What GOP strategist's racist attack plan says about Mitt Romney and the Republicans

Yesterday, the New York Times exposed an undercover plan submitted to a conservative super PAC funded by Joe Ricketts (owner of TD Ameritrade and the Chicago Cubs) to attack President Obama's character by invoking Rev. Wright, and its revelation quickly forced Mitt Romney to repudiate it as well as the super PAC - Ending Spending Action Fund (catchy!) - to shelve it. The super PAC's head has been doing the rounds on media this morning, strenuously asserting that it is "deeply unfair" to associate the plan with the billionaire Mr. Ricketts, saying that the PAC asked for proposals from many strategists, and this plan was but one to be submitted.

But then, there's this quote, from Joe Ricketts, staring at you in the face, right in the proposal:
Joe Ricketts said it himself...

"If the nation had seen that ad, they'd never have elected Barack Obama."
What ad is that? The one that John McCain wouldn't let them run in 2008. The ad that would use Jeremiah Wright, whose church Obama once attended but a pastor whose divisive rhetoric then-candidate Obama denounced. Joe Ricketts, the man who would fund this thing, to the tune of $10 million already expressed interest in these kinds of character assassinations of Barack Obama, which is what seems to have precipitated this proposal.

So, I'm not buying that Mr. Ricketts is completely innocent in this, and that the plan was just dropped on his lap and before he could burn it, the Times got a hold of it.

But let's go a little bit beyond that. What does it tell us that anti-Obama billionaires, and top GOP strategists - including ones who worked for the last Republican nominee for president - are willing to go to this length to discredit Barack Obama, when their own current presumptive nominee wants to talk all about the economy all the time, or so he tells us? I think that the implications of this plan goes beyond the particulars of this specific line of attack. It tells us something about the current state of Republican politics, and something about where the best Republican strategists think Mr. Romney is headed if this election is fought on fair terms and on the issues. I'll address this last part first.

Romney is hopeless, and the best Republican strategists know it.

Fred Davis, the man behind this proposal, is a veteran ad maker who has quite a reputation in the GOP circles. He was the man behind John McCain's "celebrity" ad against Obama in 2008, as well as Carly Fiorina's "Demon sheep" ad in 2010 against fellow Republican Tom Campbell, a Republican primary contest Fiorina won. He's no outsider when it comes to Republican politics and trying to get Republicans elected to office. While known for some of his whackier ideas, Davis is a well-know, well-respected ad strategist among Republicans running for office.

And here is what Davis' proposal had to make Americans hate the president (the proposal's term, not mine) had to say about his party's nominee:
They still aren't ready to hate this president, but they're definitely open to the concept that someone else (perhaps even Romney) could do a better job.
In other words, Romney is an empty shell, and if only we could convince people that Obama is an evil black man that you need to hide your daughters from, even Mitt Romney's empty shell of a candidacy could fill in the job of president. Just exudes confidence in their nominee, don't you think?

That's the point. Republican strategists know that Mitt Romney cannot win the election on his own merits. Hell, he can't even win this election by attacking the merits of President Obama's policies. Why not? Because they know that President Obama's record, in turning the tide away from the worst recession in most of our lifetimes and in the face of a withering, obstructionist opposition, in unassailable should voters be exposed to the truth of that record.

Should voters be given an opportunity to actually make a choice on the merits - between a corporate buyout specialist who cashed in on people's misery and a president who saved the American economy from falling off a cliff and saved the American auto industry - it won't even be close. Should voters be given a choice on the merits - between a candidate beholden to a party that refuses to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act on the grounds that it might end up protecting gays and brown people and a president who's dedicated himself to women's rights in all aspects of life, whether pay equity or health care decisions - American women will rout out not just Mitt Romney but the party whose banner he now carries. Should voters have a choice on the merits - between a candidate who openly opposed the precise ways it took to kill bin Laden and the President who gave the order to take out that menace - Romney would be finished.

So what do you do, if you are a Republican strategist, looking at the prospect of unlimited billionaire money? You do everything possible to make sure the election does not focus on the merits. You write a plan of racist attack and then try to cover it up by including a plan to hire a black conservative to speak for you. You take the quintessentially American story of a kid of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, raised by a single mom, who grows up to become the leader of the free world, despite every adversity standing in his way - you take that story and call that man un-American.

Then, and only then, someone - perhaps even Mitt Romney - would become the alternative voters would turn to.

A party desperately looking for its identity.

If the only way for the Republicans to win a national election is to smear the Democratic president with racist attacks, just what does that say about the party? What does it say about a party that can't find a candidate that could go toe-to-toe with the president on the merits? What does it say that the best chance the GOP has is the guy who's been pushed to the far right corner, as opposed to the ones who just started out there?

What that says about the Republican party is that they are in a sad state. A party incapable of and unwilling to solve any of the real problems in America, instead looking to remake our country into a feudal society. This is a party out of touch with the times. It's a party that preaches individual responsibility but cries foul when its candidate is held responsible for his vulture capitalist record. This is a party that touts government just small enough to insert into every woman's vagina. It's a party that talks about freedom but will be damned if gay couples are allowed the freedom to marry. This is a party so unconvinced by power of its own ideas that they have to resort to buying elections and disenfranchising minorities of their right to vote.

This isn't the party of Lincoln. This isn't the party of Teddy Roosevelt. Hell, it isn't even the party of Reagan. The Republican party has ceased to have any identity of its own - at least any relevant one to the issues facing our country today. Instead, it has become the party of no, the party of destructive power, and the party of aristocracy. Perhaps even more than any of that, they are a party of gut-wrenching hatred. Hatred for minorities, hatred for the success of this country should it happen under a president not of their party.

I really do wish sometimes that the Republican party resumed its role as a small-c conservative party that is interested in intelligent debate. I still wouldn't agree with them, but I would enjoy the debate. I think the American people are better represented when all sides, despite their genuine differences, are interested in solutions that work for all of us, when we can find those solutions with ideas considered from all sides.

Conclusion...

But I suppose that is too much to ask at the moment. I suppose this sad state of the Republican party, the political Right and the moneyed conservative elite will continue until we, the American people, make it clear that it will not work. The only thing we can do is not to reward this behavior. The only thing we can do is teach them a lesson - that these are critical, serious times, and we want serious people who can solve problems, not politics of personal destruction. We want a vigorous debate about how to solve the problems our country faces, but we want our leaders to work for a solution, not for an impasse.

And that's a pretty solid message. Let's send that message in November.