Roughly 24 hours ago, Buzzfeed posted an article that showed a picture of an Obama campaign sign and noted that one of its text fonts is based upon Cuban propaganda posters. In the intervening 24 hours, the report exploded on Twitter, causing over 13 thousand people to view the article.
True, all that activity doesn’t really mean a whole lot (perhaps 13 thousand people have a fondness for fonts!), but we have to put it in the broader context. It’s just another in an endless stream of crazy, made-up Tea Party rumors about Obama. The ones that say Obama will put an end to our way of life because: he’s not a US citizen, he’s a secret muslim and plans to bring 100 million muslims to the US, he’s a devotee of any number of radical prophets, he’s planning to steal the election by having illegal aliens vote, and if we fail to stop him he’ll use a second term to (a) put conservatives in FEMA concentration camps, (b) use “Fast and Furious” to convince people to repeal the second amendment, (c) socialize healthcare and drive doctors out of business, (d) put the US under United Nations rule, (e) implant microchips in each of us, and on and on. And there’s that shout-out-to-Castro font issue…
Up until recently, the Obama team took some of these seriously (at least the press reaction to them seriously) and went out of its way to refute them. But for the font issue, Obama press secretary Ben LaBolt simply said “your GOP operative should have had the courtesy to stay sober before noon.” (Memo to LaBolt: it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere!)
But rather than just laughing at the Republican’s third rail of crazy, the Obama campaign should treat the GOP’s obsession as the exploitable weakness it is. The people at the top of the their ticket have a hard time grappling with the insanity down below. Did you see how the Romney campaign flip-flopped about whether the Affordable Care Act has a penalty or a tax? He couldn’t admit that he had raised taxes in Massachusetts, but he so desperately wanted to claim that Obamacare raised them nationwide. That causes the Romney campaign to look like it’s trying to have it both ways, dimming its luster with the undecided voters.
But it’s not just Romney’s record that can cause him grief. It’s the fact that he’s fighting a campaign on two fronts: one is to secure enough of the middle-ground to win the election, while the other is to retain enough enthusiasm from the Tea Party that they work for and vote for him in the election. (Gary Johnson stands ready to pick up any pieces Romney drops.) Lose either the base or the middle, and the election is lost for Romney. By exploiting ideological differences between the two, the Obama campaign can apply pressure to the Romney camp until it fractures.
To do this, Obama campaign should find a way, once a week or so, to invent some ridiculous conspiracy about themselves. Then, all they have to do is dog whistle it to the Tea Party in an oblique way. Normal, sane people won’t notice a crazy plot at all, but the dog whistle will get the Tea Party all worked up about the new threat to their freedom and they’ll take it from there. Obama could even give it an extra nudge now and then by commenting on and denying the rumors. Eventually, the Tea Party agitation will bubble to the surface and force the Romney campaign to make a choice between the two groups it needs to win.
Imagine, if you will, the President giving a speech and making an offhand remark that we should consider redesigning our paper currency so it’s easier for blind people to use. He could point out that other countries have done this, like France (or any other “godless, socialist” country he cares to name). He could add in that while some people have suggested going to an all electronic currency and eliminating cash, he feels that’s not practical for the foreseeable future. Nice and innocent, and people would mostly ignore it as an irrelevant issue; all they’ll hear is yada yada nice to blind people yada yada.
But the Tea Party will immediately pounce on it as a covert attempt to force everyone to hand over their cash. They’d “know” that Obama wants to turn our country into an IRS monitored, all cashless society. A few days after the obsession has taken root, a casual comment from Obama that he is sure Romney doesn’t share in this strange paranoia would force Mitt to figure out how to look sane while not pissing off the far right. ”Reince” and repeat, as they say.
The key to winning the election is widely held to be getting the votes of the moderates in the middle. If those undecided voters come to believe that the Republican party has become the official party of tinfoil-hat wearing crackpots, those election-deciding moderate voters will pull the lever for the Democrats in November.
All Obama needs to do is get in touch with his inner birther and dog-whistle the kind of tune the Tea Party likes dance to.