Washington Post (Opinion)
By Greg Sargent
May 5, 2016
Predictably enough, the hand-wringing has already begun among some Democrats over the prospect of Donald Trump waging “unpredictable” attacks on Hillary Clinton and the possibility that the Clinton camp will be “complacent” about the battle to come. Of course, among Democrats, there will always be those who only require the slightest provocation to wring their hands until their skin peels.
But if there are any lingering doubts over whether the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party are entering into the general election with a sufficiently aggressive posture, this new ad, just out from the Clinton camp, should begin to dispel them:
This is just a Web ad, but as Josh Vorhees notes, it’s reasonable to see this as a template for the massive onslaught of paid ads to come. And this ad also highlights a key dynamic in this campaign that continues to go under-appreciated.
As I’ve argued, the general election will differ from the primaries in an important sense: Unlike Republicans, Democrats will not be constrained from brutally unmasking the truly wretched nature of his racial appeals. Trump’s GOP rivals had to treat his xenophobia, bigotry, and demagoguery with kid gloves, because many Republican voters agreed with his vows to ban Muslims and carry out mass deportations. But the broader general electorate does not agree with those things. Indeed, many voters that populate key general election constituencies are likely horrified by them. As a result, Democrats will be able to prosecute Trump mercilessly in ways his GOP rivals simply could not — with a relentless, non-diluted, non-euphemistic focus on his white nationalism.
It is true that some of Trump’s GOP rivals did try to make a similar case against Trump at times. Jeb Bush did go hard at Trump’s xenophobia. But the fact that he sank so quickly without a trace proves the point: the GOP primary audience didn’t want to hear criticism of Trump on these topics. Ted Cruz, who mounted the stiffest challenge to Trump, occasionally did criticize Trump’s worst impulses. But his criticism had a half-hearted quality. What’s more, he nonetheless sought to broaden his support beyond his base of true evangelicals and ideological conservatives, and cut into Trump’s base of angry, disaffected whites, by vowing never to legalize the 11 million and promising stepped up patrols of Muslim neighborhoods. Which is to say that Cruz dabbled in a less explicit form of xenophobia. As the Clinton ad does above, Cruz also sought to portray Trump as reckless and unprepared to be commander in chief. But Cruz could not make even that case the way Democrats will be able to.
This ad shows that Democrats will not only be able to go full throttle at Trump’s intolerance and hate-appeals; they will also be able to use them, in a way Republicans couldn’t, to buttress the broader argument that Trump is reckless, mentally unstable, and woefully unfit for the presidency. And so, the ad links Trump’s vow of mass deportations and a Muslim ban directly to his vow to dramatically increase the use of torture, to “take out terrorists’ families,” to “bomb the sh*t” out of ISIS, and even his suggestion that he’d employ nuclear weapons. This suggests the Clinton team is betting that the general election audience will not see Trump’s variously expressed vows to smash the dark hordes as “strength,” but rather as symptomatic of a profound unfitness to serve as commander in chief.
Yet Trump continues to believe otherwise; he’s sticking by many of these promises. But that brings us to our next item.
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