center in India.” After accusing Romney of seeking tax breaks to send American jobs overseas, it concluded, “It’s just what you expect from a guy who had a Swiss bank account.” Not much hope and change in that one.
Because neither presidential candidate is going to accept the limits and restraints imposed by the acceptance of public funds in the general election (something every nominee since President Richard Nixon, up until Obama in 2008, had done), you will not be seeing or hearing the legally required disclaimer in the 2012 TV spots, “I’m Mitt Romney/Barack Obama, and I approve of this message.”
To save you time, here are a few of the negative statements you will be hearing in the next few months. You can bet on it. And these are from Republicans who publicly back Romney for president:
“We’re not going to beat Barack Obama with some guy who has Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts, owns shares of Goldman Sachs that forecloses on Floridians and is himself a stockholder in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while he tries to think the rest of us are too stupid to put together the dots to understand what this is all about.” — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, The New York Times, Jan. 26, 2012.
“I’ve never seen a guy change his positions on so many things, so fast on a dime. Everything ... He was pro gun-control. Fine, then he became a lifetime member of the NRA. ... He was pro-mandate for the whole country, then he becomes anti-mandate and takes that page out of his book and republishes the book. I can go on and on.” — Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Morning Joe on MSNBC, Dec. 15, 2011.
“Gov. Romney has a career as an investment banker and someone who’s a private equity guy on Wall Street. I’m not too sure that commends you well to be president of the United States.” — Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Kilmeade and Friends, Fox Radio, March 13, 2012.
And that’s just a sampling of Republicans negative statements about the Republican standard-bearer. It could be a long, uninspiring six months.
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.