Have We Become Immune to Negative Campaigning?
Glad the GOP primary battles are over? Sick of the negativity? Well, brace yourself. Politico says it’s going to get much worse in the national election. Operatives for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will dig up dirt, sling innuendos, and cast aspersions, but you know what? You won’t care.
The author’s premise is that our “presumptive nominees” are already so unpopular that our opinion of them just can’t get any worse.
By convening a very public campaign lunch early this week with writer Edward Klein, Donald Trump all but signaled to Hillary Clinton a promise to soak her in turpentine and set fire to her during the general election.
Klein, a former New York Times and Newsweek staffer, is no ordinary journalist. He specializes in the production—there really is no better word—of hatchet jobs composed with a dull blade about famous politicians and their kin.
Given Trump’s low evidentiary standards, Clinton probably is spooked. But she needn’t be.
You mean you weren’t upset when you heard that Ted Cruz was claimed to have had affairs with eight women? Or that his dad was accused of being in on the Kennedy assassination? OK, bad examples. Too outlandish. People have grown tired of crazy JFK conspiracies, and thinking of Cruz having an affair is more cringe-worthy than thinking about your own parents having a wild night.
Pundits think the charges and claims can only get worse, and that will make us all more cynical. But. . .
But what if the predictors are wrong? What if, by virtue of their pasts and immutable characters, Clinton and Trump are invulnerable to the dark arts of opposition research, making oppo fairly useless this year? According to opinion polls, Clinton and Trump are the most unpopular candidates ever to face each other in a presidential contest. They’re so unpopular they can’t get any more unpopular, making them essentially post-oppo politicians. . .
This is not to suggest that past 12 months of attacks haven’t damaged her. A recent Gallup poll shows that 55 percent of voters hold an unfavorable view of Madame Secretary, with many finding her untrustworthy, unprincipled, insincere, duplicitous, greedy and calculating. But in collecting one of the highest unfavorable ratings by a presidential contender, she may have reached a negative apogee. That is, among her core of remaining supporters—39 percent give her a favorable rating—there is no Clinton conduct or new revelation that would cause her faithful to abandon her. We may have hit her peak unfavorable rating, making any new oppo useless against her.
That same goes for Trump, only double. Trump scored a 64 percent unfavorable rating in the same Gallup poll, which is as ugly as it gets—with the exception of Vladimir Putin’s 69 percent unfavorable, polled in 2014. When you’re already widely considered by the public to be a liar, a bigot, a demagogue and golf cheat, any new damning information is not likely to peel off much support by those who back him (he has a 31 percent favorable rating).
The takeaway is that, yes, there will be tons of negative campaigning, but since it will come from both sides, it will even out. What the article doesn’t say is that we like the negatives. Both candidates are praised by the public as being “tough,” and if they’re seen doing “tough” things, all the better.
I commented on this when the anti-Trump forces produced a rash (at least they gave me a rash) of stupid attack ads.
My response, and yours, was “ho-hum.” I said at the time that the problem was that the anti-Trump forces didn’t get it at all. In attacking Trump’s bad behavior, they were actually reinforcing the public’s view of what they liked about him!
What they should have done is pointed out his weaknesses, instead—his vanity about his hair and makeup, his worry about claims about his manhood, any other insecurities they could find. Show him waffling and somewhere, sometime, crying. Or that his feud with Megyn Kelly was staged. Pick out shots from their upcoming interview with her looking lovingly at him.
As for Hillary, instead of talking about her “breaking the rules” with her email server, why not point out how mushy and saccharine some of her emails were? And instead of showing her “stand by her man,” why not ask why she didn’t go all “Lorena Bobbit” on him? Show her petting a puppy (not eating it).
At a time when we want a mean and nasty leader to stand up for us, attacks on them as being mean and nasty not only will have no negative effect—it will actually make them more “electable.”