by Joshua Pinho
Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee, an onslaught of negative ads are, undoubtedly, on the horizon. Trump is, by now, no stranger to negative campaigning, having already faced numerous attacks from his former Republican primary rivals, as well as high profile GOP leaders like Mitt Romney.
Now it’s Democrats’ turn. Politico reports that a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC, Priorities USA Action, will start running anti-Trump messages this week:
The three central tenets of the message will be that the real estate investor is a divisive character, that he’s too dangerous to vote for, and that he’s a con man, Priorities’ chief strategist Guy Cecil explained to POLITICO on Monday — two days before the organization started its run of television advertising that’s set to effectively stay on the air straight through Election Day in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Virginia.
Given the failure of the GOP establishment to stop Trump, one would expect the Left to pursue a different set of tactics when attacking him. However, if Cecil’s statement represents their current plan, they are bound to be disappointed. These three “central tenets” are not new to voters. In fact, Trump’s GOP primary rivals tried all three to no avail.
Take, for example, the accusation that Trump has a “divisive character.” In August of last year, Jeb Bush compared Trump’s rhetoric to President Obama’s, stating that Trump used “[l]anguage that divides us,” and that “[a]ll [Trump] does is push people who don’t agree with him down to make his side look better and the divide makes it hard to solve problems.” Bush further cautioned the GOP against buying into rhetoric that is “really, really divisive that preys on peoples’ legitimate angst.” But despite Bush’s attacks, Trump’s poll numbers continued to rise, and after finishing well behind Trump in several primaries, Bush dropped out on February 21st. The “divisive” argument failed.
Next up: the assertion that Trump is “too dangerous to vote for.” This past March, preceding the primary in his home state of Florida, Marco Rubio ramped up the negative campaigning against Trump. Rubio criticized Trump for having a “dangerous style of leadership,” and attributed the violence at Trump rallies to this. He stated:
People are hurting, and they’re upset, and they’re angry, and I think it’s the job of leaders not to stoke that anger, but to use that anger and channel it in a way that allows us to reach solutions.
Rubio lost Florida to Trump 45.8 percent to 27 percent and subsequently withdrew from the race. The “dangerous” argument failed.
Finally, what about the “con man” accusation? As recently as May 2nd, Ted Cruz was echoing Mitt Romney’s assertion that Trump was a con man. During a confrontation with a group of Trump supporters, and in the face of “Lyin’ Ted” chants from the crowd, Cruz once again repeated the argument that Trump was a fake conservative. Cruz told the crowd that “with all respect, Donald Trump is deceiving you. He is playing you for a chump.” The crowd wasn’t swayed, nor was the state of Indiana. Trump won the state with 54.6 percent, while Cruz garnered only 37.6 percent of the vote and dropped out of the race that night. The “con man” argument failed.
Trump has shown he is a master of branding his opponents—as evidenced by “low-energy” Jeb, “Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted,” and now, “Crooked Hillary.” However, he is also very adept at branding himself. The lines of attack that this super PAC have chosen have already been tried, but they didn’t work for Bush, Rubio, Romney, or Cruz. What makes Priorities USA think they will work for them?
Ultimately, these attacks seem very well suited to convince people who would never consider voting for Trump, not to vote for Trump. Trump doesn’t subscribe to politics-as-usual, nor do the usual attacks seem to harm him, and it appears that, even after Trump’s triumph in the nomination process, certain groups still haven’t realized that.
Joshua Pinho is a Digital Communications Associate for the American Principles Project and can be followed on Twitter @Josh_Pinho.