“Republicans Are People Too” is the most flaccid political advertisement since Bob Dole praised the virtues of Viagra. Its author is Vinny Manchillo, a GOP adman and former media adviser to Mitt Romney, and the campaign’s first commercial packs all the punch you’d expect of a Romney 2012 alum. Among R.A.P.T.’s bolder claims: “Republicans have feelings,” “Republicans have tattoos,” and “Republicans shop at Trader Joe’s.” The commercial impressively manages to call into question even its title claim; the viewer cannot help but think that the adman doth protest too much.
In describing the impetus for the commercial, Manchillo complains, “On social media, I’ve been called every name in the book. It’s become socially acceptable to talk about Republicans in the most evil terms possible, and that doesn’t seem right.” In response, he took the bait — hook, line, and sinker.
Name-calling and histrionics are the left’s most reliable tactics. Since its last organizing ideology was relegated to the ash heap of history, it has replaced argument and illogic with personal attacks and fear mongering. The ubiquity and ease of social media encourage the insults’ frequency and vitriol, and they seem to have gotten under Manchillo’s tattooed skin and hurt his feelings.
Defensive campaigns usually fail to persuade because they cede the upper hand to the opponent. In R.A.P.T., one imagines a nervous young man on his first date, beads of sweat pouring down his face, assuring his dinner date that he’s normal — really! (At least “Republicans Are People Too” edged out the only marginally worse, “Republicans Don’t Still Beat Their Wives.”)
Poor strategy aside, the most nauseating characteristic of the commercial is its transparent disingenuousness.
“Republicans drive Priuses.”
“Republicans read the New York Times.”
“Republicans have feelings.”
For the record, Republicans do not drive Priuses. No self-respecting Republican would be caught dead in that wimpy monument to secular eschatology. In fact, the only arguably Republican hybrid automobile is the Lamborghini Countach — a hybrid in that it burns both gasoline and motor oil. Conservative satirist P.J. O’Rourke’s essay, “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink,” gives better insight into Republican driving habits than senseless cant about the Prius.
And only the most self-flagellating Republicans read the New York Times. Even the claim that Republicans have “feelings” rings false. Of course conservatives feel. But while fickle feeling animates the left, conservatives favor empathy, which is born of community and reason.
The campaign’s focus on feeling, rather than principle or policy, betrays its true message: Republicans are really just like Democrats. It seems fitting, therefore, when one learns that Manchillo’s is actually the second R.A.P.T. campaign. The original launched in 1974, as the Republican Party reeled, not merely from the specific corruption of Watergate, but from a dearth of principle in general. The conservative movement, with its intellectual heft and clarity of vision, had not yet taken command of the Republican Party. In the fight for public support, portraying themselves as no worse than Democrats was just about the best sales pitch the GOP could muster.
Forty years later, the Republican Party has stronger arguments for capturing the support of the American people than tattoos and Trader Joe’s. Citizens who favor frivolity to seriousness will always vote Democrat, and no amount of puerile pandering will convince them to grow up. If Republicans only stopped trying to convince voters that they’re Democrats, they might find that Americans still prefer clear vision and competence to the soft soap of fads and feelings.