There have been quite a few questions in recent months about how, exactly, Democrats would go after Donald Trump in a general election. It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer: he may create a “target-rich environment,” but Democrats can’t pursue each of the anti-Trump angles at once. They’re going to need to focus.
But where? Is his inexperience and incompetence his most important flaw? How about his dishonesty? Or his racist outbursts? Or his private-sector failures? Or the dangers of his far-right ideas?
This week, we received our first real inkling of where the Democratic message is headed with an ad from Priorities USA Action, a pro-Clinton super PAC, featuring a family in Ohio. The New York Times highlighted the spot, part of a multi-million-dollar ad buy that began this week in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada.
A husband and wife tell their story, side by side, of learning through an ultrasound that their daughter, Grace, would be born with spina bifida, a spinal condition. Images of young Grace flicker by – as a newborn in the hospital, sleeping near a cross, smiling and offering a hug from her wheelchair – while her parents tell of her loving personality: “She brings out the goodness in each person.”Twenty seconds in, the mother shifts to Mr. Trump, saying, “When I saw Donald Trump mock a disabled person, I was just shocked.” A well-known clip plays in full of Mr. Trump imitating the journalist, a New York Times reporter who has a condition that limits the functioning of his joints. Then the mother offers a reproach: “The children at Grace’s school all know never to mock her. And so, for an adult to mock someone with a disability is shocking.” Visuals of Mr. Trump’s imitation are played again for good measure.
Grace’s father says at the end of the ad, “When I saw Donald Trump mock someone with a disability, it showed me his soul. It showed me his heart. And I didn’t like what I saw.”
The brutal, minute-long spot is available online here. It’s worth noting for context that the journalist with a disability whom Trump mocked, Serge Kovaleski, was targeted because he had the audacity to point out, accurately, that Trump was lying about Muslim Americans in New Jersey celebrating on 9/11.
And while the ad is powerful in its own right, also note what it tells us about the broader election strategy as it relates to the presumptive Republican nominee.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent had a good piece on this yesterday:
The spot is another sign that Democrats think they can render Trump unacceptably toxic before a general election audience by relentlessly spotlighting his profound cruelty – as displayed by Trump himself. This strain runs through much of the evolving Democratic critique of Trump and, more broadly, of Trumpism. In one early tell, the Clinton campaign released a web video recapping footage of Trump calling for mass deportations and a ban on Muslims, and linking those to his vow to revive torture and take out terrorists’ families. […]And in Clinton’s own recent speech, she repeatedly hit Trump as dangerously unfit for the presidency, due to his lack of experience and dangerously incoherent ideas, but she went much further, essentially portraying him as a full blown sociopath.
Democrats no doubt understand that they need to avoid a garbled, overly complicated message. They don’t necessarily need a bite-sized label like “Little Marco” or “Lying Ted,” but if Dems try to pitch voters on the idea that Trump is an unprepared, dishonest, racist ignoramus with ugly controversies in his personal and professional life, who’ll endanger the country with misguided ideas about the economy and foreign policy, it might not resonate. Effective messaging needs to be more focused.
And so the Priorities USA ad suggests Democrats will go in a more straightforward direction, effectively making the case that Trump is a bad person who says and does monstrous things.