In the summer of 2020, as the presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden took shape, the Republican incumbent launched a memorable campaign ad. The on-air commercial warned voters, “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” and to bolster the point, the 30-second spot showed footage of street violence that had unfolded in recent years — during Trump’s presidency, while Biden was still a private citizen.
It was one of the strangest political ad campaigns I’ve ever seen. In effect, the then-president’s political operation was effectively telling the American electorate, “The horrible things happening under Trump might also happen under Biden, so go ahead and vote for Trump.”
It was incoherent and ultimately ineffective. But as deeply odd as that messaging was, the Republican National Committee’s response to Biden’s newly announced re-election campaign seems quite a bit worse. Axios reported on Tuesday:
The Republican National Committee responded to President Biden’s re-election announcement Tuesday with an AI-generated video depicting a dystopian version of the future if he is re-elected. The video features AI-created images appearing to show Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris celebrating at an Election Day party, followed by a series of imagined reports about international and domestic crises that the ad suggests would follow a Biden victory in 2024.
Just so we’re all clear, I understand that the gimmick is part of the point: The RNC released an ad featuring AI-generated images in order to make it more interesting. A regular ol’ attack ad would generate less interest than a new, modern attack ad fueled by an AI program.
In other words, this was an ad designed to spark conversation and attention, and the RNC is probably delighted to have folks like me go along with the party’s plan.
But the fact remains that the ad is notable anyway. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the commercial, which was released Tuesday, coinciding with the Democratic president’s announcement:
It’s a straightforward pitch: The RNC wants the public to believe that if Biden wins a second term, bad things might happen. “What if international tensions escalate? What if financial systems crumble? What if our border is gone?” and so on.
Viewers are confronted with fake reports and computer-generated images of events that have not occurred, all in the hopes of convincing people that scary things might unfold if the president serves another four years.
What’s so weird about this is that it’s an ad that appears to be targeting a candidate who isn’t already in office. In 2020, this anti-Biden spot might’ve made sense. In 2024, it’s just bizarre: The RNC is supposed to be able to criticize the incumbent’s record, but instead, Republicans are asking voters to imagine a hypothetical dystopia about a president who clearly hasn’t produced the results we’re supposed to worry about.
Or put another way, Biden’s actual record wasn’t scary, so the RNC found it necessary to peddle literally fake, made-up images referring to events that have not occurred.
As Matt Yglesias put it, “I feel like if you have to use fake images of hypothetical future bad things that might happen if the incumbent president stays in office, that itself tells you something.”
The RNC, in other words, accidentally stumbled onto an important point: As Biden eyes a second term, his opposition party struggled to find anything wrong with his actual record while in office.