The past two months have taught us that the Republican presidential candidates are going to try to make the 2012 election a referendum on President Obama’s first term, and one of the most effective means of attack is starting to pop up both on television screens and websites — using the president’s words against him.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) campaign has released a series of videos over the summer in that vein. One coincided with a visit to Allentown, Pa. — a town that lost a metal works plant, despite Obama’s touting it as a stimulus success story in 2009.
Soon thereafter, Romney’s campaign released another video presaging a visit to the early primary state of New Hampshire. Once again, neither Romney’s face nor his words shows up in the ad. Instead, it leads with the president’s promise in 2008: “We Democrats have a very different message of what constitutes progress in this country. We measure progress by how many people can find a job to pay the mortgage.”
The implication was obvious: With a 9.2 percent unemployment rate at the time the ad ran and housing prices continuing to struggle, holding jobs and paying off mortgages were even more difficult than when Obama ran for president.
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Romney’s most stinging indictment was a 30-second pitch for contributions to his presidential campaign. The entire video is composed of Obama’s past statements on the economy, and once again, Romney is entirely absent.
The ad highlights Obama’s concession in 2009 that he would be “held accountable” for any failure to revive the United States economy: “If I don’t have this done in three years, then it’s going to be a one-term proposition.”
Romney’s laser-like focus on Obama is sharper than his rivals’, who have generally worked to introduce themselves in their Web-based videos.
For example, when former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) released a video before his summer trip to New Hampshire, he didn’t use Obama’s image or words. Instead, the video focused entirely on Pawlenty.
But as Pawlenty becomes better known, he’s starting to step up Web attacks on Obama in an effort to prove his mettle, and, as in Romney’s case, is focusing on using the president’s words to condemn him.
On Tuesday, Pawlenty’s campaign released a new Web ad that’s one minute long and focused entirely on Obama. As is the case with Romney’s ads, it employs Obama’s words against him, with no commentary from either a narrator or the candidate himself.
Using the president’s own words to indict him is particularly effective, because the accusations are not explicitly from another candidate, but — functionally — self-accusations from the president himself. That might be why the candidates fail to show up in this style of Web video — there’s no debating over a he-said/she-said moment when you can actually see and hear the president’s words.
You can expect more of these types of ads from Romney, as he’s the front-runner and, therefore, eager to move the campaign to the general election. But the rest of the candidates are in a trickier position.
Attacking Obama might earn good will from the Republicans they need to woo, but the candidates also have to sway voters away from Romney. To do that, they can’t focus too heavily on Obama, but instead “compare and contrast” — as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) often says — Romney’s record with their own.
And that wouldn’t be too difficult. Romney has publicly changed positions on a number of major issues, including abortion, and it would be easy to use his words against him in ads, just as Romney is doing to Obama.
Heinze, the founder of GOP12.com, is a staff member at The Hill.