The RNC’s Lost Benghazi Ad

Lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth tonight over this ad the RNC cut but never used in the late stages of the 2012 campaign…

The standard comment, on Facebook and elsewhere, seems to be that this was proof the Romney campaign didn’t really want to win and certainly wasn’t interested in fighting to win.

Me? I agree – to a point.

Frankly, while hitting Obama on Benghazi should have been a no-brainer of a decision, this ad didn’t really do it for me. For a couple of reasons. First, I’m not a huge fan of “derivative” messages like this. The 3 AM phone call was Hillary Clinton’s thing. Copying it and trying to use it against Obama just means you’re admitting she had a better critique of his fitness for the White House than you do, and if I’m running Romney’s campaign I’ll be damned if I’m going to admit that for a host of reasons.

Also, let’s not forget that the 3 AM phone call thing didn’t work. Hillary couldn’t beat Obama with it, so why is it all of a sudden so terrific for Romney?

And where Benghazi works for you if you’re Romney isn’t the fact that Obama didn’t respond to the attack. Most people probably don’t blame Obama for not being able to get the cavalry to the consulate immediately; if Obama is able to make something of a case that he didn’t have time, you’re going to look unfair for pressing that case.

What wins you the argument on Benghazi is (1) that here we are with this peculiar facility which isn’t really a consulate and is more like a CIA safe house that nobody is really very forthcoming about, and what are we doing there in the first place – and if we’re there to facilitate running guns to the rebels in Syria, which rebels are we running guns to, because those guys seems to be shot through with Al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood types and hasn’t playing ball with them already shown to be a dumb move in Egypt? – and given that this is more or less the most dangerous city on Earth why don’t we have a massive security presence?

That’s number one. Number two is the lies. It’s one thing to get hit, but when you don’t have this big military show of force immediately afterward, complete with naval vessels getting there as fast as possible plus jets from Sigonella and Aviano buzzing the skies over Benghazi for a week following the attack, it’s going to look like you didn’t care. And when Obama goes off to Vegas to do fundraising the next day, and then we start getting “it was the video” cock-and-bull, which Hillary spun over the caskets of the dead and Obama belched out at the UN after Susan Rice had directly contradicted the Libyan president on those Sunday shows with it, what’s most striking is the cavalier attitude about the people and the truth.

So your Benghazi narrative is that Obama didn’t much care about his people in Benghazi, because he did absolutely nothing to exact revenge for the attack and defend our national honor in its wake and hadn’t insured they had proper security before the fact. And then Obama doesn’t much care for the rest of us, because he’s perfectly happy to insult our intelligence with obvious, provable lies about a terrorist attack on our people on his watch because the truth doesn’t much fit with his spike-the-ball narrative about how he killed Bin Laden and Al Qaeda is kaput.

That’s what your ad needs to hit on. Obama slept on Benghazi. Don’t you sleep on it, too.

But even if this ad is the best you’ve got, fine. At least HAVE a Benghazi narrative. The hearings on Wednesday showed that this is as nasty a political scandal and as hideous an example of dishonest and incompetent government as you’ll ever see, but while the testimony was compelling and infuriating it didn’t actually break any major new ground. We might not have quite known the depth of the cover-up involved or the craven disregard for their responsibility the administration showed in Benghazi, but we knew all the basic facts back in October – Al Qaeda hit us, Obama wasn’t properly prepared, and rather than accept responsibility for what really happened and accept responsibility for exacting revenge he and his people acted to protect their political narrative by denying what Benghazi was and why. That fact pattern hasn’t changed; it’s just been fleshed out a bit.

And the fact that the Romney campaign wasn’t aggressive enough to burn Obama on so obvious a weakness as Benghazi was a microcosm of how bad that campaign’s messaging really was.

So many opportunities missed.

Two other examples of how that campaign squandered chances for the upper hand that were fairly obvious to me and I was puzzled the Romney camp couldn’t figure out follow. I’ve written about these before, but I want to bring them back just to illustrate what kind of campaign Romney COULD have run rather than the white-bread, gobbledygook race he gave us that failed to fire up his own base and brought nothing to the 20-somethings or the single women or the other low-info voters who are attracted by shiny objects and circus animals and who think a Jerry Springer episode constitutes civil discourse. Getting somewhere with those voters was doable, even for a super-rich Mormon guy who’s never had a beer in his life and roughest behavior was when he was 17 and cut some hippie’s hair in high school against said hippie’s wishes.

To wit…

1. Obama is running a campaign of personal destruction against Romney, complete with idiotic ads about how he somehow killed a guy’s wife with cancer. Romney does nothing to defend his reputation and thus allows Obama to define him as an out-of-touch plutocrat, with no pushback of any kind.

