Thinking Up Nasty Campaign Ads

Image from Tony Schwartz’s famous “Daisy” commercial

Please allow me to indulge my dark side for just a few minutes. Oh, I had a zinger that the Obama campaign could have used against McCain in 2008. Run footage of Sarah Palin at the lectern delivering one of her speeches. Only no sound coming from her mouth. A silent movie. Then at the bottom of the screen a black stripe that showed the monitor of an EKG screen. Bump, ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump. All you hear is the sound of a beating heart. And then it flat lines. BZZZZZZZZZZ…….. One good reason McCain was defeated was that the undecideds probably couldn’t utter the words “President Palin.” An ad like this might have helped seal the deal.

This was likely inspired subconsciously by perhaps the most famous ad in presidential election history more than half a century ago, when LBJ ran against Barry Goldwater. Tony Schwartz’s famous “Daisy” ad was a one minute spot that is considered the father of modern negative political advertising. It ran only once, but it was memorable for its impact. A little girl was walking through a field of daisies and then there was a nuclear explosion. The message was simple: vote for Goldwater and risk Armageddon because the Republican candidate had said he’d have no problem deploying a nuke. (Had Cruz been the nominee one can only imagine a similar negative ad after his pledge to carpet bomb the Middle East.)

This year’s campaign season brings out the worst in me, so I found myself conjuring up my own version of a negative ad. Before going further, I should say I don’t condone them; in fact, I actually find this practice reprehensible. I once asked an operative in the Mario Cuomo gubernatorial campaign why there was so much of it going around (back in the 1990s). He said, “Because it works.”

Now, as we’re reminded constantly, you should never bring a knife to a gun fight. This season expect to see some attention-getters from both camps. We haven’t seen anything yet. Trust me, it’s going to get ugly on both sides.

If I were running Hillary’s back office, here’s the storyboard I’d send in: a 30-second spot photo-shopped to show a smiling, confident Donald Trump and his entourage making the rounds in Washington, with a backdrop of the White House and the Capitol. Every few seconds the camera would cut to the mysterious man with his hand handcuffed to a briefcase. Just before the spot ends, I would have a caption that read, “Whom do you trust with the nuclear launch codes? A former secretary of state, or a real estate developer? If you’re undecided, please give it some serious thought. The free world is depending on you.”

Now, if for some reason I had to come up with an ad for the Trump campaign that skewered Clinton, here’s what I’d suggest: I’d show Hillary behind the screen of her computer, obviously at home in her den working late at night. A cut to a group of heavy cables connecting to a bank of hard drives, or what could be construed as a home server. Then the glow of the monitor reflecting on her face in light green, the room dark. She has the slightest smirk, ever so subtle as she’s typing away. Then I’d cut to her hitting the “return” key as if she’s sending an email. The caption would read, “What’s taking the FBI and Justice Department’s investigation into Secretary Clinton’s emails so long to conclude?”

This is just a start folks. Rig for depth charges. There’s six months to go.

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