Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group has a new ad about Hillary Clinton and Benghazi. It isn’t bad for what it is, but the ad is a waste as anything other than a reminder (to donors) of the existence of American Crossroads. It is basically an attack ad for a presidential campaign that is three years in the future against a person who might well not be the Democratic nominee. You can imagine such an ad possibly making a difference if this week’s Benghazi hearing had taken place in October 2016. The idea that this is somehow shaping the political environment of 2016 or 2014 is absurd. By that time, I doubt any persuadable voter is going to be thinking “Must vote against the Democrats because of something something Benghazi.”
The ad is premised on a mistaken idea of how outside Republican groups can influence the debate. American Crossroads basically just produces opportunistic ads based on whatever is happening in the news cycle. Remember when ads about how Obama “bowed” to China were going to make a difference? Me neither, but Rove manage to waste hundreds of millions of donor dollars on these kinds of commercials in the 2012 cycle. They were ineffective at anything other than enriching Republican consultants.
Republicans (and conservatives) don’t need to outside groups to help them win the news cycle. Republican campaigns are perfectly capable (and have the appropriate incentives) to make candidate-focused tactical commercials and ad buys based on the news of the week. Outside groups are in a position to make long-term investments in popularizing conservative ideas or conservative approaches to issues. Money spent explaining the human reality of the late-term fetus and tying late-term abortion to the abortion extremism of the Democratic party would actually be worthwhile because it would make it easier for future Republican candidates to attack Democrats and advance incremental abortion restrictions. You could make similar investments in advancing conservative health care reform or conservative tax reform.
This may sound naive, but it is actually the current strategy of the conservative outside groups that is naive from the perspective of everyone except the people cashing the checks. The news of the day usually gets forgotten soon enough. Remember the time Obama bowed to the leader of China? Don’t you see how it symbolizes the Obama deficits? Well if you don’t have an axe to grind, you probably don’t remember the bow and don’t see why that bow constitutes a reason to vote for Mitt Romney. People are more likely to remember how they can have bigger paychecks, or about how horrible it is that late-term fetuses can be destroyed virtually at-will. The American Crossroads model gives the impression of taking the fight to the Democrats, but it is mostly pro-wrestling. It is more effective at vacuuming money out of the marks (donors) than doing harm to the nominal opponent.