After a proposed advertising campaign linking President Obama to the inflammatory Rev. Jeremiah Wright was leaked and subsequently condemned by Mitt Romney, the super PAC that conceived it decided to spike the idea Thursday.
The $10 million strategy, reported by The New York Times, was hatched by a group of conservative advisers to the Ending Spending Action Fund, a super PAC formed by Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade. “The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way,” the proposal read, according to a copy obtained by the Times.
Appearing to take the high road, the Romney campaign rejected the plan, even though Romney, himself, referred to the controversial pastor in a February interview with Sean Hannity, saying “I’m not sure which is worse: him listening to Reverend Wright or him saying that we must be a less Christian nation.”
Obama has said Wright was once a spiritual mentor who helped him find Jesus but that he does not subscribe to the pastor’s “black liberation theology.” The Ending Spending plan would have tied the president to some of Wright’s most incendiary remarks, such as when he said after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
Brian Baker, the super PAC’s president, said Ricketts never endorsed the strategy, which was titled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: the Ricketts Plan to End His Spending For Good.”
“Not only was this plan merely a proposal — one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors — but it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects, and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take,” Baker said in a statement.
The chief architect of the plan was Fred Davis, a veteran political advertising guru who worked for Republican nominee John McCain in 2008. Davis wrote in the proposal that he produced similar Wright-themed ads for McCain but that the Arizona senator refused to approve them.
Working independently in the current election cycle, Davis and Ricketts would not have needed Romney’s sign-off. But Romney quickly sought to distance himself from the plan after the Times report.
“Unlike the Obama campaign, Governor Romney is running a campaign based on jobs and the economy, and we encourage everyone else to do the same,” Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said in a statement. “President Obama’s team said they would ‘kill Romney,’ and, just last week, [Obama campaign adviser] David Axelrod referred to individuals opposing the president as ‘contract killers.’ It’s clear President Obama’s team is running a campaign of character assassination. We repudiate any efforts on our side to do so.”
The Obama campaign countered by saying Romney’s rejection of Ricketts’ strategy was not forceful enough.
“This morning’s story revealed the appalling lengths to which Republican operatives and super PACs apparently are willing to go to tear down the president and elect Mitt Romney,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement. “The blueprint for a hate-filled, divisive campaign of character assassination speaks for itself. It also reflects how far the party has drifted in four short years since John McCain rejected these very tactics. Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party.”Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.