I’m reluctant to call the 28-minute video attacking Romney’s Bain years, which the Gingrich super PAC plans to air in South Carolina, a full-on swift-boating. The video takes what was an ambiguous situation—Romney’s activities clearly cost jobs even if they benefited the economy, as Jon Chait points out—and gives it a very stark, one-sided portrayal. By contrast, the original swift-boat ads took what was a largely positive record of military service and transformed it into a damning indictment of John Kerry.
Having said that, both episodes demonstrate how your personal biography is one of the elements you often control least in contemporary campaigns, maybe a bit counter-intuitively. Unlike, say, a politician’s previous time in office, there are usually too many credible-sounding sources to cherry-pick from when it comes to a candidate’s personal biography--sources who knew and interacted with the candidate but lack obvious partisan disqualifiers (on the one hand) or aren't constrained by partisan loyalties (on the other). There’s also often very little in the way of old media coverage to serve as a baseline for the new claims. And so, just like it was a mistake for Kerry to tout his biography as his chief qualification for taking on George W. Bush, it will probably turn out to be a mistake for Romney to have embraced that strategy this year.
One other angle on the Bain video that may be underappreciated: I wonder how much of it is less about stirring up the resentments of blue-collar Republicans per se than the resentments of conservative evangelicals who seem to have a cultural aversion to high-finance. This nugget from The New York Times piece on the video got me thinking along those lines:
Mr. Tyler, a former long-time aide to Mr. Gingrich who helped set up the super PAC supporting him, disagreed. “I’m a capitalist, I’m a conservative,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time defending free enterprise from a biblical perspective.”
But Bain Capital, he said, did not fit the model of responsible corporate citizenship. “If this is free enterprise, then conservatives should have nothing to do with it,” he said. “It is predatory paper-shuffling. Mitt Romney was engaged in the engineered destruction of free enterprise.”
Could this be a dog-whistle-style appeal to South Carolina evangelicals already skeptical of Romney’s Christian cred? At the very least, it’s probably worth watching Romney’s poll numbers among those voters once the video airs.
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