There has been a lot of noise this week from the Romney campaign about the Obama campaign’s attack ads and how they are beneath the dignity of the office and so forth. Unfortunately a look back at presidential campaigns of the last 20 plus years prove a different conclusion which is that the side that embraces negative campaigning the most wins. We can start by looking back at the now infamous Willie Horton ad from the 1988 presidential campaign ran by Bush 41’s campaign team. The ad blasted Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis for letting convicted murderer Willie Horton out on a furlough on which he then proceeded to go on a crime spree which included rape and robbery. The Clinton administration used similar tactics during the 98 congressional election when the Clinton administration put out a press release saying that African-Americans were being turned away at polling stations because of their color in obvious attempt to motivate their base of supporters to get out and vote. Bush 43 has the dubious distinction of providing multiple examples of shady campaigning. First, the way he savaged John McCain during the 2000 Republican Primary by saying that McCain had fathered a black child out of wed lock during the hotly contested battle for South Carolina. Bush went on to discredit Vietnam vet John Kerry during the 2004 campaign with the Swift boat ads that called into question Kerry’s service during Vietnam.
So to me the only logical conclusion to this brief history lesson is that the campaign that makes the most effective use of attack ads will more than likely end up winning the election. This is not to say that other factors are not important but the ability to frame the debate and cast your opponent in negative fashion seems to almost certainly lead to election night victory. This leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that because of the evidence already mentioned and the fact that the Obama campaign seems to be far better at doing this will ultimately lead to a Obama victory in November unless Romney can somehow manage to not only defend himself better against these attacks but also effectively take the fight to Obama. So far that has not happened.