GOP ad makers salivate at potential in Wright comments
Nick Juliano
Published: Wednesday March 19, 2008

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Have Republicans found their golden ticket to the White House this year?

The same GOP ad-men who turned John Kerry's Vietnam service into a political liability and tied decorated veteran Max Cleland (who lost three limbs fighting the Viet Cong) to terror leader Osama bin Laden believe the Rev. Jerimiah Wright has made their jobs much, much easier this year.

Some are even starting to believe that Barack Obama, who attended Wright's church for two decades, would be an easier Democrat to beat than Hillary Clinton, who's been a catalyst for right-wing vitriol going on two decades now.

Don't expect to see an "I'm John McCain and I approved this message" tag at the end of any ads replaying some of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's most incendiary comments ("US of KKK-A," "God damn America," et cetera). The Republican candidate's campaign says it won't make Wright an issue, and Clinton's camp has remained mum on the former pastor as the Democratic primary trudges on.

But an Obama-McCain general election likely would see attack ads from outside groups, so-called 527s, that have freer reign to launch anonymously funded attacks.

"I think it's an obligation of any opponent to use this issue, to make Reverend Wright a centerpiece of the campaign," Rep. Peter King (R-NY) tells Newsday.

Ari Fleischer, President Bush's former spokesman, lashed out at Obama in a speech Tuesday, perhaps testing some lines of attack that could re-emerge as the campaign continues.

"The statements that your clergy make when you join give a little bit of an indication of your own sense of right and wrong, and you cannot just divorce from that," Fleischer told a group of Jewish political activists in Washington.

"It really troubles me that Barack Obama only waited until now to speak out about this issue," Fleischer said. "He was like a typical politician: It became a controversy, so he distanced himself. This is a very worrisome sign to me."

Already facing trouble courting Jewish voters, Obama is likely to encounter further roadblocks with his association to Wright, who has made anti-Semitic remarks and is close to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Obama addressed Wright's comments in a speech Tuesday that was seen by many as one of the best examinations of race relations in a generation. He repudiated Wright's most controversial statements but did not completely disown the pastor he has know for 20 years. Wright recently retired from his role at Trinity United Church of Christ, a predominantly black church on Chicago's south side.

“It was a speech written to mau-mau the New York Times editorial board, the network production people and the media into submission. Beautifully calibrated but deeply dishonest,” GOP media consultant Rick Wilson told Politico. “Not good enough.”

Wilson, who created the 2002 ad that invoked bin Laden and Saddam Hussein to attack Cleland, said Obama "associates with some real haters," and would face even harsher treatment if he was in the church when Wright unleashed some of his most controversial comments.

“Obama knows that if somebody puts him in church on some day that Wright said some crazy [stuff] like white people injected blacks with AIDS he’s in a world of hurt,” he said. “I would eat this up like cake.”

For months, Obama has been targeted by the equivalent of a virtual whisper campaign -- forwarded e-mails, right-wing bloggers and Free Republic message boards circulating false and scurrilous rumors about his religion and patriotism. Wright's comments could give the GOP machine an opportunity to amplify those whispers. Already a seemingly anonymous entity is circulating a YouTube video juxtaposing Obama and Wright's comments, which has received more than 30,000 hits in three days.

Obama has tried to become a post-racial candidate and his appeals to move beyond the divisive, fear-mongering, smear-based campaigns that have defined recent political history. The GOP doesn't seem to want to let him, and Wright's comments offer the perfect opportunity to return to mud slinging.

“It’s harder for people to say it’s taken out of context because these are Wright’s own words,” Chris LaCivita, the Republican strategist who helped create the Swift Boat ads, told Politico. “You let people draw their own conclusions.”