This week the Republican National Committee released a new video aimed at voters in November’s midterm elections. It’s intended to set the tone for how the party wants to appeal to its members — to inspire their loyalty in the face of Democratic opposition. And the RNC decided to do it by turning the Republican Party into the Anti-Entertainment-Industry Party. The video is titled “The Left in 2018: Unhinged,” and look at this thing: It targets virtually all of the right’s favorite pop-culture sinners. There’s footage of Kathy Griffin’s photo shoot holding the bloody Donald Trump mask; a bleeped version of Samantha Bee’s Ivanka Trump insult; a clip of Michelle Wolf insulting Sarah Sanders. This isn’t a conventional political ad; it’s a continuation of the culture wars that Donald Trump has shown his party can be so galvanizing and successful.
While the RNC ad does contain sound bites from Democrats Bernie Sanders and Maxine Waters, it’s not really making an argument against Democratic policies. What this really is is the Fox News-ification of political advertising, hitting all the pop-culture fake-news stories that Fox & Friends and Tucker Carlson Tonight invent and repeat again and again. The audience for this ad understands what it is and approves. On both YouTube and the Reddit page called “The Donald,” commenters write many variations of “Republicans never would have made an ad like this before Trump!” That is absolutely correct and another sign of how Trump has deintellectualized political thinking in United States.
There’s a long tradition of appealing to the emotions in political ads. In the so-called “Daisy Ad” in 1964, for instance, Lyndon Johnson’s campaign attempted to paint Republican Barry Goldwater as a man who’d take us into a nuclear war. In 1988, George W. Bush’s campaign used the racially charged “Willie Horton Ad” — featuring an African-American man convicted of murder — against Bush’s Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis. One thing that distinguishes the new RNC ad from its predecessors is the broadening of its attack — the way it conflates different elements into one enemy. It insists that Democrats are radical leftists, even though you know very well there are many Dems with very middle-of-the-road, even conservative, beliefs. It slaps the word unhinged on liberals, when of course the only prominent politician whose behavior could fairly be called unhinged would be Donald Trump at one of his many campaign rallies.
The idea of this ad is to get you to think that a vote for any non-Republican is a vote for Samantha Bee’s rudeness or a vote in support of Kathy Griffin’s shock tactics. It steers away from anything substantive, such as Republican positions on immigration or the Supreme Court justice process. It’s a depressing ad. It’s also probably an effective one.
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