People who knew Mitt Romney, or worked with him in business or government, in many cases considered him one of the most decent people they ever knew. But starting in the early spring of 2012, months before Romney had officially secured his Party’s nomination for President, many millions of dollars of attack ads were running in key states such as Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Colorado suggesting that Romney was a despicable, greedy Wall Street banker. He was accused of buying up companies, firing the workers, then closing or selling the companies off, getting very rich in the process. He was also accused of causing people to die of cancer after workers lost their health insurance and were presumably denied treatment.
One might think that Romney’s Bain Capital had discovered a formula where he could get rich more quickly through the failure of the businesses in which he invested, than from their successes. People who have spent their lives outside the private sector and have nested within the Democratic Party, seem to assume that private equity companies mostly invest in businesses that are already winners and if they invest in struggling companies, they should be able to turn them into winners 100% of the time. If some investments go bad, then it must be because the private equity companies make more money by destroying healthy companies than rebuilding them. To be fair, Newt Gingrich, had launched a similar demagogic campaign against Romney when his fortunes began to sink after the early primaries in 2012, though he did not go so far as to accuse Romney of causing cancer patients to die without insurance, and his attack ads did not run in many states.
Even before the first Republican Party primary in Iowa, in the fall of 2011, left wing groups had created a campaign known as “Occupy Wall Street” designed to highlight the 1% (especially the Wall Street variety) versus the 99%. One does not need to be a cynic to believe that the Obama campaign team fully expected Romney would be their opponent in the fall of 2012. The Occupy Wall Street campaign was an easy AstroTurf exercise to change the subject — from the glaring failures of their first term to the inequality in America, symbolized by a rich white guy like Mitt Romney.
A history of the relationship of certain economic data with the results of re-election campaigns over many decades, suggested that the Obama economic record likely meant defeat in 2012. The country had the weakest economic recovery on record after a major downturn, with continued high unemployment and slow economic growth despite a near trillion dollar stimulus injection. Obama had run up trillion dollar plus deficits every year, and forced through an unpopular new health care reform plan, passed entirely with Democratic Party votes using “parliamentary” maneuvers after Scott Brown’s election to the Senate from Massachusetts. Obama’s approval score in the low to mid 40 percent range suggested he was a very vulnerable incumbent.
By the time the conventions were concluded, the Obama campaign had succeeded in making Romney an unpalatable enough alternative, that Obama earned enough grudging support to maintain a few point lead heading into the debates. The President’s stumbling performance in the first debate tightened the race, but Obama never lost his lead. Surprisingly positive economic reports and unemployment numbers released during the last two months of the campaign , CNN moderator Candy Crowley’s intervention in the foreign policy debate, and most important, Superstorm Sandy and the Chris Christie love-in that appeared to demonstrate the President’s bipartisanship and competence (as compared to President Bush after Katrina), provided most of Obama’s 4 point margin of victory.
In any case, the lesson of 2012 was that Mitt Romney, known to GOP primary voters and residents of Massachusetts, but not many others, was defined for other voters in America (or at least in all the important swing states) by the Obama campaign, before Romney had a chance to define himself.
So far in the 2014 midterms, the early advertising dollars have come mostly from groups backing Republican Senate candidates, and the ads have been largely negative ones directed at incumbent Democratic Senators for their votes for Obamacare. The ads have struck a nerve, and moved the needle, tightening races in Louisiana, North Carolina and Alaska and putting GOP candidate Tom Cotton in the lead in Arkansas. In all four states, incumbent Democrats are running for re-election, three of them for the first time, and all have been accused of casting the deciding vote for Obamacare in the Senate, which is of course the case for any of the legislation’s 60 backers. In any case, the ads target a particular vote by the Democratic Senators. They do not try to claim the Senators are immoral human wretches like the Obama campaign messaging about Romney in 2012.
The Group Americans for Prosperity, frequently labeled as a Koch Brothers operation by Democrats, has been one of the groups involved in the early advertising, though the groups’ supporters and leaders are far more broad-based than one set of brothers. In any case, Democrats have been running from Obamacare — with their candidates arguing it needs to be fixed (but not repealed), which if anything keeps them on the defensive on the law, and makes their votes for the legislation even more subject to attack.
A new line of attack from Republicans is now focusing on the cuts to the popular Medicare Advantage program, which were required to provide some of the funding for Obamacare subsidies for younger people. The ads create a sense that Medicare more broadly is under attack due to the new program, a reasonable conclusion based on the type of utilitarian approach favored by Obamacare co-author Ezekiel Emanuel (fewer procedures for the old folks).
With an unwillingness to defend their record, and in need of an ogre or ogres to run against, the Democrats have begun to launch attacks directed against the Koch Brothers themselves. Part of this fits into their theme of fighting inequality and targeting rich Republicans, as in 2012. It is an odd spectacle, however, that a major political party believes its best campaign theme is to run against the alleged “un-American” campaign spending of two largely unknown energy company executives.
The Godfather of the anti-Koch campaign has been Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who now seems to have some serious ethical problems of his own to deal with. In any case, legal campaign spending is hardly un-American, and there is no evidence that Americans for Prosperity or the Koch Brothers have broken any laws. What they have done is change the script- spending early to put Democrats on defense. If you are a progressive, or merely a Democratic party operative and major campaign contributor (public employee union leader, trial lawyer, victims group advocate), what is really un-American is that Republicans seem to be winning at the moment. Big campaign spending by wealthy people is certainly not confined to Republicans, and Democrats have plenty of big spending individuals and groups behind their candidates, from George Soros, to Jeffrey Katzenberg to what might be the biggest of all — Tom Steyer. Since Bill Clinton’s first Presidential campaign in 1992, Democrats have generally equaled or exceeded the campaign spending by their opponents.
After a group supporting Democratic Senators started running anti-Koch ads, a conservative group responded with one of their own, jointly targeting both Senator Reid, and Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire and a major Democratic campaign supporter. Steyer has promised to spend up to $100 million of his own money in 2014, to push his own pet cause — fighting climate change. the New York Times, which has obsessed about Sheldon Adelson’s campaign spending and the Koch Brothers spending, has not had a critical word, of course, about Steyer’s spending. As always, what matters to the left is which side of the political fight you are on, not what you do with your money. Steyer giving $100 million is money dedicated to a worthy cause, evening out the scales a bit. Adelson giving somewhat less to Republicans, is deeply troubling. The Kochs giving what they give — simply un-American.
While some on the right are uncomfortable with making Steyer a target, I think the new campaign is effective, and suggests that Republicans will use their money more effectively this cycle than they did in 2012. Victor Davis Hanson has argued that the powerful environmental groups are doing the bidding of big money coastal elites like Steyer, and their victories in states and at the federal level (new regulations and laws) have caused major damage to average Americans, while further enriching the wealthy elites through billions in crony capitalism grants, low interest loans and regulations which favor their companies over those of competitors.
Democrats will always claim to be the party of the people, but it is the powerful whom they serve — whether it be trial lawyers, teachers unions (in their fight with better performing charter schools), health care companies who were bribed into backing Obamacare, or super wealthy environmental radicals. It is a positive step if the class warfare of the left is exposed on all these fronts. Or we can let the peasants eat Teslas, and then look for a hospital to get treated that is still in the network.