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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Playing Video Games in Kansas Primary

In the closing days of the Senate Republican primary in Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts released an ad that takes a video clip of his opponent, Milton Wolf, out of context to cast doubt on Wolf’s opposition to President Obama’s policies.

The ad shows Wolf, who is a distant cousin of Obama, saying in a Fox News interview that he wants “nothing more than to see Barack succeed” — evidence, the ad claims, that Wolf is “two-faced” and doesn’t really want to “stop Barack Obama.” But Wolf went on in the interview to criticize Obama’s signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, as dangerous for the country, patients and the medical profession.

The Aug. 5 primary is the latest of this cycle’s intra-party clashes between the Republican establishment and tea party conservatives. Roberts, a three-term senator, has the support of the state’s Republican leaders and the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Wolf, a radiologist who has never held public office, has been endorsed by the Tea Party Express and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Politico wrote on July 30 that Roberts is “still ahead,” but “has a real race on his hands.”

The Kansas City Star reported on July 31 that Roberts released a campaign ad called “Two Faced.” The ad suggests that Wolf says one thing and does another.  The Star quoted Roberts campaign chief Leroy Towns saying, “Kansans simply cannot trust anything Milton Wolf says.”

The ad covers two topics. The first recounts an ugly episode in which Wolf acknowledged he had posted patient X-rays on Facebook and made disparaging remarks about some patients. The narrator in the ad then moves on to comments Wolf made about Obama during a March 12, 2010, interview on Fox News.

Narrator: Wolf says he wants to stop Barack Obama, but Wolf actually praised Obama.

Wolf: I want nothing more than to see Barack succeed. And I know he will. [Replay] And I know he will.

Narrator: The two faces of Milton Wolf. We just can’t trust him.

It’s true that Wolf said nice things about Obama and how honored he and his family were to have a “front row” seat to the “wonderful turn of events to see him elected.” But the entire point of the Fox appearance was to speak against the Affordable Care Act, which was just days away from being approved by Congress and signed into law.

Wolf had written an editorial, attacking the president’s health plan, that appeared in the Washington Times on March 11. Fox News interviewed him the next day to discuss his op-ed.

Here’s the question and answer, starting at 56 seconds into the interview, that elicited the sound bite used in the ad:

Question: But at the same time, doctor, you’ve taken a rather courageous stand, considering it involves a family member. You think that the health care plan is a blight on America and you are against it.

Wolf: I want nothing more than to see Barack succeed. And I know he will. I think that yes, in fact, though, this plan that’s in the Senate right now, this health care bill before us, really is not in the country’s best interests and not in Barack’s best interests – ultimately. And, so yes, and it was a very difficult decision to do this, but in the end I felt there was a call of duty to stand up for my patients, and stand up for my profession, and ultimately to stand up for my country, and say this is not good. This is not good for our patients; it’s not good for our country. There’s a better way to do this.

During the 4:29 segment, these graphics appeared on the screen:

  • Lives at Stake; President’s Cousin Warns Against Plan
  • President’s Cousin Criticizes Plan; Says Reform Will Diminish Access to Care
  • All in the Family? Pres Obama’s Cousin Is Against Reform

The phrase “lives at stake” comes from the Washington Times op-ed in which Wolf writes, “Whatever we do, let us not surrender the great gains we have made. First, do no harm. Lives are at stake.” The phrase “diminish access to care” also comes from the op-ed. “Obamacare will further diminish access to health care by lowering reimbursements for medical care without regard to the costs of that care,” Wolf wrote.

It’s not unusual for Republicans to say they want Obama to succeed — or at least not fail — even as they are criticizing him.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in 2010, “I don’t want the president to fail.” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said of Obama in 2009, “I want every president to succeed. Always have. I think it’s the best for our nation.” At a time when he was the House minority whip, Republican congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia in 2009 said “nobody — no Republican, no Democrat — wants this president to fail, nor do they want this country to fail or the economy to fail.”

Wolf, in that respect, is no different.

— Eugene Kiely