Up until very recently, Joe Ricketts was not widely recognized as a major political player. That changed a bit when the wealthy AmeriTrade founder whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, invested heavily in Republican Deb Fischer's Senate campaign in Nebraska, giving her an unexpected win in a hard-fought primary.
According to a rather remarkable report in the New York Times today, Ricketts' role in GOP politics is poised to become even more provocative.
A group of high-profile Republican strategists is working with a conservative billionaire on a proposal to mount one of the most provocative campaigns of the "super PAC" era and attack President Obama in ways that Republicans have so far shied away from.
The plan, which is awaiting approval, calls for running commercials linking Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign.
"The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way," says the proposal....
"The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good" was commissioned by Rickets and overseen by controversial GOP ad man Fred Davis, he of "demon sheep" fame. The project will reportedly be bolstered by a $10 million investment.
The Ricketts Plan's central focus, apparently, is race -- the smear campaign not only wants to focus on Obama's former Christian pastor, it also intends to hire an "extremely literate conservative African-American" as its spokesperson. (Presumably, a literate, conservative African-American wouldn't do; Ricketts is looking for an extremely literate conservative African-American. Nothing but the racist best for this super PAC.)
What's more, once this spokesperson gets to work, his job will be to accuse Obama of being a "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln."
In case you think I'm kidding, I'm not. Indeed, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
This project is so remarkable, it's hard to know where to start, but let's unwrap the plan because I think this is important [Update: The Ricketts Plan will not include Wright attack ads.]
First, much of this is based on the notion, popular in right-wing circles, that Obama wasn't sufficiently "vetted" in 2008. If only Americans had heard more about Jeremiah Wright four years ago, the theory goes, Obama wouldn't have won.
This is ridiculous. Portions of Wright's sermons were on a near-constant media loop for months, and were the basis of a slew of attack ads in 2008. Voters didn't much care.
Second, a project like the Ricketts Plan would likely represent the most shameless effort to play the race card this year. If the right were confident about defeating the president on the issues, it wouldn't feel the need to exploit racial animus. This plan, in other words, comes across as rather desperate.
Third, it's not at all clear a campaign like this would have the desired effect. Are there really millions of on-the-fence voters out there who aren't sure whether or not to support the president, but who'll be swayed by stale talk about Jeremiah Wright with a racial subtext?
Fourth, it's a reminder that many Republicans have never heard the adage about the futility of fighting the last war. Too many conservatives haven't updated their 2008 talking points, and seem a little too eager to refight the previous campaign on their preferred terms.
And finally, there's the small matter of Mitt Romney and just how low he's willing to go to win. Four years ago, John McCain decided to keep Wright and race-based attacks off the table. Will Romney do the same thing?
Asked this morning about the NYT report, the former governor said he hasn't "read the papers yet." He'll need a more substantive line soon.
Update: Romney's campaign manager added, "We repudiate any efforts on our side to" use Wright against the president.