In the Arena

1 Day Till Iowa: I Approve This Message

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Des Moines

I saw a very effective anti-Ron Paul ad on the air last night, but I don’t know who was responsible for it. It was about gay marriage, which Paul tolerates because he doesn’t believe the state should involve itself in marriage. This is somewhat akin to supporting human sacrifice among the Christian Conservatives out here, and I suspect it will move some votes away from Paul over the next 24 hours.

But the most interesting thing about the ad was its provenance–from a so-called Super PAC, whose name appeared, fleetingly, in small print in the last frame, so fleetingly that I couldn’t see which one it was. And that led me to this thought:

Negative ads have been more effective and brutal this time because no one has to get up there at the end and say, “I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this message.”

That line came in for a fair amount of mockery when the federal government began to require it a few cycles ago. But it worked. It became harder to for a candidate to have an ad accusing an opponent of being a mother-raper if he or she had to appear at the end and say, “I approve this message.” In fact, in 2004, “I approve this message” just about killed Dick Gephardt in Iowa, as he set to work filleting Howard Dean. Iowans are nice. They don’t like candidates who aren’t.

This time, however, the vast majority of Iowans don’t know that friends of Mitt Romney have put several bajillion dollars worth of ads up eviscerating Newt Gingrich. And I don’t know who put up that anti-Paul ad last night. It’s a coarsening of a system that is already too coarse. And we can thank the Supreme Court for that. It certainly doesn’t bode well for the general election next fall.

I’m off to see Paul, Santorum and Romney–the top tier–perform today. More later…