On May 17, The New York Times reported on a plan presented to Joe Rickett's Ending Spending Action Fund that would highlight controversial remarks made by Reverend Jeremiah Wright and link these remarks to President Obama. Soon after the report received widespread coverage, the Romney campaign rejected the attack on Obama, despite having brought up Rev. Wright himself in Sean Hannity's radio show as recently as February. After having obsessed about Rev. Wright in the 2008 election, the right-wing media reacted to the decision by lamenting the opportunity to reignite the attack.
The New York Times article reported that in a report titled "The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama," a "group of high-profile Republican strategists" proposed a plan that:
[C]alls for running commercials linking Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign.
"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," says the proposal, which was overseen by Fred Davis and commissioned by Joe Ricketts, the founder of the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade.
The $10 million plan, one of several being studied by Mr. Ricketts, includes preparations for how to respond to the charges of race-baiting it envisions if it highlights Mr. Obama's former ties to Mr. Wright, who espouses what is known as "black liberation theology."
The group suggested hiring as a spokesman an "extremely literate conservative African-American" who can argue that Mr. Obama misled the nation by presenting himself as what the proposal calls a "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln."
But the right-wing media has not followed Romney as he has attempted to distance himself from the ad campaign.
During the May 17 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity disagreed with the Romney campaign's decision, stating:
Now, I do believe the economy, jobs, national security are by far the most pressing issue [sic] facing the country today. I also feel that every candidate, though, needs to be fully vetted. Now, that's something the mainstream media failed to do back in 2008 with Barack Obama, and I believe that the president's relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a man that influenced him for over 20 years, inspired him, is a very important campaign issue. After all, it is a matter of character..
Later during the program, in a conversation with Fox News' The Five co-hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle and Eric Bolling, Hannity reiterated his disagreement, calling the decision not to run the ads a "a mistake." Guilfoyle also called the decision not "the right thing to do." Watch:
HANNITY: Alright, so as president Obama tries to steer clear of the election about anything but his record, there is another topic that now appears to be off limits and that is the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. But the question is, should it be? Now there were rumors earlier today that a super PAC ad and a campaign was in the works, focusing on the Reverend Wright and his relationship with Barack Obama. And before most of us were even out of bed, the Obama campaign and David Axelrod took to Twitter, calling on Romney to repudiate the potential ad blitz. And as reported earlier that's exactly what Mitt Romney did. But was it the right call? Joining me is the co-host of the hit show The Five, Eric Bolling, Kimberly Guilfoyle. I heard Romney today -- I first saw -- heard the interview he did with Guy Benson, Townhall. And I'm thinking, this is what McCain did. This is the president that said, they bring a knife, we bring a gun. And you know, I want Romney to treat Obama the way he did Gingrich and the way he attacked Santorum.
HANNITY: I mean, frankly, I thought it got a little too mean. But now all of these things are off limits?
GUILFOYLE: Listen, I think that's what he is going to do. I don't think it's the right thing to do. I think he should try to get after it. I think too much is at stake. If you are really passionate about the country and care about the direction we are going in and I believe that he is -- then you've got to fight for her. You have to stick up --
HANNITY: You have to --
GUILFOYLE: For the rest of us, for the American people. Show us that no matter who our enemies might be, no matter who comes against us, that you are going to be the president that is going to stand for us, that we can count on you not to cower.
HANNITY: See for 20 years -- fortified. He is like family to me. But we can't bring it up. I'm not -- listen I think Romney has made a mistake here because the media -- you know what if this was him they would go after him with a vengeance. Why doesn't he realize that?
In a May 17 Gateway Pundit post, blogger Jim Hoft reacted to the Romney campaign's decision by saying "Well this is certainly disappointing."
In a May 17 post to the conservative blog Powerline, Paul Mirengoff decried the decision, claiming that highlighting Wright would make "voters like Obama less." From the post:
There's no doubt that this election will be about Obama's performance as president, especially when it comes to economic matters. So clearly, this is where the focus should be when it comes to campaign ads. But it also matters whether Obama is liked. And, to the extent we can trust voter responses in surveys on this matter, many more of them like Obama than are satisfied with his performance. Indeed, it may be his likeability that is keeping the president afloat these days.
Thus, there is something to be gained from any honest line of attack that makes voters like Obama less. Moreover, we know that Mitt Romney will be attacked on personal grounds ranging from his religion to his conduct in high school. To the extent voters are reminded (or informed for the first time) that Obama's spiritual leader is an avowed hater of America, they may be less inclined, considering the alternative, to reject Romney because he is a Mormon or for reasons of his personality, past or present.
Accordingly, I think there may be value in talking about the Obama-Wright connection.
The Obama-Wright line of attack does not depend on a connection to any policy Obama has implemented. What is the connection between Romney's alleged bullying as a high school student and any policy? Having an avowed America-hater as one's spiritual leader should tend to make one less liked, period. The suggestion by the Ending Spending Action Fund that this is an "attack that seek[s] to divide us socially or culturally" is ridiculous.
In a May 18 post on the National Review Online, contributor Michael Walsh contended that the decision to forgo continuing to link Obama to Wright was "an impressive display of preemptive surrender." From the post:
I can see why Romney "repudiated" the effort; so far, so boilerplate for a cautious candidate like Mitt, who's clearly going to run on an above-the-fray, "I can fix this mess" campaign, and leave the gut-punching to others. But it doesn't help to allay the fears of conservatives who were appalled by the "honorable campaign" of 2008 that Romney doesn't yet realize the mortal threat Obamaism poses, not simply to the economy but to the nature of the nation.
[T]he episode is a dramatic illustration of the Lefty Whipsaw in action: First, learn the other guy is taking a page from your playbook, then have it exposed in print by David Axelrod's speed-dial buddies at the Times, then shriek with horror at the immoral audacity of it all.
If the Right accepts the liberals' definition of "negative campaigning" as simply telling the truth about them, we might as well go home.
Since Obama's election in 2008, right-wing media has been fixated on Obama's past relationship with Wright even though the mainstream media discussed Obama's and Wright's relationship at length during that election.