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Davis, California

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Column: GOP ad suicide


This is the headline I believe will run on the eve of November 6, 2012, when all polls for the general election have closed and enough precincts have reported. Granted, the “choose one” portion definitely won’t be a part of it, but, quite frankly, by the time election day rolls around, it won’t matter who the GOP nominee is.

You might be wondering why I’ve made this bold claim. Is it because I’m a diehard Obama supporter? Is it because I, like many college kids (according to older generations), am a jean cutoff-wearing, angry sign-waving liberal? Could it even be possible that I have some kind of ulterior motive to writing this column behind all the riffraff and obscure baby jokes?

The answer to all three is no. Yes, I support Obama. Yes, I plan on voting for him come Nov. 6. Yes, I wear cutoff denim short shorts as underwear, but only because I’m a never-nude (big props to you if you get this reference). But the real rationale behind my claim is that given the extreme level of ad attacks by the current GOP contenders against each other, I don’t see Obama needing to do much campaigning once a Republican candidate stumbles out of the rubble.

An ad attack is a pretty straightforward concept. It’s a negative advertisement produced by one candidate’s campaign that has the sole purpose of making another candidate look absolutely terrible. If you turn on your TV now you’re likely to catch one, seeing as how we’re currently in the midst of possibly the most intense primary season the nation has ever seen.

Prior to the Florida primary last month, Mitt Romney’s campaign spent over $15 million on negative ads directed at fellow GOP contender Newt Gingrich. The ads assaulted Gingrich on a variety of issues ranging from his past with former President Ronald Reagan to his 1997 ethics violation while serving as Speaker of the House. In comparison, Gingrich spent roughly $3 million on ads directed in the exact opposite direction. The result? Romney won Florida by 14 percent.

Now, when a candidate overspends his adversary 5-1 on lethal advertising, it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen before the ballots are even cast. Historically, attack ads have been quite successful, dating as far back as Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 commercial against Barry Goldwater. The ad depicted a young woman picking daisies while a man with a southern accent (similar to Goldwater’s) counted down to a nuclear explosion, suggesting that electing Goldwater would push the Cold War into a nuclear crisis.

It’s unlikely that such a ridiculous commercial would sway voters in 2012, but the advertising teams behind current attack ads are well aware of that fact. Operating in the information age certainly has its advantages, as no politician can keep his past entirely secret anymore.

Since the effectiveness of attack ads has been established, it doesn’t seem as if they’ll stop anytime soon. However, their continued success will come at a very steep cost. Jerry Della Femina, a longtime ad man and dedicated Republican, said in a recent article for The Daily Beast that the current onslaught of negative ads is a “war” and “every side suffers from a war. Every side is weakened.”

Basically what he was getting at is that Obama doesn’t have to hurt the four remaining GOP candidates — they’re doing it for him. When Mitt bashes Newt, Newt barks (or burps forth whatever sound amphibians make) back, Rick slanders Mitt, and Ron belittles all three; no one is winning except for the man currently kicking his legs up in the Oval Office.

While I’m of the opinion that it’s more the candidates’ actual ideas, personalities and pretty much everything about them that predetermines Obama’s victory, the reality is that the GOP is flopping largely due to the outrageous sums being spent on attack ads. If the party stands any chance of electing a president in 2012, it needs to stop destroying itself from within. You and I both know that won’t happen, and since you’re probably also wearing your cutoffs right now, join with me as I say, “good riddance.”

VICTOR BEIGELMAN hopes a series of attack ads are launched at him for writing this column. Or an angry e-mail will be just fine. Contact him at vbeigelman@ucdavis.edu.


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