There are only two Republican presidential candidates—Mitt Romney and Rick Perry—with the cash on hand to overwhelm the airwaves with advertising in the run-up to the primaries. They have both just released strange new commercials. By making nakedly cynical appeals on the basis of personal morality and religiosity, they have given up any pretense of trying to win the campaign on their records and policy platforms.
Romney—still mostly in front-runner mode, despite the fact that Newt Gingrich now leads him in polls nationally and in most early primary states—released a far milder spot than Perry. Romney’s commercial for Iowa and New Hampshire is fairly standard campaign pabulum: God, country and family are awesome. It’s a clip from him speaking at the MSNBC debate, and it’s an interesting choice because Romney clearly screwed up his memorized “humanizing” biographical soundbite. He says:
“I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don’t think you’re going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do.
“I’ve been married to the same woman for twenty-five—excuse me, I’ll get in trouble—for forty-two years. I’ve been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for twenty-five years. And I left that to go off and help save the Olympic Games.
“If I’m president of the United States, I will be true to my family, to my faith and to our country, and I will never apologize for the United States of America.”
Making an ad around this clip is strange because it could remind viewers of three of Romney’s liabilities: phoniness, flip-flopping and Mormonism. Presumably Romney started to say he’d been married twenty-five years because he confused his marriage talking point with his Bain talking point. An alert viewer might take note of that and be reminded of Romney’s image of phoniness and insincerity. It’s also surprising that Romney claims to be “a man of steadiness and constancy,” which contradicts his well-deserved reputation for flip-flopping. The assertion could serve only to remind people how preposterous Romney’s claim to constancy is. Mentioning his church is a risky move since that church is the Mormon Church and plenty of Republican primary voters in Iowa could be hostile to it.
Until now Romney’s campaign strategy has been to admit that he won’t win on personal likability and focus laser-like on his perceived strength, the economy. But until now Romney wasn’t fighting off Gingrich.
The commercial serves a purpose besides bolstering Romney’s appeal: it draws an obvious and favorable contrast with Gingrich, a serial adulterer who converted to Catholicism. Romney is also obliquely attacking Obama with his promise not to apologize for America, because, he frequently, and falsely, contends that Obama once did so.
Perry is much less confident in his position, and with good reason. Having fallen out of the top three in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Perry is getting desperate and his dishonest, gay-baiting commercial demonstrates it.