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This past weekend I spent a lot of time watching college basketball and professional football on the television.

Which meant I also spent a lot of time watching the first concentrated barrage of national political advertising from the presidential hopefuls.

Which meant I spent a lot of time wondering what in the Sam Hill the Republicans are thinking.

The ads, mostly paid for by SuperPACs supporting the candidates, were vicious, sliming opponents by name, and largely aimed not at Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but at other Republicans. Some examples:

An ad from backers of Gov. Jeb Bush has him declaring “Donald Trump is a jerk” for making fun of the disabled, and shows, by contrast, the former Florida governor hugging on special needs children. Another portrays his fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, as a spinning weather vane, flip-flopping on immigration policy and advising viewers, “he can’t be trusted.” Then the Bush buddies go way down and dirty with an ad that makes fun of the diminutive Rubio’s high-heel boots.

Rubio’s folks respond by poking fun of Bush’s signature railroad train, calling his campaign a “train wreck.” They continue the daisy chain by jabbing Chris Christie, using particularly plump photographs of the New Jersey governor and declaring him “Obama’s favorite Republican governor.”

A SuperPAC linked to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has tried to build a campaign around maturity and civility, takes on Trump, the “Hippo-Crit.” It starts by intersecting a widely open hippopotamus mouth and a widely open Trump mouth. “One bellows,” the narrator says. “One bellows malarkey.”

More than $100 million will be spent by the presidential field in the weeks leading up to the first primary votes in Iowa and New Hampshire early next month. Much of the money will go to fund ads like these.

And in the end, it’s hard to see how the individual Republican candidates, or the Republican brand, will remain unscathed.

Some of that mud will stick to the eventual nominee. And that will make Clinton’s — or Sanders’ — job much easier when the general campaign starts.

Parties and candidates used to understand that. The 11th Commandment, popularized by President Ronald Reagan, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican,” is now as violated as the other 10.

In their by any means necessary quest for the nomination, the individual candidates are helping to fulfill what they claim is the country’s worst nightmare — a third Democratic term in the White House. They should be working together to establish in the minds of voters why any Republican in the race is better than the alternative. Or at the very least, they should focus more of their attacks on Clinton.

Better yet, make the case to voters for their own candidacy. There’s been too little of that.

One of these candidates eventually will be the nominee. The others will have to rally around the voters’ choice. And they’ll have to explain why what they said in the primary season isn’t really true.

Particularly when their snarling sound bites end up in a Democratic campaign ad.

nfinley@detroitnews.com

(313)222-2064

Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.

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