Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Return Fire: 'Rombo' (Rick Santorum's Attack Ad)

This is Team Santorum's return-fire ad that pokes fun at Mitt Romney's negative-attack machine. It's called "Rombo."

The Ad
Also filling the 33 second slot, Rombo opens with the large Santorum family and the Rick Santorum logo--he approves the message at the start of the ad rather than at the end. Then were' in some kind of gritty garage with a large lift-door opening and a Mitt Romney stand-in, giving us his best tough-guy sneer, steps out with an assault rifle. "Mitt Romney's attack machine is back on full full throttle. This time he's firing his mud at Rick Santorum" says the male narrator.

"Romney and his super-PAC have spent a staggering 20 million brutally attacking fellow Republicans"

We see the Rominator "open fire" at paper cut-outs of Santorum. Instead of bullets there are splatters of 'mud' which always miss, smearing the back walls. We see Rombo on a stair-well, dodging and weaving between pillars, and always blazing away helter-skelter with his hail of 'mud.'

"Why?" The narrator asks, "It's because Romney is trying to hide from his big government Romney Care and his support for job-killing cap and trade and in the end--"

Romney, cackles evilly but then tries to un-jam his weapon, which malfunctions landing a mud-stain splatted on his shirt, "--His attacks are going to backfire."

ROMNEY'S NEGATIVE ADS COULD COST HIM VOTERS -- USA TODAY appears in the upper right (underlined text is red!).

What Does It Mean?
When I read that Santorum was using humor to disarm Romney I was impressed. Having seen it, I'm a bit less impressed but it's still way, way above Romney's opening salvo. The message is so straight forward you wonder what the sophistication of the audience is supposed to be: "Romney is making a fool of him himself launching negative ads." Okay. Well, the polls seem to support at least some of that: It's the crux of every headline about the Florida campaign so everyone already knows it.

But it does make sure it hits the high points:
  • Rombo uses the term 'Fellow Republicans' to impress on us that Romney is turning on his own. This is a sore spot with just about everyone in the GOP (except for Romney supporters who claim he was turned on first).
  • It then goes straight to Romney-Care and 'big government.' Santorum's Tea Party base doesn't need this explained. But being reminded can't hurt.
  • On the other hand, cap-and-trade is complex so they make sure you know it's "job killing." 
  • And, of course, there's the mud. Romney is firing mud or slime or bullshit--and they make sure you know he's just doing "a smear job." The material looks unsavory and runny and drips down the walls after it hits
Unfortunately, this being Rick Santorum's ad, the paper-cut-outs still look smug and sneering and that's supposedly the best picture they could get of their guy. I think we may have to accept that there just may not be a picture of him that projects visual presidential charisma.

What Do I Think?
Santorum's ad using a substance that looks like human waste is, I think, arguably a big mistake. Is that gun firing Santorum? Did they just think this would never come up? Or maybe it's sort of lampshading the 'google problem' (click the link above if you don't know what that is) and trying to weaken it by calling it out? If the ad were any more sophisticated I would think that was maybe possible. As it stands, no. I just have to conclude they didn't think the obvious thing.

Or people in the process thought it--but were too timid to say anything. If you compare the splatter on Rombo's shirt at the end to the splatter on Dan Savage's page? They're not identical--but they are similar in color and texture.

But anyway, that's really an aside. This is a good tactic (mocking and the use of humor rather than being deadly serious) and it goes right where it needs to: to the Tea Party. It's focused. It's on message. It's not hilarious or even clever but it's not totally un-funny either. If you like Santorum, it's probably amusing. If you like Romney it won't enrage you but it might get you to go "Yeah, maybe he ought to cool it down a little."

I find it reasonably effective even if it does over-use its one drop of inspiration (casting Romney as Rambo is just gutsy enough to count as inspiration in my book).

Grade: B

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