2007 Retro: Rove shoots down GOP comedy strategy

George Costanza knew the first rule of comedy: Always leave them wanting more. The Republicans started a strong 2007 on the funny side, but didn’t know when to quit.As 2007 draws to a close, it would be a good time for the Republicans to reconsider their Comedy Strategy. It doesn’t seem to be working for them.

Reviewing the events of the year, it seems clear that some Rove-ish character high in the GOP decided that the party had to abandon the humorless, belligerent image it had nurtured since the days of Newt Gingrich in favor of one that appealed to today’s consumers, who get all of their news from The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert.

So the party installs its Comedy Strategy, a rollicking laugh-fest of political humor to attract a hipper voter.

And it starts out well. In June, Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig is arrested while staring into an already occupied men’s toilet in the Minneapolis airport. In an interview with Variety, comedian Jerry Seinfeld calls it “a perfect event,” adding, according to the magazine:

“This is one of the greatest things that ever happened (to stand-up comedy).”

So right away, the Republicans have a hit. I mean, if Jerry Seinfeld – Jerry Seinfeld! – says its funny, then it’s funny. And he not only thinks it’s funny, he thinks it’s one of the greatest comedy events ever.

Then in August, presidential contender Mitt Romney’s campaign places banner ads on the gay-oriented Gay.com (well, duh …) urging the site’s readers to “Join Team Mitt!” Except that Romney has recently told Nova Southeastern University in Florida that gay marriage was a threat to American families and their future.

In November another presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo, goes for the big laughs. It turns out the local xenophobe who wants to close the nation to foreign influence loves Mexican food. Eats it all the time. Okay, it’s not exactly “Who’s on First.” He’s trying, but the cracks are showing. Tancredo himself acknowledges as much when he drops out of the presidential race in December.

Also in November, Vice President Dick Cheney goes hunting again. Is no one safe from these wacky GOPers? They go hunting for weapons of mass destruction. They go hunting for ducks. But the only game they manage to bag are those who go along with them. The Comedy Strategy might have legs after all.

But even by the end of October, the fabric of the Comedy Strategy shows signs of fraying. Larry Craig reneges on his promise to resign from the Senate forthwith. Few in the GOP find anything funny about this, Jerry Seinfeld or no.

Then Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden says:

Republican hopeful Rudy Giuliani mentions only three things in a sentence: “a noun and a verb and 9/11.”

He gets a big laugh. Giuliani, who must not have gotten the Comedy Strategy memo, delegates his response to staffer Katie Levinson, who says:

“Such a desperate attack from Senator Biden is to be expected considering I – Katie Levinson – have a better chance of becoming President than he does.”

Overexplanation is the death of humor. The GOP strategy is breathing its last. It is left to former top strategist Karl Rove to harpoon the gasping animal.

In a late November television interview, Rove says that Congress, not the Bush administration, rushed the country into the war in Iraq. Former Sen. Tom Daschle, who was the Senate Majority Leader at the time of the Iraq invasion, says, “I literally thought it was a joke. I thought somebody was pulling my leg.”

Well, you can see the problem here. A thing has got to be funny right out of the box. If somebody has to tell you it’s a joke … then it isn’t.

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Dan Whipple

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