Political Animal


August 23, 2012 11:36 AM The Strategy Behind Romney’s Welfare Ads

By Ed Kilgore

To anyone aware of their breathtakingly mendacious nature, the Romney/Ryan August Offensive of ads, talking-points, and speech excerpts accusing Barack Obama of “gutting” welfare reform illustrates the cold cynicism of the challenger’s campaign about a once-hot topic. But other than the obvious general effort to bring back the racially-tinged wedge politics of the 1970s and 1980s in an appeal to white working-class voters, what does it all say about Team Mitt’s strategy?

TNR’s Nate Cohn has an answer:

The welfare advertisements represent a marked shift in Romney’s strategy. Rather than reinforcing existing perceptions of Obama, the Romney campaign is trying to introduce new information about the president to critical white working class voters. Realistically, Romney’s chances hinge more on building up his own image than bolstering Obama’s negatives, but if the Romney campaign just doesn’t possess any tools to restore their candidate’s image, then an attack targeted at swing voters and drawing on powerful underlying sentiments is probably their next best option. Whether Romney’s welfare angle works without sustained media attention remains to be seen.

As Nate notes, the welfare attacks are “new information” because they are just made up, and they are not getting “sustained media attention” because the MSM knows they are based on lies, even if many of them won’t come right out and say so. But having said that, Nate’s analysis confirms what I’ve been saying for a good while about everything the Romney campaign’s been doing lately: the original strategy of calling for an economic referendum and then making Romney a “safe alternative” to the status quo via his biography is in shambles. He’s stuck with precisely what he didn’t want, a “choice” election. So now he’s fishing in the toxic waters of right-wing memes about Obama’s sinister future intentions, which basically involve a vicious battle for resources and power between virtuous and “successful” white folk and those who would loot them and mock their values. The welfare attacks are a big part of that, but so, too, are the closely coordinated claims that Obama’s has “raided” Medicare to pay for ObamaCare.

I continue to think an ad or ads on the welfare issue featuring Bill Clinton (a) refuting the lies about Obama’s record, and (b) making it clear it is the GOP that is threatening work-based welfare reform by its assault on federal policies and programs that “make work pay,” could go a long ways towards blowing up the whole Romney/Ryan strategy. Such a counter-attack would be sweet nectar to the news media, and would revive the already abundant negative judgments on the veracity of the Romney attacks.

The more I think about it, angry as I am about the welfare line of attack and fearful of its pernicious impact, it’s clear Romney has been taking a big risk based on the absence of any strategic alternatives. He’s chosen the one line of attack that doesn’t rely on his vulnerable biography; doesn’t draw attention to the Ryan Budget; and depends on extending the paranoid view of the conservative “base” about Obama to the one segment of swing voters receptive to this sort of argument. It’s a shaky limb Mitt’s out on right now, and if it breaks, he’s in big trouble.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • stormskies on August 23, 2012 12:59 PM:

    You can only 'believe' in the lies and deceptions if you need or want to be lied too in order to sustain your own sense of psychological stability which is already defined by complete fictions.

    Welcome to the world of the majority of white people in our country.

    And this white population, the majority of, is one of the most stupid populations of people anywhere in this Earth.

  • SecularAnimist on August 23, 2012 1:08 PM:

    Ed Kilgore wrote: "the MSM knows they are based on lies, even if many of them won’t come right out and say so"

    The corporate-owned, so-called "mainstream" media does indeed know that Romney's welfare ads, and Ryan's screeching about Obama's nonexistent "defense cuts", and indeed virtually all of the Romney propaganda, are nothing but blatant lies.

    And they absolutely WILL NOT "come right out and say so".

    Which means that they are knowingly, and deliberately, aiding and abetting Romney's blatant lies. For all practical purposes, they are acting as part of the Republican campaign.

    Since 1972, I have NEVER seen a campaign so entirely based on blatant, sneering, cynical lies as the current Romney campaign. And I have NEVER seen the corporate media so ready and willing to collaborate in perpetrating such massive and ugly deceit.

