Did former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s campaign just make its first real blunder of the 2012 presidential campaign? Or is the reaction to its new ad exactly what the campaign was banking on?
The campaign’s rollout of its first TV ad in New Hampshire on Monday night was marked by a controversy over its use of an out-of-context quote by President Obama.
In the ad, Obama appears to be saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” But in fact, when he said that, Obama was quoting an aide to then-2008 opponent Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who had used those words anonymously in an interview.
The Romney campaign was forthcoming about the entire context of the quote in its press release and in its comments to the press Monday night. And indeed, they seemed to be reveling in the fact that we were now talking about that particular part of the ad.
“Three years ago, candidate Barack Obama mocked his opponent’s campaign for saying, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,’” Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho wrote in a blog post on the candidate’s website. “Now, President Obama’s campaign is desperate not to talk about the economy. Their strategy is to wage a personal campaign – or ‘kill Romney.’ It is a campaign of distraction.”
Of course, it’s one thing to include the context in a press release explaining why a certain choice was made. But the vast majority of people who view the ad in New Hampshire won’t read that press release or Gitcho’s blog post.
That means that the average New Hampshire voter is going to be left with the impression that Obama said those words. And fact-checkers everywhere are going to be denouncing the ad as distorted, under-handed or — worse — a lie.
But in the end, we are talking about a mere $134,000 ad buy pitting Romney against the man he would prefer to be running against — Obama — rather than his primary opponents. Many in the media remain dubious about anyone unseating Romney in the primary, and all of a sudden, the media coverage has a very general-election feel to it. (The ad is part of a concerted effort by the Romney campaign to highlight Obama’s visit to New Hampshire today.)
And how many of Romney’s supporters or other Republicans are going to be truly offended by the use of an out-of-context quote in an ad? We’re wagering not many. In fact, Romney’s willingness to take Obama on so directly — no matter the means of doing so — will likely accrue to his benefit among GOP primary voters who want a fighter next fall.
It’s also worth noting that a lack of context in a campaign ad is nothing new. Just last week, in fact, GOP candidates including Romney mischaracterized Obama’s quote about how America had been “lazy” about attracting foreign investment, by suggesting that Obama was calling all Americans “lazy”. (Texas Gov. Rick Perry even ran an ad based on this premise). And the furor over that lasted all of two seconds.
None of this is to say that this strategy is genius or that it will wind up being a net positive for Romney; there is a price to pay if Romney’s campaign is seen as dishonest. But at the very least, it’s moving the debate in a direction the Romney campaign wanted — him versus Obama on the economy — for a mere $134,000.