The Karl Rove Republicans can never be underestimated for sheer audacity. Surprised by something they’ve done? You shouldn’t be. The MSM, the punditocracy and their own candidates refuse to put a stop to it. Imagine the worst and multiply it by 10. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again.
The latest late-cycle outrage comes in the Senate race in Tennessee, where Democrat Rep. Harold Ford is fighting the good fight for retiring Bill Frist’s Republican seat. Ford is polling just about even with his opponent in the Red State, and recently landed on the cover of Newsweek. He has aggressively put the lie to many weak-on-terror myths and other lies about his party. With the GOP giving up on four races that would put the Dems perilously close to the magic six races they need to take for control, this race has become crucial for both parties.
In the proud (for them) tradition of Willie Horton, the RNC produced an ad to assist its candidate in Tennessee. The ad takes as its premise a party sponsored by Playboy that Ford supposedly attended on a Super Bowl weekend. At the end of an ad full of ridiculous innuendo, a young blonde woman looks into the camera and invites Ford to call her.
There is no mistaking the racist implications of the ad, especially to Southern whites: Harold Ford, black man, is coming for your daughters.
The reaction to this was predictable, and Rove knew it ahead of time. Democrats and anyone else with half-a-brain sees it for what it is and protests. It’s discussed on cable talk programs, and the usual GOP apologists tell everyone to calm down, it’s not racist, etc. Wing-nut radio does likewise. Within a 24-hour news cycle, the ad is pulled, but the damage has been done. Smarmy Abramoff-tainted Ken Melman gets on TV, pretending to wonder what all the fuss was about, then high-fives his office staff after the cameras are turned off.
After the election, if Ford loses, the ad will be considered a turning-point, a brilliant tactical move. Democrats will be criticized for not being willing to get in the gutter with the GOP. As long as these disgusting tactics are rewarded, they will continue.
And then there is Michael Fox.
Fox is a familiar face for his successful TV and screen career in the ‘80s and ‘90s whose life has been ravaged by Parkinson’s disease. He has become a champion for stem-cell research and has done ads for Democratic and Republican (Arlen Specter) candidates. When he did ads this year for Jim Doyle here in Wisconsin, a Senate candidate in Missouri and others, the GOP needed to rebut the heartfelt effectiveness of the ads. They couldn’t do themselves, so they called out one of their chief surrogates.
Enter, like the thug he is, Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh not only called Fox an under-medicated faker, he mocked his uncontrollable movements in his studio as he talked, as captured by his webcast. Although he was immediately criticized as an ignorant putz, the message got out. Now, Fox’ important message is at least partially lost in the "controversy" of whether he was really that bad, whether he was being used, etc. Limbaugh, meanwhile, happily takes the fall with the check, no doubt, already in the mail.
As the last 10 days of the campaign evolve, there will be similar outrages and sudden attempts to twist records and lives in the effort to keep power in Republican hands. Some will be visible – radio/TV, web sites – and some will be below-the-radar (unless you happen to get one), such as push-polls and phone banks.
These are the dark times, and the Republicans are cornered. They don’t care about anything but winning.