The Welfare Weapon

Aug 27 2012 @ 4:46pm

The false claim that Obama is gutting welfare has clearly become Team Romney's attack of choice. Tom Edsall echoes Cohn in describing their logic:

Sharp criticism has done nothing to hold back the Romney campaign from continuing its offensive — in speeches and on the air — because the accuracy of the ads is irrelevant as far as the Republican presidential ticket is concerned. The goal is not to make a legitimate critique, but to portray Obama as willing to give the "undeserving" poor government handouts at the expense of hardworking taxpayers. Insofar as Romney can revive anti-welfare sentiments – which have been relatively quiescent since the enactment of the 1996 reforms – he may be able to increase voter motivation among whites whose enthusiasm for Romney has been dimmed by the barrage of Obama ads criticizing Bain Capital for firing workers and outsourcing jobs during Romney’s tenure as C.E.O. of the company.

In a recent WSJ interview, Steven Law, the president of Karl Rove's American Crossroads Super PAC, indicated their group was on board with the strategy:

Recent focus groups have convinced Mr. Law that the issue is "definitely resonating now with swing voters, including those who were Obama voters in 2008."

And yet, he adds, "We also picked up conflicting emotions: The economy is so lousy for middle-income Americans that the same people who chafe at the rise of welfare dependency under Obama don't automatically default to a 'get-a-job' attitude—because they know there are no jobs." Mr. Law concludes that welfare reform could be a "powerful issue to talk about this fall, but it needs to be done sensitively. Right now it may be more of an economic issue than a values issue: In other words, more people on welfare is another disturbing symptom of Obama's broken-down economy, rather than an indictment of those who are on welfare or the culture as a whole."

Ezra points to the racial effects of the ads:

Romney’s welfare ads are not racist. But the evidence suggests that they work particularly well if the viewer is racist, or at least racially resentful. And these are the ads that are working so unexpectedly well that welfare is now the spine of Romney’s 2012 on-air message in the battleground states.

Which brings to mind this classic screenshot from the Simpsons: