Planning $10 Million Worth of Jeremiah Wright Attacks Makes Sense Even if it Doesn't Work  

A blog about business and economics.
May 17 2012 8:14 AM

Planning $10 Million Worth of Jeremiah Wright Attacks Makes Sense Even if It Doesn't Work  

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God bless America.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Ricketts is the founder of TD Ameritrade. He's really rich, and he really dislikes Barack Obama. He's working with longtime GOP operative Fred Davis on a way to spend $10 million venting that anti-Obama rage with a series of racial attacks on Obama. This prompts Ben Smith to ask "do people think Jeremiah Wright attacks are going to work at this point?"

I think that's too much thinking like a political reporter rather than like a business reporter. Lots of political spending is basically a business proposition. Businesspeople make donations to support the re-election of politicians who are friendly to their interests and to broadly maintain privileged access to legislators who they may call on for specific favors. But the kind of spending Ricketts is contemplating here is simply too large to be driven by a narrow calculation of profit and loss. It only makes sense for Ricketts to cut that check if the campaign it underwrites has a lot of expressive value for Ricketts personally. And while I don't know any objective observers who think a focus on Jeremiah Wright is damaging to the president (it's hard to sow doubts about someone who's been in office for four years and every day the campaign isn't focused on mass unemployment is a win for an incumbent running amidst mass unemployment), it's obvious that a lot of hard-core Republicans do think this way. It's psychologically comforting to many conservatives to believe that Obama won in 2008 not because of the extremely unpopularity of the GOP, but because the media failed to "vet the prez" and expose his links to black radicalism.

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If you're Fred Davis or any other consultant eager to help himself to a slice of Ricketts' $10 million investment, coming up with a cost-effective plan for damaging Obama's re-election campaign is pointless. What you want to do is come up with a plan that appeals to Ricketts' sensibilities and makes him want to spend the money.

A lot of people seem to condescendingly believe that only yahoos are into anti-Obama conspiracy theories, but the reality is that this stuff appeals primarily to relatively high-information voters including many very rich and sophisticated businessmen. No less an ideological funder than David Koch thinks it's important to note that Obama's "father was a hard-core economic socialist in Kenya," which is supposed to somehow be relevant to the views of a son who never knew him. These rich donor types have no real skin in the game, and the operatives' main task isn't to win; it's to persuade them to spend. That means emphasizing whatever kind of attacks most resonate personally with the donors. If Joe Ricketts, personally, is really into talking about Jeremiah Wright, then the best way to profit off Ricketts' personal hatred of Obama is to outline a Wright-focused campaign strategy.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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