    There are no doubt a lot of Big Media CEOs right at this very moment drooling over the tax cuts and media deregulation that they expect President Romney to shower upon them.

  • Ebenezer Scrooge on August 23, 2012 1:14 PM:

    "So now he’s fishing in the toxic waters of right-wing memes about Obama’s sinister future intentions, which basically involve a vicious battle for resources and power between virtuous and 'successful' white folk and those who would loot them and mock their values."

    And who are those who "would loot them and mock their values"? The Jews have traditionally filled that role. Almost every Republican cultural and economic trope in their anti-elitist canon is lifted from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

  • b on August 23, 2012 1:16 PM:

    "There are no doubt a lot of Big Media CEOs right at this very moment drooling over the tax cuts and media deregulation that they expect President Romney to shower upon them."

    Bingo—you nail it precisely. If the BMC's concluded that they'd get more favorable tax and regulatory treatment from Democrats, they'd switch sides so fast that a gigantic case of whiplash would result. The fact that they'd be on the other side of the issues continuum regarding gay marriage, climate change, abortion, voting rights, etc. would be irrelevant to them. It's all about the money, fundamentally.

  • c u n d gulag on August 23, 2012 1:20 PM:

    So, Mitt's taken a page from George Wallace's very old playbook, when he said, "And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be out-niggered again!"

    The race card.
    Your only hope when all of the other cards you have are jokers.

    When is CRAPTCHA's execution date set?

    I need something to look forward to in my miserable life.

  • bluestatedon on August 23, 2012 1:20 PM:

    "Since 1972, I have NEVER seen a campaign so entirely based on blatant, sneering, cynical lies as the current Romney campaign."

    My memories of the '72 campaign are mercifully foggy and vague, but I will venture that—it's amazing for me to write this—Mitt Romney is a bigger liar than Richard Nixon ever was.

  • BillFromPA on August 23, 2012 1:22 PM:

    Something being missed in the discussion of the MSM refusing to call Ronney's lies lies, is the simple fact that they need to keep this a close horserace to sell advertising time. If the low information swing voters were as engaged as we are, and not in a partisan way, just more informed about factual stuff, this could turn into a snorer for the pundits. Even the Super Bowl get tuned out if it's 28 to zip in the 3rd quarter

  • DCCyclone on August 23, 2012 1:26 PM:

    Ed, the reason they might not be doing a Clinton welfare response ad is that OFA's research might tell them Romney's welfare attacks simply aren't working, they aren't moving the needle.

    You don't bother responding if your opponent's attack isn't working.

    I know OFA did one response ad, but that's been it, they haven't continued a volley as Romney has done 3 total.

  • Barbara on August 23, 2012 1:47 PM:

    Who are these other people that are getting YOUR* Medicare $? In my household my 77 year old mother's blood is boiling because those people include my uninsured and unemployed brother with a significant health issue.

    Yeah, your children and grandchildren, that's who.

    *Never mind that virtually ALL the money is coming from current taxpayers whose future benefits would be bartered away.

  • AK Liberal on August 23, 2012 1:48 PM:

    Ed, when would be the right time for such a counter attack? Perhaps, Clinton should speak out about this forcefully in his address to the Democratic convention. Then, it becomes a news story and the ads would reinforce the news cycle.

  • TCinLA on August 23, 2012 1:58 PM:

    I've been saying it at every other forum so I will repeat it here:

    Have Clinton call a televised press conference where he lays out the facts about welfare reform and directly calls Romney a liar, then takes an hour of reporters' questions.

    That will make it into the news, and the images of Romney sucking air like a fish out of water will be priceless. The Big Dog could do it, real easy. It would be the torpedo amidships the S.S. Romoney. And all the Super PAC bullshit would have no effect on the public reaction to that.

