For every frontrunner, there’s a slew of attack ads waiting to be uploaded on You Tube. The assortment that has recently emerged in response to Newt’s comfortable, sweats-on-the-sofa-with-a-tub-of-Haagen-Dazs lead in the polls, runs the gamut. Everyone from Ron Paul to the DNC has had a go, each with varying degrees of success—ranging from mediocre to so so.
The first commercial to surface, “Leader,” was released by the Romney campaign early last week. Despite never mentioning Newt’s personal life, the ad aims to distinguish Romney’s unwavering commitment to his (one) family from his opponent’s discordant tri-nuptualism. It showcases a series of scenes from the candidate’s home movies, as beautifully captured on Super 8 film sometime in the '70s. We see a young Mitt surrounded by his adoring family, followed by a couple of lingering shots—perhaps too much so for an ad espousing family values—of his beautiful (two parts Greta Scaachi, one part I-can’t-believe-your-mom’s-so-pretty) wife, Anne. These images are seamlessly intercut with recent footage of Mitt at debates, spouting his record of “steadiness and constancy” and emphasizing the length of his 41-year marriage.
Apart from Mitt mentioning his being at Bain for 25 years—a fact that I’m sure will come back to haunt him due to the propensity of private equity firms to forfeit jobs in the name of efficiency—and the unfortunate shot of him wearing an anorak with a drawstring waist—presumably a unisex garment issued by the Olympics committee that looked better on women—I’m prepared to say that this Romney ad—both from a stylistic perspective and a messaging standpoint—is not too bad. It clearly makes the case that Romney’s private life is aesthetically and morally sounder than Newt’s, showing us the perfectly faded footage to prove it.
Next up, also from the Romney camp, is the sneeringly entitled commercial, “With Friends Like Newt”.Relative to the passivity of the previous commercial, this ad actually has some bite (perhaps not of the blazin’ barbecue variety but definitely sour cream and chives.) Artfully designed to resemble a movie trailer for a film that George Clooney might star in, co-write, and direct, this advertisement seeks to address Newt’s chutzpah for criticizing the Medicare-reform plan as devised by GOP golden child Paul Ryan. While the commercial convincingly tells the story of a character-flawed, party-disloyal, gone-rogue (but not as much as Sarah Palin) candidate, relative to Newt’s other transgressions—lying, being materialistically indulgent in austere times, pocketing $1.6 million as a “historian” for Fannie and Freddie, etc.—dissing the GOP’s Justin Bieber just doesn’t seem that bad.
The last ad released by pro-Romney supporters—the super PAC, Restore Our Future—is mysteriously named, “Smile.” The title of the spot—as revealed in the first few seconds—refers to Obama’s (presumed) smile as he sees his (presumed) plan to attack Romney and make the less threatening Newt his opponent succeed. While the ad makes a legitimate point—that running against Newt would be swell because he’s a deeply flawed candidate with enough baggage to be charged a steep levy on a domestic flight—the manner in which it’s executed, at least from a aesthetic point of view, is as irksome as a Republican openly rejecting the Ryan Plan. Taking design cues from the Western Union logo and using just about every special effect popular with guys cutting industrial videos in the '80s, “Smile” reads more like a commercial for a class-action law firm than a provocative political ad. In other words, unless you’ve recently found carcinogens in your water supply, it’s not gonna work.
The Dems also saw Newt’s rise in the polls as cause to put out an attack ad of their own, the “Original Tea Partier.” The only problem with this one is that if you didn’t read the credit at the end, you’d probably think it was a pro-Gringrich spot paid for the by the Tea Party itself. A myopic mistake on the part of the Dems? I don’t think so. As the “Smile” ad asserts, helping Newt get elected might have been their intention all along. But, I hope, for the Democrats’ sake, that this the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-the-candidate-I-want-to-run-against play isn’t too transparent. I think that voters would find it inconsistent with the earnestness that they associate with the Democratic brand and, ultimately, be a bit turned off. It spells backfire city to me.
The Ron Paul people weren’t going to sit this one out either. Their Newt-defaming spot, “Serial Hypocrisy” is an amalgam of all the ads described above. It’s a solid commercial apart from the fact that it fails to acknowledge that the American people are a little hypocrisy-fatigued right now. After all, when you come to think of it, most people are guilty of being hypocritical—from anyone who’s ever run for office to every investment banker to the federal government for bailing them out (and not putting restrictions on their bonuses) to you telling your kids not to eat peanut butter straight out of the jar. In other words, this ad will have as much impact as a Victoria’s Secret ad playing during an episode of Girls Gone Wild.
So, I hear you ask, if all the aforementioned commercials fall short of expectations, is there any ad out there that can sufficiently communicate the sheer ludicrousness of Newt being in the picture for so long after all the terrible things he’s done and now becoming the Republican frontrunner? Well, actually, yes. There is one ad that does all that. It’s not from this election cycle but it does the job all the same. Originally produced by Herman Clark when he was trying to unseat Gingrich as the House minority whip in 1992—yes, the guy’s been equally as naughty since way back then—this ad happens to do it all, and it even might make you smile in the process.