All eyes are on Cleveland for obvious reasons, but it’s likely to be a revealing week on the Democrats’ side, too. Hillary is obviously going to take a massive pummeling over these next four nights, maybe enough drag her down a few points and give Trump a bounce. What will the Clinton team do to deflect the incoming?
They’re off to a good start with the ad that was released Monday morning that harkens back to an effective anti-Barry Goldwater ad produced by Lyndon Johnson’s team in 1964. The Clinton ad features a man named Bill Bogert—an actor, but also an actual enrolled Republican then and now—sitting there talking into the camera about what a dangerous man Donald Trump is. “This man scares me,” Bogert says. “Trump says we need unpredictability when it comes to using nuclear weapons!,” he adds, his voice crescendo-ing in disbelief. “What is that supposed to mean? When a man says that he sounds a lot like a threat to humanity.”
Here’s the Clinton ad:
And here’s the 1964 original:
You’ll notice that Bogert says many of the same things about Trump that he said about Goldwater—notably, that his party “made a mistake” with its nominees both times, and he’s going to have to “vote against that mistake.”
There are a few differences, though. The Clinton ad is exactly one minute long. The ’64 version clocked in at a hefty 4:22 (oh, how our attention spans have drooped!). My favorite touch, though, is so very 1964. At about 2:15, Bogert pulls a cigarette out of his jacket pocket. He gestures with it, uses it as a prop. Believe it or not, to 1964 eyes, this would have given Bogert a little extra boost of gravitas. Everybody smoked on the serious intellectual shows in those days, like David Suskind’s. Finally, at 3:05, Bogert lights up. The 2016 version, obviously, is tobacco free. The only time anyone has smoked in a political ad in the last 30 years, you’ll recall, was that widely mocked Herman Cain ad.
Clinton’s is a clever ad. I think it might have packed more punch if it had been more explicitly self-referential. That is, if Bogert had said, “In 1964, I made an ad…” and then gone on to explain that he’d never done one since, and that he’s basically voted Republican since (assuming that’s true), but he felt compelled to speak out again because Trump is his party’s biggest disaster since Goldwater, or bigger. In other words, he would have been speaking as a human and a citizen, and not just as an actor. But they focus-group these things to death, and maybe the version they went with tested best.
Whatever the case, the ad is good and well-timed because it makes the case that Clinton needs to spend the week making. Trump is just unconscionably unqualified to be the president of the United States. It’s not just a question of nuclear codes, it’s everything about him, the casual lies, the open racism, you name it. Just read Jane Mayer’s brutal article that landed today based on her interviews with Tony Schwartz, who ghost-wrote The Art of the Deal and who believes now that Trump is totally amoral sociopath.
It used to be, back in more civil times, that the other side kind of went dark during one party’s convention. No one can afford that luxury now. Americans who watch the GOP fest are going to hear four nights of “Hillary has blood on her hands” and “Hillary belongs in jail.” The Clinton campaign should devote some energy this week not to pushing back against those narratives directly necessarily, but to reminding Americans that the other guy is unacceptable on every level.
And I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to see more updates of anti-Goldwater ads. You know the most famous one:
This one certainly applies to a man who says he’ll finish off ISIS in a couple weeks and wants more countries to have nuclear weapons. The one who, the guy who ghost-wrote The Art of the Deal now warns us: “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”
Might make a nice tag line.