The Limits of Ayers

While robocalls keep hitting Obama on his relationship to unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers, it seems to me that this is a limited strategy at this point.  Maybe a few months ago these claims might have been more effective, when the Obama narrative had not yet been so firmly entrenched.  But now his image is a little firmer, and attacking him for vague associations to a guy like Ayers will probably ring more implausible.  The main way this line of attack could make more of an impact would be if more extensive documentation was provided for a serious, long-term working relationship, especially if, say, a story came out showing that Obama had misled the American people on his relationship to Ayers.  But, without such a story, these attacks risk seeming more of—I’ll say it—a distraction from issues such as the tumultuous economy.  Ross Douthat has some interesting comments on that point.

And attacks will only get you so far.  Take a look at this Republican consultant’s focus group:

Reagan Dems and Independents. Call them blue-collar plus. Slightly more Target than Walmart.

Yes, the spot worked. Yes, they believed the charges against Obama. Yes, they actually think he’s too liberal, consorts with bad people and WON’T BE A GOOD PRESIDENT…but they STILL don’t give a f***. They said right out, “He won’t do anything better than McCain” but they’re STILL voting for Obama.

The two most unreal moments of my professional life of watching focus groups:

54 year-old white male, voted Kerry ’04, Bush ’00, Dole ’96, hunter, NASCAR fan…hard for Obama said: “I’m gonna hate him the minute I vote for him. He’s gonna be a bad president. But I won’t ever vote for another god-damn Republican. I want the government to take over all of Wall Street and bankers and the car companies and Wal-Mart run this county like we used to when Reagan was President.”

The next was a woman, late 50s, Democrat but strongly pro-life. Loved B. and H. Clinton, loved Bush in 2000. “Well, I don’t know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I’m sick of paying for health insurance at work and that’s why I’m supporting Barack.”

Not every voter is in the same condition as those folks, but their attitudes represent a broader theme for a lot of the public.  At this point, so many voters are so disenchanted with the Republican brand that you can’t win them back by merely bashing the Democrats.  Fairly or not, they blame Bush for a lot of their problems, and, for a lot of Americans, Bush=Republicans.  The GOP is going to have to put forward an affirmative vision if it wants to differentiate itself from the Bush legacy (and tax cuts/no earmarks do not equal an affirmative vision) and to begin to make steps toward achieving a sustainable majority.

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