Watching the widespread mockery being hurled at the College Republican and other GOP “outreach” ad, Jonathan Bernstein has a rather perverse but persuasive theory: the people who produced these ads want to be mocked by liberals:

What if the target audience isn’t young women, but the media and liberals — and the negative response is exactly what the College Republicans wanted?

I’m not talking about the old campaign-operative trick of loudly announcing an ad that doesn’t have funding to get it placed, in hopes that the message will get free exposure from the media.

Instead, I’m referring to a strategy to deliberately produce something that liberals will call offensive. Why? Because both rank-and-file and many elite-level Republicans love a martyr at the hands of liberals and the “liberal media.” Getting criticized is a good way for College Republicans to gain status within their party. That’s probably good for them institutionally (the attention could be used to raise money, for example); it’s also probably good for individuals who want to build party careers. My guess is that being associated with ads that bomb with voters but get attacked (or even just mocked) by liberals is far better for both the organization and the people involved than making ads that modestly help a few candidates.

Jonathan goes on to say that the cumulative effect of such self-serving tactics is really bad for the GOP. I guess the real question doesn’t involve the ambitious young smart-ass ad-makers, but whoever’s paying for it. They’re the real dupes, even more than the “liberals” who help make “martyrs.”

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.