If you haven't yet seen Rick Santorum's amazing "Obamaville" ad, you really should...I'll send you over to Paul Waldman's nice take on the apocalyptic video to watch it. Come back when you've seen it.
Now, I liked Waldman's take on the ad, and I also agree with Dave Weigel about "Umbrage Bait." But my favorite part of the ad is that the horror-story "Obamaville" is set...two years into Obama's second term.
And that, to me, fully sums up the Republican case against Barack Obama, or at least one weird variety of it. Obama is about to do all sorts of horrible things: bankrupt the nation, induce hyperinflation, confiscate guns, bring back* the Fairness Doctrine. About to do them.
Now, if you absolutely hate the president -- and to be fair Santorum is of course a failing nomination candidate who at this time presumably is only interested in partisan Republican voters -- that kind of pitch might well be effective. But to undecided voters? The problem with Santorum's horror video is that it doesn't bother telling you what Obama has done wrong so far. And for most voters, that's what it should be doing.
Put it another way: Republicans are pretty good at running against challengers in presidential races, where a logical message is to not trust the untried candidate. Run that same message against an incumbent, and you're basically saying: ignore what you see, and believe us that you can't trust this president. That's a very, very hard message to sell, or at least so it seems to me. Much more sensible against an incumbent, I would think, is to identify some of the many things that are going wrong (and there are always some, aren't there?) and blame the incumbent for them.
Granted, all of this is quite speculative on my part, and we know that campaign effects are far more limited in presidential presidential elections, so I don't want to take any of this too seriously. For whatever it's worth, however, and putting Santorum aside, I do have to wonder whether Mitt Romney is going to run stuff like this in the fall -- ads hitting Obama on such things as experience and what he might do if (re-) elected rather than on what he's actually done in office and how it's (supposedly) responsible for anything bad out there.
*Fixed language on this one.