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Yet more on 'hardball'

randpaulextremism.JPG

This didn't really fit in the previous post, but one more point on "hardball," particularly as it relates to the Jack Conway ad that got this argument started.

There's a question as to whether politicians should play hardball and another question as to whether any particular instance of hardball is smart. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, for instance, were effective in part because they were an independent organization, and thus the backlash against them didn't mean a backlash against George W. Bush. Similarly, though Karl Rove suspects that Al Gore's campaign was behind the revelation of Bush's 1976 DUI, the campaign never admitted that and refused to comment on it. By contrast, John McCain just looked foolish when he started bringing up William Ayers.

Conway's attack on Rand Paul, conversely, is coming under Conway's name, so he also owns the backlash. That's not a great strategy: If you've got a line of attack that decent people are likely to condemn, it's wise to make sure they're condemning someone who isn't you. The Conway campaign would be better off if people were discussing whether Christians United Against Rand Paul had gone too far, rather than whether Jack Conway had gone too far.

Photo credit: John Sommers II/Reuters.

By Ezra Klein  | October 19, 2010; 3:18 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Midterms  
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Comments

Smart move or not, Conway would be wise to continue "owning" the ad, even double down on the whole principle behind it.

Any sort of vacillation at this stage would be the end.

Paul's crocodile tears are a classic sucker play.

My sense is that this was calculated to hit a nerve among some sliver of KY voters that are still in play.

Aqua Buddah really could break positive for Conway, cynical as it is.

Knowing the crap I did in college, no way I'll ever run for office. You have to be pathologically boring to campaign without an oppo hit these days. A problem in itself.

Posted by: itstrue | October 19, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

"By contrast, John McCain just looked foolish when he started bringing up William Ayers."

It depends who it is bringing it up. If this were Tom Delay or Sarah Palin, their supporters would eat it up and the media wouldn't bat an eye. Dems are different -- their supporters like policy talk more rather than talk radio stuff, there's a different relationship of Dems to their base (meaning, Dems not named Alan Grayson don't toss their base red meat too often), and they are not expected to talk crazy.

"Decent people" condemn politicians based upon the standards those politicians have seemingly set for themselves (Spitzer and his holier-than-thou-ness, Delay and his toughness, etc). The Dems might gain more respectability, but in this political environment that might not get them much.

Posted by: Chris_ | October 19, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

EK, this is meat and potatoes stuff to you. Pretty good blog!

Posted by: 54465446 | October 19, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

So what you are saying Ezra is that Jack Conway paid for the ad, put his name on the ad, and is putting his face out defending the ad instead of letting someone else do the dirty work. No hiding behind the unknown funding of an ad by an American Crossroads type of organization or sending someone else out to do his dirty work. Sounds like he is standing up and running this campaign as a man. How refreshing. How noble. How honest. Good work Jack.

Posted by: KentuckyPaloma | October 19, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Still bawwing over the Conway ad when some faceless GOP group is putting out ads telling Hispanic voters not to vote? And KentuckyPaloma has a fair point--how f'd up is it that it's "better politics" to let someone else do your dirty work for you?

Posted by: dkp01 | October 19, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Where's the outrage over the anti-Mexican ads that Vitter, McCain, Angle and so on are running?

Posted by: stonedone | October 19, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Wait, where's the backlash, except among a certain set of the DC punditocracy? Is there any evidence that there has been a backlash from KY voters? That's all that matters.

Posted by: JEinATL | October 19, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

stonedone, I have no clue. I usually lurk here because I don't often have anything worth adding to the conversation, but I was really disappointed when Ezra started focusing on the Conway ad the other day and especially acting like it's in any way similar to the vile, racist, and xenophobic ads that have been run in certain races across the country. It was over the top and not necessary, but it was at least based in fact and isn't as horrible as smearing entire populations (Hispanics, Muslims, etc.) to score a political point or two.

Posted by: dkp01 | October 19, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

WHAT backlash? Any polling on that?

Ezra, kindly put up or shut up. What backlash?

Posted by: vorkosigan1 | October 19, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

To springboard off dkp01's comment, I've received numerous robo-calls and pieces of direct mail from white Republican candidates running against black incumbents stressing that they are running to be "YOUR" representative for whatever, the not so subtle implication being that the black incumbent is not representing the white part of my district.

But no scandal for that, just Republicans being Republicans.

Posted by: JEinATL | October 19, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Your theory requires that the voters be more foolish than a WaPo editorial board member. They know who puts out attack ads and it isn't controlled by Americans for America's Future and Future American's.

Posted by: endaround | October 19, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

The conventional wisdom is that Kerry lost because of the swift boat veterans, but in reality he was just an unappealing candidate.

Conway's ad was dumb because it was pure ad hominem. People care about jobs, health care and government spending... not about aqua buddha.

Posted by: kevinadolph | October 19, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

I now consider both of them a bit weird. Conway is worse though, plainly appealing to religious prejudice. Pure politics, no real values. In another state, he'd be a Republican.

Posted by: staticvars | October 19, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

What makes the ad fair game is the extent to which Rand Paul went after James Dobson for Dobson's endorsement. Conway should apologize for calling out Paul for using evangelical voters?

Posted by: bdell555 | October 20, 2010 12:35 AM | Report abuse

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