The direct metaphor in former presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s television advertisement attacking his opponent, eventual Republican Party nominee Mitt Romney, involves the series of films starring Sylvester Stallone about a veteran of the war in Vietnam who repeatedly confronts evil and moral ambivalence as a response to his experiences in that war and in the way he and other veterans were treated by anti-war activists when they returned home. Stallone’s character, John Rambo, is a former special operations commando whose muscular physique, silent demeanor, and skill at killing were thought by some to represent the quintessential American hero. The “Rambo” character became something of a metaphor for the muscular, unthinking military response to which politicians advocating for military solutions to foreign problems were frequently compared. When one pundit or politician wants to belittle the militant proposals of another politician, he or she often employs the “Rambo” metaphor.
Rick Santorum’s campaign advertisement borrows from the “Rambo as metaphor” school in its attempts at depicting fellow candidate Romney as the quintessential tough-guy politician whose thin veneer of toughness is but a façade concealing moral or physical weakness or cowardice. By featuring a Romney-look-a-like boldly firing an automatic weapon at unseen enemies, Santorum’s campaign team was suggesting that Romney’s toughness on the issue of health care reform and the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is an effort to conceal the fact that then-Massachusetts Governor Romney had implemented health care policies in that state very similar to what the Affordable Care Act sought to implement nationwide. Santorum was declaring, then, that Romney only pretended to be a tough conservative when he was, according to Santorum, anything but. The ad suggests that Romney is a hypocrite and a weakling (read: liberal). The ad was admired for its wit, but the Santorum campaign was ultimately unsuccessful while Romney, as noted, would win their party’s nomination for president.