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GOP super PAC rejects plan to invoke Jeremiah Wright

at 01:09 PM ET, 05/17/2012

The founder of a conservative super PAC has rejected a proposal that would link President Obama to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, a line of attack that the GOP rejected in 2008 and one which presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney repudiated today.

“It reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take,” said Brian Baker, president of the Ending Spending Action Fund, who said the proposal was “one of several submitted ... by third-party vendors.”


The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, addresses the National Press Club on April 28, 2008, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla - Getty Images)

The New York Times got hold of the proposed campaign playbook, submitted by Republican strategists to TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, who has become increasingly involved in GOP politics of late.

The plan, called “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good,” would “do exactly what John McCain would not let us do,” the strategists write, according to the Times report — tie Obama to Wright’s controversial sermons.

Fred Davis, the ad man behind “I am not a witch,” oversaw the proposal. Davis worked on the McCain campaign and argued in favor of a Wright ad then. 

Strategic Perception, Davis’ firm, said in a statement that the “the Ricketts family, never approved” the proposal “and nothing has happened on it since the presentation.” 

In an interview with TownHall.com, Romney also rejected the idea.

“I repudiate the effort by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they’ve described,” Romney said. “I think what we’ve seen so far from the Obama campaign is a campaign of character assassination. I hope that isn’t the course of this campaign. So in regards to that PAC, I repudiate what they’re thinking about.” (Asked later which Obama attacks he was referring to, Romney pointed to the president’s Bain Capital ads.)

Earlier, Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said “we repudiate any efforts” to run “a campaign of character assassination.” But he did not specifically condemn the PAC. That response was not enough for Obama’s campaign; Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement that Romney “has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership.”

In his statement, Baker said that “Mr. Ricketts intends to work hard to help elect a President this fall who shares his commitment to economic responsibility, but his efforts are and will continue to be focused entirely on questions of fiscal policy, not attacks that seek to divide us socially or culturally.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also weighed in, telling reporters, “I don’t know what these other people will do or why they do it. All I know is the American people vote with their wallets.”

The playbook prepared for Ricketts includes footage for a five-minute film called “Next,” which includes footage of Wright declaring “God Damn America” and calls the pastor “the inspiration for Obama’s campaign.” Over an image of the two together, the ad declares that there’s “simply a fundamental difference between his view of America and ours.”

The document refers to Obama derisively as a “metrosexual black Abe Lincoln.”

Wright was pastor of the president’s Chicago church, Trinity United Church of Christ, and served a largely ceremonial role on Obama’s 2008 African American Religious Leadership Committee until some of his more incendiary remarks came to light. Obama disavowed Wright’s words in a March 2008 speech calling the sermons “a profoundly distorted view of this country.”

McCain’s campaign cut a Wright-themed ad in 2008 that never aired; the candidate decided he did not want to touch the subject. (The ad footage was later obtained by ABC News.)

“I remain proud of our campaign and proud of what we were able to accomplish,” McCain said today. “I made my decision. I stand by that decision. The Romney campaign has repudiated that kind of strategy. It seems to me the matter is closed.”

He laughed off descriptions in the playbook from some of his 2008 advisers that he was “crusty” and “confused” during the campaign. “It is what it is. My life has moved on. I moved on after, it’s over. I enjoy being in the Senate. There’s no reason for me to hold any grudges. It’s a way for political operatives to continue to make money,” he said.

Obama remains personally very well-liked. Republicans have shied away from attacks on his character, focusing instead on who best can handle the economy.

The proposal obtained by the Times suggests hiring an “extremely literate conservative African-American” to shield Republicans from accusations of race-baiting, the Times report says. (That same spokesman would claim that Obama presented himself, falsely, as a “metrosexual black Abe Lincoln.”)

The $10 million plan would include television and newspaper ads as well as outdoor advertisements and aerial banners, according to the Times report.

Attacks on Obama using Wright did air in the 2008 campaign.

Late in the 2008 race, an outside group did spend millions on an ad in battleground states tying Obama to the controversial pastor. The North Carolina GOP also aired a TV ad attacking Obama for his past association with Wright, over McCain’s objections.

Pollster Whit Ayres and Internet consultant Becki Donatelli, named as recommended hires for the project in the playbook, said they had nothing to do with the proposal.

Ricketts’s super PAC was a player in state Sen. Deb Fischer’s surprise victory in Tuesday’s Nebraska Republican Senate primary. His son, Pete Ricketts, is a member of the Republican National Committee from Nebraska who ran against Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in 2006. His daughter, Laura Ricketts, is co-owner of the Chicago Cubs — making her the first openly gay owner of a Major League Baseball team. She is a major fundraiser to Obama’s reelection campaign.

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