The New Hampshire primary is being held on Tuesday, but the bigger news for connoisseurs of campaign ads is that the Republican race has moved from the “contrast” phase to the “negative” phase to the “from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee” phase.
The latter was foreshadowed post-Iowa, when Newt Gingrich, having been the target of a massive negative-ad campaign by Mitt Romney–friendly super PACs, essentially vowed that he was going to load up some paint cannons and aim them at Romney. Over the weekend, Gingrich got a multimillion cash infusion from a casino magnate, and planned to run a series of ads drawing on a documentary, “When Mitt Romney Came to Town,” about Romney’s history of taking over companies with his private-equity firm, Bain.
A trailer from the film appears above. Holy crap, is it vicious.
The documentary excerpts mimic a lot of standard devices in political attack ads. (When Romney comes to town, the first thing he does, apparently, is turn on a giant machine that sucks the color from the sky and makes the world black and white.) But it’s the angle of attack that is pretty stunning for a Republican primary debate: the pro-Gingrich forces have made an incendiary attack on “corporate raider” Romney that I would not be surprised to see come from a Democratic presidential campaign, perhaps one with Elizabeth Warren at the head of the ticket.
The line of attack contrasts the positives of American capitalism — small business, people providing for their families — with the “greed” of Bain, which, the film argues, tore apart companies and ruined lives while producing nothing but profit. (There are none-too-subtle images of cash clenched in manicured fists and, my personal favorite, Romney grinning next to a line of rising-profits bars, red like the flames of hell.) An unseen figure opens a metal briefcase full of cash. A woman warns a friend that she will get on a hit list for criticizing Romney. “Nothing was spared,” the narration says. “Nothing mattered but greed.”
I have no idea whether this attack campaign can help Gingrich, or even slow Romney’s march to the nomination. But should Gingrich need to retire some campaign debt in the future, he might want to recoup some of it by licensing these spots straight to the Obama campaign.