  • TCinLA on August 23, 2012 2:04 PM:

    My memories of the political campaigns goes back to 1956, and my active participation on some level back to 1960. I very well remember the campaigns of 1968 and 1972, and I can say without fear of contradiction that nothing that spawn-of-Satan Nixon did in either campaign comes close to the mendacity of the Romney campaign. They're even worse than Wallace was in both of those campaigns. Of course, now the "Wallace fringe" of that era is the mainstream of the GOP today.

  • jsjiowa on August 23, 2012 2:41 PM:

    The Des Moines Register did a 10-minute interview with Romney yesterday, and the results were disappointing. His explanation for the welfare claims was given a pass with no pushback or further questions on that topic:

    Q. On welfare reform, can you tell us specifically how Obama ended the work requirement? The fact checkers say you’re making false claims. Iowans who consider you an honest man are asking why you would keep repeating something that isn’t true.

    A. When the welfare reauthorization bill was passed, effort was taken specifically to limit the type of work that qualified as work for welfare. There had been reports of wide array of activities that were really not work but were being called work. And so Congress said that the federal government may not provide a waiver from the work requirement, you may not redefine the work requirement. That was specifically included, I believe it was section 407 of the act. The president’s decision to say, no, in fact, we are going to open welfare waivers to states or excuses from work requirements, is a violation of the act and says once again we’re going to allow people to escape the work requirements.

    Q. Fact checkers have said it only opened the door for states to ask for those waivers, it didn’t end that requirement, but your campaign commercials in Iowa say he ended it.

    A. Fact checkers on both sides of the aisle will look in the way they think is most consistent with their own views. It’s very clear that others who have looked at the same issue feel that the president violates the provision of the act which requires work in welfare, defines what work is. He guts that, he ends that requirement for those that seek that welfare.


    No mention of the HHS letter, nothing. Fail.

  • Neil B on August 23, 2012 5:02 PM:

    "... if it breaks" ... We have to make that limb break! And for R-Money to just say, "fact checkers on both sides of the aisle" as if they were all just into that, pathetic dodge. Especially to still say, "he guts that" - when "gut" implies total evisceration, total repeal.

  • Robert Waldmann on August 23, 2012 5:16 PM:

    I too think an ad featuring Clinton explaining how Obama is following in his footsteps while Romney is undermining everything he believed* would be dynamite.

    OK there is one difference -- Obama did sign a middle class tax cut and Clinton never did, but someohow I don't think Clinton will be eager to stress that.

    So why hasn't this ad dropped ? I don't believe Clinton is unwilling to film it. I think that the Obama campaign is saving their ammunition for convention season. I don't know if this is a good idea, if people believe Romney it will be hard to get them to admit they were wrong -- I'd say blatant lies should be denounced as loudly as possible (which means using Clinton) ASAP. But hey, I'm White, my parents never divorced and my middle name isn't Hussein and I'm not President so I am not confident that I understand political strategy better than Obama.

    *and betrayed when he signed the 1996 bill (sorry couldn't help myself).

  • anonymously on August 24, 2012 10:17 AM:

    Re: the Romney/Ryan/Fox Lies on gutting welfare:


  • yellowdog on August 24, 2012 11:49 PM:

    The ads are lies. Romney's justification is nonsense. The media's complicity by silence is appalling.

    Problem for Obama is: How to counter? The GOP uses this tactic because it (often) works. You cannot counter it simply by stating facts, because the foundation is not in the logical mind. It is elsewhere--in the emotional core, in the place where we believe things and sense things more than we know them empirically. Obama ads stating the facts on welfare policy will never reach this place. In fact, they would probably backfire: Because the viewer is so primed to believe the lie, being reminded of the 'issue' may only serve to deepen the preconception--in Romney's favor.

    Elections are about feelings and images more than facts. Bill Clinton, rascal that he is, is pretty good on this terrain. He knows the emotions at work in welfare policy--which is why we got the 1996 law in the first place.