Politico has a follow-up article on last September's New York Times report detailing the unsuccessful efforts of conservative anti-Trump PAC Win It Back to find any argument against Trump that will penetrate Republican voters' impossibly thick skulls.
Don't be getting your hopes up, because there's no new news on that front. Politico singles out four Win It Back-produced ads that were focus-group tested back in September, all centered around Donald Trump's voluminous legal troubles. You know, the ones caused by all those crimes he’s been accused of committing across several states?
Sure enough, the ads backfired with the Republican primary voters who viewed them.
One spot, which was surveyed before an online panel of Republican primary voters, declared that the indictments against Trump had “worn” him “down” and undercut his ability to win the election. Another said the trials presented “too much baggage” and warned that Democrats would “sensationalize” them to hurt the ex-president. The hardest-hitting commercial raised the specter that Trump would be convicted, leading President Joe Biden to “cruise” to reelection.
Only one of the ads, a "softer-touch spot that features a voter saying Trump's trials 'worries' him," had a neutral result. The other three ads made Republican voters like Trump more than they previously had.
Because sure, there's nothing that might rile a Republican focus group like a reminder that their guy allegedly committed a whole Skittles rainbow’s worth of crimes and somehow might not get away with every last one of them. We've already established that Republican voters believe their leaders are allowed to commit crimes for the good of the movement. The ones who believe otherwise wouldn't still be calling themselves Republicans after Trump attempted to topple the government and much of the Republican House and Senate did their level best to either help the coup attempt or to scuttle his prosecution afterward.
The Republican base is not a political movement, but a cult—a brazenly fascist, violence-provoking, clown-led cult. And it’s gotten worse with each passing month, not better.
The people currently in prison for their roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection are the people who beat law enforcement officers with fire extinguishers, barricades, and metal poles in an effort to hunt down the topmost elected officials in the U.S. government. That Trump can call those thugs "hostages" and not have his adoring crowds of supposed patriots immediately riot in disgust shows you that they ain't patriots, and it's not America they're beholden to. Do we really think there's an ad campaign that can combat that?
As I argued last time around, the best hope may lie in messages that Win It Back hasn't been as eager to test. They must strip him of the strongman persona he tries so hard to create: Use ads that portray him as a laughingstock and paint his supporters as chumps. Make it embarrassing to support Trump—so that wearing a MAGA hat in public feels like wearing an advertisement for your favorite hemorrhoid cream.
Trump's been walking right into that potential trap in recent weeks by delivering rally speeches that sound like complete gibberish, peppered with verbal flubs that Fox News would base entire news cycles around if it were a Democrat making the gaffe. Any ad campaign looking to prove Trump to be a bumbling clown clinging only tenuously to his own persona would have ample material to work with.
Republican primary voters don't mind that Trump tried to overthrow the government, because Republican primary voters think that, well, maybe they ought to be able to do that if Black Americans keep insisting on their rights or if Fox News throws up another B-reel of migrants wading across the southern border to ask for asylum. But Republican primary voters do care—a lot—that so much of the rest of the country considers them to be muleheaded saps.
So make that case. Look at this goofball Trump; look at the things he says. Look at the things his fans say as they show up for his rallies in the most embarrassing outfits ever worn, looking like roving gangs of child predators looking to lure children into their poster-covered vans.
Aren't you glad you're not a Trump supporter like those crackpots are? Thank goodness you there, sitting at home, support a candidate who doesn't look like a state fair butter sculpture that was brought to life by an evil wizard and is now sliding around the stage screaming things and mugging for the cameras.
It's worth a try. Political ads may not work, but the techniques of cult deprogramming might. Make it embarrassing to be a Trump supporter. Make these people feel not like they're at war with "deep state" enemies, but are being laughed at by a slick-and-crooked Trump and his slick-and-crooked cronies.
At some point Trump is going to lose his luster and most of his current sycophants are going to pretend they were only lukewarm supporters at best, because of course they're much too smart to have fallen for a con artist like that. Ad campaigns targeting Republicans have to make those voters question themselves, not question Trump.
That's not a one-ad campaign. It would require a drumbeat of ads airing over a period of months, bringing each and every one of Trump's most humiliating stumbles to viewers one by one. But it would probably have much better results than trying to convince Republican voters that Actually, crimes are bad and sedition is worse—because these Republican voters almost certainly don't think so.
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