Jeremiah Wright is back in the headlines thanks to a new ad by the recently formed National Republican Trust PAC. I spoke over the phone today with the ad’s creator, Rick Wilson, a GOP media consultant who is most infamous for a 2002 campaign ad tying then-Senator Max Cleland to Osama bin Laden:
TNR: What made you decide to produce this Wright ad?
Rick Wilson: For a variety of reasons, it was unaddressed and seemingly unaddressable by the McCain campaign. Actual Republicans and Independents out in the world, and frankly a lot of Democrats, take issue with this. You can’t treat it lightly when somebody says, “God damn America.” There is no way to spin it. No amount of mayonnaise can turn that chicken shit into chicken salad. Obama owns this guy.
Why do you think McCain has largely refrained from mentioning Wright?
I can’t speak to internal decision-making on it, but I suspect that the hypersensitivity to being accused of some sort of racial bias at their level was extreme. If you look at the calculation of how a lot of the McCain folks think, that makes sense at the top level. … McCain has played a lot of D in this campaign.
Do you think that’s a good decision?
I’m of the philosophy that you wage a campaign of full engagement and you use every tool in the toolbox. Emerson, I think, said an institution is the length and shadow of one man. McCain is uncomfortable with it, so the whole staff is uncomfortable with it. [McCain spokesman Michael] Goldfarb on CNN, what kind of torture was that? That was agonizing. You’re only getting paid for five more days--just say it.
What kind of reaction have you been getting to the ad?
People are calling networks we’re up on screaming. They have people pounding CNN today complaining about the ads because the word “damn” is in it. I’m pretty sure it’s not Republican voters being offended by the word “damn.” … On the left, it’s the usual combination of ranting, hissy fits, accusations of everything from ill intent to outright racism. This is sort of what people are beginning to expect in the new era of Obama world. If you speak against the anointed one, God will smite you. … The same liberal bloggers who were cheering for people to root through Joe the Plumber’s garbage were horrified of the pictures of Obama’s family in the last part of the ad. … I’m not afraid of what people say about me. I don’t care if people say, “You’re an awful person.” If you don’t have a thick skin, you should get a job in a more delicate field, like child care.
What’s the story with the National Republican Trust PAC, who put this out?
It’s [conservative journalist] Scott Wheeler and folks who are very willing to take the fight to Barack Obama and stand up for causes that people are declaring dead dead dead right now. The Obama people are telling us to lay down and die. “That’ll do Republicans, you’re dismissed.”
In a positive way, it has the same kind of organic feel of when MoveOn.org took off in the beginning. We produced our first couple of videos, and suddenly, for a group that didn’t exist a couple of years ago, we have millions of dollars of donation from folks across the country, a million views on our YouTube page. … The Wright video has 610,000 views in four days.
This thing has been bootstrap from the start. The first piece we put out, on Obama’s support of driver’s licenses for illegals, had an immediate impact in terms of finances.
The Wright ad has certainly opened the flood gates. We’ve raised five and a half million dollars. People are like, wow, you are taking the campaign where it needs to go in terms of energy and directness. … We’re banging away here. We’re doing the work John McCain’s people can’t or won’t do. We are having a fucking ball.
Where has the ad been playing?
Initially we were up only in Florida--in Tampa and in Orlando--but now we have gone statewide. Now it’s up in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and as we speak, we’re putting money in a couple of other swings states, but I prefer not to describe those at moment, it’s a little bit of chest game stuff.
Is this too little, too late?
This election has been incredibly volatile. People still out there who haven’t made up their minds is a small number. I don’t think it’s ever too late in a campaign to keep fighting. I always advise my candidates, “You better fight to the last bullet.” McCain is running hard over the last few days. They’re pounding this guy in a way that is starting to have some traction. The Joe the Plumber incident, as much as you want to mock it, can mark the day campaign became competitive… It really personalized Obama’s views on redistribution.
What’s your next step?
We have a few things in the can. We’ll see what happens in six hours.
Zvika Krieger is a deputy web editor at The New Republic.
By Zvika Krieger