It’s Ron Paul, the long-time Texan congressman and favourite of libertarians who subscribe to his anti-government, pro-individual policies. Paul’s team must be wondering what they have to do to get a break. Paul is a conservative, family man, veteran and has a fervent base of super-keen supporters. Yet Paul has watched as candidates and non-candidates of the dubious calibre of Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and now Newt Gingrich have led the race to be the Non-Romney of the GOP race.
What they have to do, apparently, is produce web videos like this. At a mammoth two minutes and ten seconds long, it tries to make up for the time that Paul’s fans say (with some merit) that he is consistently denied in the TV debates. This ad is Paul’s attempt to take down the current top of the field: Gingrich and Mitt Romney. It’s called “Who Can You Trust?” and makes no bones about it’s conclusion: not those two dodgy chancers.
It went up today and – if Team Paul’s dreams come true – it will zoom around the internet and become a talking point on CNN, Fox News etc, and generate huge free publicity. Or, more likely, it will die a neglected YouTube death like most of these efforts.
Paul needs to make a move. Polls shows this might be his moment. He is edging up in key states, though not in the same way as the Perry/Cain/Gingrich surges which catapulted their candidates, albeit briefly, to the top tier. But Paul has to believe his moment will come, so it’s time to start trying to take a chunk out of your opponents. As Paul’s team look at the field, they want to hit two targets. First, go for Romney to establish Paul as the alternative candidate to His Mittness. Second, slam the guy currently sitting in that spot: His Newtness. Other candidates – Bachmann, Perry and Cain – are clearly seen as having wasted their moment in the sun.
Let’s get the obvious thing over with first. Just when you are ready to accept Paul’s campaign is going to shed its candidate’s reputation for being a little wacky, they set an entire two-minute campaign ad to a famous song from the Muppets. Yes, the background to the entire thing is the “Mahna Mahnam” song. Thanks, Ron.
It is actually quite funny. After all, he is effectively calling Romney and Gingrich a pair of muppets. But given the content of the rest of the ad, it feels far too frivolous. It distracts from the way that the video actually goes on to hit Romney and Gingrich in ways that are serious and profound.
It is a devastating example of how to use a candidate’s own words to hurt them – and the execution is simple. It begins with Paul saying: “All this talk is just talk.” Then the dissection begins. The methodology is simple. First, you show Romney saying he supports something. Then, you show him saying he is against it. Then, you show Gingrich praising an issue. Next, you show him condemning it. On and on and on it goes. On healthcare, Libya, abortion rights, the stimulus, global warming and income inequality, the same technique is repeated.
They even hit Gingrich for going after Bill Clinton and his marital problems when he himself was having an affair. Whatever your political views, it’s grim viewing and plays skilfully to Paul’s strength: his consistency. Whatever one thinks of some of the more “out there” of Paul’s opinions (such as scrapping huge chunks of the government, mainly), even his harshest critics admire him for not bending to focus groups or opinion polls. That has been shown most strongly in TV debates, where Paul is happy to shock GOP audiences with a strong critique of American foreign policy (one that few liberal politicians would ever dare utter).
It’s strong stuff, but then the ad goes off the rails. Besides the continuing irritant of the Muppets song, Romney’s and Gingrich’s heads are superimposed comically on the bottom of a pair of flip-flops (geddit?). Finally, to a sudden deafening eagle screech (apparently stolen, without irony, from the Colbert Report), a raptor-shaped American flag is shown looking slightly battered and blood-stained, and the words “Ron Paul 2012″ appear. What? Is this Comedy Central?
Again, just when you think Paul is hitting his stride, he does something weird. Which sums up this ad. It is brutally effective in its attacks on the other GOP candidates, but then it reminds you why Paul himself is hardly likely to put the fear of God into the Obama campaign. And that is a further sign that the final stages of the GOP race resemble nothing so much as a circular firing squad.