Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino on Dec. 14, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty

Trump takes his racially charged message to the airwaves

Updated
Ordinarily, a presidential candidate releasing a new television commercial wouldn’t be especially newsworthy, but the new ad from Donald Trump is a little different than most – both in circumstances and in content.
 
Consider the message itself, first reported by the Washington Post. Viewers hear a voice-over say: 
“The politicians can pretend it’s something else, but Donald Trump calls it ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ That’s why he’s calling for a temporary shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until we can figure out what’s going on. He’ll quickly cut the head off ISIS and take their oil. And he’ll stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our Southern border that Mexico will pay for.”
The ad then cuts to Trump himself speaking at a campaign rally, vowing, “We will make America great again.”
 
The imagery, of course, matters. When the commercial references terrorism, the ad shows the San Bernardino shooters. When it touts Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, viewers are shown masked terrorists. And when the spot references immigration, there’s grainy video of people running at a border.
 
So, why is this important? For one thing, it’s Trump’s first television ad of the entire election cycle. While some of his rivals have already invested millions – Jeb Bush and his allies spent about $38 million on campaign commercials in 2015 – Trump has spent just $217,000 on some radio advertising. Now, however, campaign is spending $1.1  million to air this spot in Iowa and nearly $1 million for airtime in New Hampshire.
 
The New York developer is the first modern presidential candidate to excel by relying exclusively on free media and campaign rallies, and it’s hard to say with confidence whether his first foray into television advertising will help, hurt, or make no difference.
 
But let’s not brush past the nature of Trump’s pitch too quickly.
 
In recent months, as Trump has maintained a sizable lead over the rest of the GOP field, there’s been ample discussion about what’s driving his success. One of the more common explanations is the economic anxieties felt by working-class white voters, with whom Trump’s version of conservative populism resonates.
 
Putting aside whether or not the thesis has merit, what this ad helps demonstrate is something far simpler and more straightforward: the Republican frontrunner recognizes the power of his racially charged appeals; he understands the degree to which his support is dependent on racially divisive rhetoric; and so his campaign ads are sticking with what works.
 
How do we “make America great again”? It’s not by weakening the influence of special interests, or creating more jobs, or even applying lessons from Trump’s successes in the private sector.
 
No, according to the GOP frontrunner, to make America great we simply need to elect a president who’ll focus on Muslims and Mexicans.
 
The Post’s report added, “The first ad, titled ‘Great Again,’ makes clear that Trump’s closing pitch to voters will be as visceral and arresting as the one he delivers at raucous rallies. It is a full embrace of the most incendiary of his proposals, as opposed to the more biographical spots that some other candidates favor.”
 
Anyone who’s heard Trump’s stump speech knows this isn’t exactly new rhetorical territory for the candidate, but it matters that when putting together the campaign’s first television ad, Team Trump came to an important conclusion: bigotry works.
 
 

Donald Trump

Trump takes his racially charged message to the airwaves

Updated