WASHINGTON — The U.S. political world was afire on Thursday over an explosive report that Republican party strategists are proposing doing “exactly what John McCain would not allow us to do” by launching personal, racially tinged attacks against U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of November’s election.
The New York Times reported Thursday that a high-profile group of Republican strategists is proposing a $10 million ad campaign that will link “Barack Hussein Obama” to the race-related sentiments once aired by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who preached at the church he once attended.
It’s a tactic McCain steadfastly rejected when he ran against Obama in the 2008 presidential election, and one that didn’t get Hillary Clinton very far when she employed it during her bruising primary battle against the then-senator a few months earlier.
The group, commissioned by Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade — a company partially owned by Canada’s TD Bank — also suggests hiring an “extremely literate conservative African-American” as a spokesman to argue that Obama has misrepresented himself as a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.”
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, said he had no intention of running a campaign based on “character assassination,” disavowing the so-called Super PAC that’s making the proposals.
“I repudiate the effort by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they’ve described,” he told the conservative website Townhall.com.
“I would like to see this campaign focus on the economy, on getting people back to work, on seeing rising incomes and growing prosperity — particularly for those in the middle class of America.”
Reaction to the story was fast and furious in the U.S. capital.
“This morning’s story revealed the appalling lengths to which Republican operatives and Super PACs apparently are willing to go to tear down the President and elect Mitt Romney,” White House spokesman Jim Messina said in a statement.
“The blueprint for a hate-filled, divisive campaign of character assassination speaks for itself. It also reflects how far the party has drifted in four short years since John McCain rejected these very tactics.”
A statement released on behalf of Ricketts, however, said the Wright plan was simply one of many under consideration by the PAC.
“Not only was this plan merely a proposal . . . but 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, head of the Ending Spending Action Fund.
“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.”
Fred Davis, the Hollywood consultant and apparent brainchild behind the Wright line of attack, said Thursday that Ricketts — owner of the Chicago Cubs — had nixed the proposal.
“The Ricketts family never approved it, and nothing has happened on it since the presentation,” he told CBS News.
According to the Times report, the proposal intones that “the world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way.”
It went on: “Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed. And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”
Davis, a onetime McCain adviser, was barred by the Arizona senator from using the tactic during his own run for president.
The New York Times obtained a copy of the 54-page advertising plan — entitled The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama — by someone who was alarmed by its tone, the Times reported.
The story broke as the U.S. Census Bureau released a report that shows a nation at a racial milestone: white births are no longer the majority.
For the first time, there are more black, Hispanic and other minority babies being born than white babies, suggesting the United States is becoming “majority minority.”
In an election year, the findings were sure to spark debate on what it means to be the “real Americans” Republicans frequently speak of.
The timing of the Times story on top of the Census report makes clear that the type of tactics being suggested by the Republican strategists are woefully out of touch, says Jack Pitney, a one-time Republican congressional aide now teaching politics at Claremont McKenna College in California.
“There’s absolutely no appetite for it in this political culture and they’ve been reluctant to raise it anyway — Republicans have been skittish about attacks that invite charges of race-baiting, and rightfully so,” he said.
“It’s a terrible idea, and this kind of attack would in turn lead to a furious counter-attack and throw the debate off economics, and Republicans want this to be an election on economics.”