Don't Forget Who's on Romney's Side
by David Atkins
Jane Mayer in the New Yorker reminds everyone this week of the evil genius behind Romney's SuperPAC:
Romney, unlike the remaining Republican candidates, has served no time in Washington. Yet he’s relying on a media offensive managed by operatives who have long been at the heart of Washington’s Republican attack machine. One of the leaders of this advertising war is Larry McCarthy, a veteran media consultant best known for creating the racially charged “Willie Horton ad,” which, in 1988, helped sink Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for President.
McCarthy, who is fifty-nine, helps direct the pro-Romney group Restore Our Future, one of the hundreds of new Super PACs—technically independent political-action committees set up by supporters of the candidates—that are dramatically reshaping the Presidential election. PACs have existed since the nineteen-forties, but for decades an individual donation was limited to five thousand dollars. The power of PACs increased exponentially in 2010, when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals could spend without limit—and pool their money in PACs—to influence elections, as long as they didn’t fund candidates directly. Super PACs have already injected fifty-six million dollars into the 2012 race, most of it going to negative advertising. Restore Our Future has spent seventeen million dollars—more than any other PAC—and fifteen million of that has gone to producing and airing ads made by McCarthy’s firm, McCarthy Hennings Media. By contrast, Romney’s official campaign has spent only eleven million on ads. The Super PAC is technically fighting a proxy battle on behalf of Romney, but in practice it has become the head warrior...
For all the effort that goes into calibrating the scripts, McCarthy’s ads often have the crude look of a hastily assembled PowerPoint presentation. They feature hokey graphics—key criticisms are highlighted with neon-yellow stripes—and a heavy-handed use of black-and-white to lend a sinister cast to images. The ads are the political equivalent of a supermarket tabloid, emphasizing the personal and the sensational. But when they hit their mark they are dazzlingly effective.
McCarthy has been at this game for a long time, and is one of the most immoral players in the business. Consider this:
In the summer of 2010, the American Future Fund aired an ad, created by McCarthy, that Geoff Garin describes as perhaps “the most egregious” of the year. The ad accused Representative Bruce Braley, an Iowa Democrat and a lawyer, of supporting a proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, which it called a “mosque at Ground Zero.” As footage of the destroyed World Trade Center rolled, a narrator said, “For centuries, Muslims built mosques where they won military victories.” Now a mosque celebrating 9/11 was to be built on the very spot “where Islamic terrorists killed three thousand Americans”—it was, the narrator suggested, as if the Japanese were to build a triumphal monument at Pearl Harbor. The ad then accused Braley of supporting the mosque.
And he's been profiting quite handsomely from the unregulated money as a result of Citizens United:
This time, Romney doesn’t need to put his name on McCarthy’s ads. The Super PACs are free to operate as designated hitters. Most experts expect that the unusually nasty Republican primary clashes this year are warmups for the general election.
“It’s not just tougher out there,” Hart, the Democratic pollster, says. “It’s become a situation where the contest is how much you can destroy the system, rather than how much you can make it work. It makes no difference if you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after your name. There’s no sense that this is about democracy, and after the election you have to work together, and knit the country together. The people in the game now just think to the first Tuesday in November, and not a day beyond it.”
Hart contends, “2012 is worse than 1972 for democracy. That was the height of Watergate, when people were collecting thousands of dollars in black bags. At least, at that stage, it was on behalf of a candidate who had to advertise in his own name. Now you can hide behind Super PACs that have no future responsibility to govern.” Hart says of McCarthy’s behind-the-scenes role, “If you want an assassination, you hire one of the best marksmen in history.”
Floyd Brown, the Republican operative, agrees. McCarthy “is a wonderful secret weapon,” he says. “And I’m glad Romney’s got him.”
So far McCarthy's hit on Santorum has been underwhelming. But have no fear. This guy would smear his own grandmother no compunction just to win a race. He's an exemplary specimen of Republican character and ethics.