Attack ads are effective mostly because they are damaging; they are down and dirty and help depress voter turn-out. On CNN and other cable news channels that Trump has otherwise denounced, he might be trying to reach the undecideds, hoping that they will get so fed up with all of the ugly and bitter shenanigans this political season that they’ll say, “A pox on both your houses. I’m not voting.”
Not surprisingly, after allegations of Trump’s inappropriate sexual behavior surfaced last week from accusers who say they were triggered by his behavior on the leaked “Access Hollywood” tape, he vigorously denounced both those accusers. and the media.
Indeed, Trump on the stump lately has gone into an attack mode frenzy, blaming it all on “corporate media” (which like the “international banks” he also mentioned, were the same targets--minus the “Jewish” modifier--of 1930’s fascist propaganda.)
Working up the crowds, who regularly shouted “Lock her up!” at rallies Wednesday, Trump said, “The corporate media have their own political agenda,” adding that they are in the pocket of the "Clinton machine."
Yet Trump, who’s boasted regularly that he’s a “ratings machine” (unlike the Clinton machine), has also spoken proudly of the billions of dollars of earned media coverage that he received during the campaign, so much so that he didn’t have to spend a cent on advertising.
He made hay of that fact and the corollary—that unlike him, Hillary Clinton had to spend time off the campaign circuit cajoling big bucks out of rich, corrupt donors in order to spend hundreds of millions of dollars against him on attack ads.
Still, while attacking corporate media, even Trump would have to concede that his peeps at NBC, the very definition of a corporate media establishment, gave him the greatest platform ever for launching a Presidential run by featuring him as a rich-as-Croesus, golden real-estate godhead for 11 years on “The Apprentice.”
Moreover, as he showed by resurrecting four of the women who are Bill Clinton-accusers and plunking them front and center in the audience at the second debate, Trump is a genius at having it both ways.
This is also evident in a Trump commercial that’s run a lot recently. On the surface, it’s about the “daunting challenges” we face in the world right now, and how Hillary Clinton failed in dealing with them as Secretary of State. (The voiceover uses the word “failed” in the context of Clinton three times in 15 seconds.)
While, on the surface, it’s about the awful possibility of worldwide war—claiming that Trump is the only one “who can protect” us— it’s also fanning the flames of domestic gender wars, right here in the good old USA.
Dark and grainy, it opens on horrifying and ominous images of ground warfare in Iran, ISIS decapitations, and armies marching in North Korea.
Then it switches to the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” female portion of the 30-second show. That’s when we see clips of Hillary Clinton coughing, behind her thick-lensed glasses at early Benghazi hearings — and, in an image shot from behind, being dragged upstairs by two men, her arms outstretched like a captive. (“I happen to like people who weren’t captured,” Trump famously said while disputing whether John McCain was indeed a war hero.)
The final image is the clincher— with a telescopic lens, it shows Clinton falling into her van on the day she fainted at the 9/11 memorial ceremonies and later revealed that she had pneumonia.
One of Trump’s undeniable strengths as a candidate, which helps him mesmerize crowds at rallies,and have them screaming back his slogans, is that he boils down ideas to very simple statements. So the spot shows that war equals bad, Hillary equals failure and fallen down, and Trump equals “the only one” who can stand up and save us.
Interestingly, in debates and in the media, Trump repeatedly knocks Hillary for voting for the war in Iraq and maintains that he never was for it.
But this ad suggests something different. According to Rhonda Garelick, a professor at the University of Nebraska, author of “Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History,” and noted critic of gender politics, “All those scary images have in common that they depict hordes of men with weapons,” she says. “Not a woman to be seen, of course, and vast seas of men. They put me in mind of the Nuremberg rally photos from the 1930s…. Even as Trump uses this footage as evidence of our enemies whom only he can battle, it is also harnessing the implied military power it depicts as his own. “
This part of the spot speaks directly to Trump’s male base, she says. “This is his way of subtly appropriating the nefarious appeal and power of these images for himself.”
In the having-it-both-ways mode, she says “Trump is effectively saying ‘I alone can battle these hordes’—AND ‘come join me in a horde of powerful men with weapons.”
Overall, it’s showing us that it’s a man’s world, and women are too weak to enter into it—that perhaps we need a wall between us?
The male voiceover repeats what Trump always says about Hillary, that she doesn’t have the “fortitude, strength, or stamina” (a.k.a. penis and cojones) to be President. The voice says that over the image of Hillary at her undeniably lowest point: bent over, being carried horizontally into her van.
It’s meant to suppress votes, and it is utterly depressing to watch. In look and tone, it’s right up there with “Revolving Door,”the attack ads that Lee Atwater famously produced for George H.W. Bush, that got him the win against Governor Michael Dukakis.
But Garelick also sees an unconscious message rising up from the fallen and weak Hillary side of the spot. Despite the photo showing Hillary in her thick glasses, it symbolizes a precursor to her later, much longer Benghazi testimony. “Before the Benghazi committee, Hillary was indelibly strong, unflappable, indefatigable. It was one of her proudest moments, a moment when she demonstrated her astonishing stamina during an 11-hour ordeal. And the picture of Hillary in her sunglasses on her plane (looking at her phone) became a world-wide meme connoting her badass status.”
So give this spot another look. For Trump, a war of the worlds really comes down to a war of the sexes.
It’s true that the headstrong Trump doesn’t really need advertising—in fact, his spoken message sometimes conflicts with the campaign ads.
At the end of the second debate, when each was pressed to offer one thing that they admired about the other (and Hillary answered “his children,”), Trump called Hillary a “fighter.”
His remarks quietly undid all of the failing, fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up imagery by adding, “I will say this about Hillary, she doesn’t quit, she doesn’t give up.”