Don’t take this as an endorsement of the guy, of course, because you people know my position on him. I won’t belabor that.
But one of the seminal hallmarks of the Republican Party more or less since Lee Atwater died is a total flaccidity of campaign messaging. GOP candidates are entirely too nice in campaign ads, borne out of some terrible advice given somewhere along the line that Republicans should speak of Democrats as fundamentally nice people who are just a little bit wrong about some stuff.
And therefore, about the toughest thing you’ll ever see in a Republican campaign attacking a Democrat is that the Republican will call the Dem a “liberal.”
And conservative messaging, particularly in the cultural realm even more so than the political, has been so ineffective for so long that people don’t even think being a liberal is a bad thing anymore. Half the country is OK with socialism, for crying out loud (not that any of them have the first clue what socialism even is); the ideological message in a general election is worthless unless it’s properly fleshed out with real world examples.
Meanwhile, Democrats do everything they can to personally demonize, ridicule and destroy Republicans. By election day, a Republican candidate in a tough fight with a Democrat is usually pretty lucky to escape with any dignity or public integrity intact. Which is one reason it’s so difficult to get people of character to run for office.
But with this, Trump does signal that maybe he’s not going to be the nice guy that John McCain, who forbade his campaign to bring up the Jeremiah Wright and Frank Marshall Davis stuff on Obama until it was clear he’d already lost, or Mitt Romney, who stood by and watched Obama play the “War on Women” and “out-of-touch plutocrat” cards on him without any significant pushback at all other than in the first debate, were.
This ad he just released makes it look like Trump is more than willing to be the bad guy who burns his opponent at the stake. Here’s his campaign’s Benghazi hit on Hillary Clinton…
Now, the problem Trump has is he’s so roundly hated by such a large portion of the public that going hard-core nasty this early, particularly if he’s going to stay at it, could well backfire.
The strategy, of course, being that if he can drag Hillary down to his level of toxicity, run either to her left or perhaps just slightly to her right policy-wise and make the race little more than a hyperpersonal knife-fight he can win because he’s more entertaining. That’s a modified version of what Obama did to Romney, the difference being that Obama actually did run on leftist ideology in order to fire up his base at the same time he was smearing Romney’s character in order to suppress the votes of Republicans and right-leaning independents.
And a Mean Trump strategy could perhaps work if the race is a purely head to head matchup. But the more toxic both candidates become, the more possible it is that some third party candidate emerges to compete for what would be a huge segment of the electorate which wants nothing to do with either of the combatants.