National GOP leaders are doing damage control today after a Politico scoop lifted the curtain on the party's plan to tap voters' "fear" in the coming campaign season. The PR problem started when an absent-minded attendee at the Republican National Committee (RNC) confab on February 18 in Boca Grande, Florida, left a 72-page document from its 2010 strategizing session in a hotel room. Today, Politico reporter Ben Smith's expose is making headlines.
The memo tracks the fundraising presentation that RNC Finance Director Rob Bickhart delivered to the RNC's $2,500-a-head annual retreat. The best path to victory in 2010, the document advises, is for Republican candidates to depict themselves as the best hope for resisting the "trending toward socialism" taking shape in a Democrat-dominated Washington.
And the document doesn't shy from making its points graphically. MSNBC showed the images this morning on Morning Joe:
The presentation portrays the Obama administration as "The Evil Empire," includingthe now-infamous image of President Obama made over in the makeup Heath Ledger used in his performance as the Joker in the 2008 Batman movie "The Dark Knight." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears as Cruella De Vil from "101 Dalmatians," and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is the witless cartoon dog Scooby-Doo. The memo candidly confirms that the aim of such caricature is to amp up "fear" among the GOP's conservative base. The memo also makes fun of major RNC donors, categorizing some as "ego-driven" and easily pacified with "tchochkes" (a Slavic word for toys).
The embrace of harsh rhetoric and the swipes at the large donor set seem to signal the GOP establishment's growing comfort with employing tactics associated with the activist Tea Party movement-and with plying Tea Party sympathizers for cash. Of course, it isn't unusual for parties out of power to court controversy and play with fire to rile up donors and grass-roots activists. The RNC has caught heat for fundraising tactics in the past, most recently when it was caught sending out fake census forms to raise money. And Democrats have shown a demagogic streak in the past, depicting George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as Bond-like supervillains and playing up alleged GOP plans to kill Social Security to rally voters behind a popular entitlement program.
When asked by Yahoo! News if the leaked presentation reflects a coordinated effort to appeal more to the Tea Party movement, RNC spokesman Doug Heye replied that the group's chairman, Michael Steele, "was recently invited by tea party activists to a meeting, which he was happy to do. Following the meeting, it was clear those in the meeting shared a common goal: stopping the Obama/Pelosi/Reid agenda." As for plans to further that alliance with the inflammatory material in the memo, Heye reiterated what he'd told Politico earlier: "The language and the imagery will not be used in any capacity in the future."
There's no question that the Obama-as-Joker image--long a familiar icon at Tea Party rallies--is a toxic association for the GOP establishment. Oddly enough, though, that image's origins can be traced to the activist left. As revealed by the Los Angeles Times last year, the image was created by a supporter of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a University of Illinois student named Firas Alkhateeb, who told the Times that he uploaded the photo onto his Flickr page, and a conservative activist promptly snatched it up.
Such are the odd convergences of movement politics. However, the RNC may have more trouble distancing itself from the equation of Democratic policy with socialism, however, since Michael Steele is credited with originating that meme in the health care debate.