New York magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich stopped by Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show Monday to discuss his current piece on the importance of negative political ads.
In his article, Rich argued that while using negative ads are often criticized, they are effective and permissible when factual. "Any president should go negative early, often without apology if the goal is victory," Rich wrote. "The notion that negative campaigning is some toxic, modern abberation in American democracy is bogus."
Rich recalled how negative ads were in existence even when Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams campaigned.
"Jackson was accused of cannibalism. His wife was described as a bigamist, his mother a prostitute," Rich said. "The truth is...both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, in their re-election campaigns, began [airing attack ads] earlier than Obama did."
Rich added that he did not understand what he described as the Democratic party's "squeamishness" surrounding the tactic.
"What happens with the Democrats is Obama makes really a rather genteel ad attacking Bain, not nearly as vicious as Newt Gingrich's ad attacking Bain, and you have Cory Booker and Ed Rendell, and the whole sort of political establishment saying, 'Oh, this is frightening the horses,'" Rich said. "I feel that Democrats, if they want to win, actually have to go after this radical party, for which Romney is essentially a front man. He's the perfect sort of faux-moderate mask."
Maddow wondered about why Democrats seem to shy away from supporting the use of negative ads. She asked, "Why is there a Democratic instinct to say, 'No, no no. Don't do what might work if it is unseemly?'"
Rich suspected that the answer may lie in what he called the "Obama brand," which included messages of "hope and change."
"But you cant fight the last war," Rich argued. "This is a tough election for Obama. This is not a nostalgia tour for 2008. He is fighting a bunch of extremely wealthy people, many whose names we don't know...who are writing unlimited checks, and he's got to nuke 'em."
Maddow agreed. "Once you win, nobody remembers how you won," she said.
Watch the exchange in the clip above, which occurs around 14 minutes in the segment.