As the Romney campaign continues to struggle and an Obama victory seems more likely, we’re starting to hear an odd replay of 2008. Part of it is the claim that the press isn’t nice to Mitt Romney, wants Obama to win blah, blah, blah. Partly, this is just what partisans fall back on when their candidate starts to fail. Reporters got negative when Mitt said half the country was made up of mooching losers. Everybody can see through this. But there’s also that particular take on Barack Obama: Mitt isn’t winning because he hasn’t really taken the gloves off, given Obama the beating he deserves — whether it’s Reverend Wright or Socialism or hating America or whatever.
This remains one of the great urban myths of the 2008 campaign: that McCain wouldn’t let his team really go after Barack Obama. And thus was spawned the ‘he didn’t get vetted’ myth so popular on the Breitbartian right. If people would have just been shown a biiiiiitttt more Reverend Wright Obama would have been toast.
Something similar was afoot back in the GOP primaries this year. Back then there was a constant refrain about who was best to go up against President Obama. As I put it a couple months back, it was “not so much even which guy could beat Obama but which would have the cojones (and I use that term advisedly) to hit him with the full socialist-African-terrorist-lovin’-debt-meister smackdown that would somehow just leave a shattered Obama grasping blindly for his teleprompter.”
This was always silly about the McCain campaign in 2008 — which of course spent quite a lot of time talking about Rev. Wright and ‘paling around with terrorists’ and the like — and it’s silly now.
Campaigns, particularly Republican campaigns, don’t hold off on promising tactics because they’re concerned about being nice. But every gambit that intensifies your hold on your most energized supporters threatens your grasp on less aggrieved and angry people you also want to hold in your column. John McCain didn’t go easy on Rev. Wright because he was just above going full-crazy. It reached a point of diminishing returns. Actually, it got to negative returns as it creeped up into race-baiting and xenophobic territory.
Same with Mitt Romney. Yes, he could get 30% of the electorate to froth at the mouth more than they already will when they vote for him by going full culture war, Obama’s a subversive alien. But most people in the country don’t like that stuff. They’ve heard it for four years and making it the basis of the Romney campaign will only turn them off Mitt Romney.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.