But it was so easy to counter that and send Axelrod and Plouffe scattering like scalded dogs.

You respond to those “out-of-touch plutocrat” ads by enlisting all your fellow out-of-touch billionaire plutocrats. The Bob Perrys, Sheldon Adelsons, Tom Stembergs and the rest have already maxed out to you and they’re starting to run out ways to contribute. The best way to do that, and to strike a blow for out-of-touch billionaire white guys everywhere, is having some of your plutocrat friends come with you on the campaign trail and help you make a splash in all the places you go.

How does that happen? Let’s set the scene: it’s a Tuesday afternoon, and the Romney campaign drops in on Youngstown, Ohio. There’s a campaign rally planned, but first Romney shows up at a Ronald McDonald House or homeless shelter or soup kitchen. And when he does, he’s got Tom Stemberg or Foster Friess in tow – and Stemberg happily presents the nice Democrat lady who runs the homeless shelter with a check for a quarter-million dollars. Naturally the local TV station is there for the photo op, and they get sound of the nice Democrat lady who runs the place talking about what a wonderful thing Mr. Romney has done to help these people by bringing his billionaire friend and his checkbook. Then Mitt tells the local TV “Sure, this is a pretty shameless PR stunt for us, but the thing is with the other side buying millions of dollars of TV ads to slander me as something I’m not – I’ve given more money to charity than the president has ever earned in his life, so it’s offensive for him to say I don’t care about people – I have to show folks that he’s lying.

“Oh, and as we go around the country, we see that there is so much suffering in America while Obama is president that it just breaks your heart. So we’ll continue to use this campaign as a vehicle to try to help people from now until Election Day. And when I’m president I will do everything I can to promote voluntarism and charity, because it beats the welfare state every time and coupled with the free market it’ll make this country what it can be.”

If Romney does that, how long do you think Obama continues trying to define him as an out-of-touch, heartless rich guy? Even if the national media won’t report the Romney camp’s make-it-rain campaign, the local media in all the places you’re going to sure will – because in Appleton, Wisconsin and Ocala, Florida and Roanoke, Virginia and Grand Junction, Colorado it’s a BIG DEAL.

And elections are won, where? Swing states, where towns like that can decide elections. People in New York City can buy that “Romney killed my wife with cancer” stuff all they want, but if people in Akron and Fort Myers and Charlottesville don’t you stand a good chance of winning.

And the second thing that was obvious to me was this: you’ve got to demonize Obama the same way he’s going to demonize you, but you have to do it in a way where they can’t credibly say you’re racist or that you’re doing birther/right wing nut pandering.

We all know Obama is more or less a communist. But the thing is, most of the 20-somethings who ultimately killed Romney’s chances have been so poisoned by left-wing academia and the pop culture that they don’t even think there’s anything wrong with socialism. So calling Obama a socialist won’t get you anywhere. And calling him incompetent won’t work because the media will protect him and throw in behind him when he says it’s all Bush’s fault.

But what you can use, what’s a lot tougher to defend him against, is Obama’s Chicago-style corruption.

That was the ace in the hole that was never played. Practically the whole campaign should have been about how Obama has been a Chicago crook from the start.

How Obama was ACORN’s lawyer and sued banks to force them to loan money to people who couldn’t pay it off, which ultimately enriched crooked Chicago bankers at everybody else’s expense. How he got mixed up with Tony Rezko and did you know that Rezko is in jail now? How he and the wife gave up their law licenses in advance of being disbarred. The Blago thing, and the difficulty of selling the idea that Obama had no involvement in his political ally and colleague in the Chicago machine auctioning off his Senate seat to the highest bidder. The shady online campaign donations in 2008. The Pigford cases. The crooked NLRB appointments and the Boeing case in South Carolina and so on.

You could run a LOOOOOONNNNGGGG campaign on what crooks the Obamites are, and the weight of it would have really eaten into Obama’s popularity as the campaign went along. Serve side orders of lawlessness on issues like the union-friendy GM bailout and its rape of the bondholders, his fairly clear violation of the War Powers Act in Libya and pretty much Eric Holder’s Justice Department does. Maybe a recitation of all of Obama’s lies for dessert, connected of course to his history of corruption which is the focus of your campaign.

And the beauty of that would have been the contrast between Obama and Romney, because Romney was as squeaky-clean a guy as you can get.

But that would, of course, be an assault on Obama’s character. For that Romney would be villified. But what do you lose? Romney was villified anyway. At least this way your base is fired up about an aggressive, righteously indignant campaign, and the public in general is presented with someone else who shares their disgust with the sleazy nature of Washington governance.

Maybe you’d have lost the election. But you’d at least have lost a different race than you did. Because what Romney ran – as the lost Benghazi ad shows – was not much of a race at all.

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