The archetypal negative political ad shows the bad guy candidate in a black-and-white photo as a gravel-voiced narrator lists concerns about his record. Superimpose a few damning newspaper headlines, end with a tagline (“Wrong for your family! Wrong for America!”), and call it a day.
But the forces opposing Donald Trump seem to have settled on a different template. No narrator, no headlines. Instead, multiple anti-Trump TV ads in this cycle have featured Trump in his own words, framed to demonstrate how those words sound as heard through the ears of various, specific audiences. First women, then the disabled, and now children.
Back in May, there was a spot called “Speak,” from the Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA, that featured women lip-syncing to audio of Trump’s most misogynistic statements. (That ad was itself derivative of a previous ad from a right-wing, anti-Trump organization.) More recently, also from Priorities USA, came “Grace” and “Dante”—two ads in which a clip of Trump mocking a disabled journalist is contextualized via interviews with people whose lives have been touched by disability. In both cases, the idea is to foreground not Trump but rather his targets, forcing the viewer to contemplate how Trump’s words are received by the people who are in his crosshairs.
The Hillary Clinton campaign has evidently noted the approach, and is now emulating it. In a new spot from the campaign titled “Role Models,” we observe cherubic kids as they watch TV clips of Trump saying outrageous, offensive things. A Latino child watches Trump calling Mexicans “racists”; a young girl watches a clip of Trump hating on women. Again, Trump’s own words are being used against him. And again, instead of taking our cues from that gravel-voiced announcer of yore, we’re invited to view and hear Trump’s statements through the eyes and ears of the vulnerable. It’s a powerful framing device, and I expect we’ll see more of it through November.