Clinton goes negative with Trump

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' Hillary Clinton: There must be a 'global reckoning' with disinformation Pelosi's archbishop calls for Communion to be withheld from public figures supporting abortion rights MORE is keeping a negative focus on Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSanders: Reinstating SALT deduction 'sends a terrible, terrible message' GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote One quick asylum fix: How Garland can help domestic violence survivors MORE in her campaign ads, which rarely focus on positive reasons why voters should back her campaign for the White House.

The ads illuminate Clinton’s strategy: Portray Trump as unfit to be commander-in-chief and glide to victory this fall.


Opinion polls suggest the effort is working, and Trump’s latest controversial remarks about “Second Amendment people”thwarting Clinton are unlikely to cause anyone on the Democrat’s campaign to suggest a new course.

Polls at present show her leading by a substantial margin nationally and across most battlegrounds, while even states that are usually GOP strongholds, such as Utah and Georgia, could be in play.

“Her job right now is to beat the devil out of Trump while his negatives are up, to ensure those negatives remain in place even if he stages some kind of resurgence later,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist in New York who has worked for Clinton in the past but has not done so during this campaign.

“He does stupid things, she does stupid things, it doesn’t matter — just keep hitting him in the head,” Sheinkopf added. “The minute she lets Trump up, it will be a very bad day.”

Some Democrats and independent observers argue that Clinton should at least offer voters more reasons why they ought to back her — beyond keeping Trump out of the White House.

“You have to do both. It’s not an either/or,” said one Democratic strategist, who spoke anonymously to offer candid remarks.

“The damage to Trump has been primarily self-inflicted and I think as you go forward, it’s a question of how you balance it. At some point you want to make this about your vision going forward, so that you can lock down those voters.”

Clinton’s campaign ads often come with an ominous piano soundtrack even as her rallies are powered by positive pop anthems by Katy Perry and Rachel Platten. The most notable ad of her campaign shows children watching as Trump makes some of his most incendiary comments. (Clinton appears, though briefly, in a positive light at the end of the ad.)

Another more recent spot uses a 2012 appearance by Trump on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Letterman goes through Trump-branded shirts and ties that turn out to have been manufactured outside the United States, as the future candidate looks increasingly uncomfortable. 

The commercial is intended to make Trump’s promise to bring jobs back to the United States look insincere and hypocritical.

Outside groups seeking to support Clinton’s candidacy have adopted a similar tone.  

In early June, the main pro-Clinton super-PAC, Priorities USA, said it would spend $20 million to air an ad showing the parents of a disabled young girl expressing their horror about Trump’s mockery of a New York Times reporter who suffers from a rare joint condition. The same group later that same month released another ad disparaging Trump’s readiness to serve as commander-in-chief.

Clinton World can push back on any criticism that the former secretary of State is being overly negative by pointing to Trump’s approach. The GOP nominee constantly seeks to tar Clinton as “Crooked Hillary.” In more recent appearances, he has alleged that she is “unbalanced” and “close to unhinged.” 

A remark he made at a rally on Tuesday about “second amendment people” was widely criticized since it seemed to raise the possibility — jokingly or otherwise — of violence against Clinton.

In that context, some Democrats argue that Clinton is fully justified in keeping the pressure on Trump. They also say that she needs to do so in order to drive home the advantage she currently enjoys, after Trump made a number of self-inflicted errors in recent weeks — notably by engaging in a public battle with the parents of Humayun Khan, a U.S. Army captain who was killed in Iraq.

Outside observers say that given Clinton’s own vulnerabilities when it comes to personal likability and honesty, the negative approach makes sense.

“Her biggest asset is the fact that she is running against Donald Trump — that’s clear,” said Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University. “You have two candidates with super-high negative ratings. For her the strongest case is the negative case, [whereas] you normally see a mix of the ‘happy face’ commercials with the ominous ones.”

Negative ads are hardly unusual.

According to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media project, 43.2 percent of the ads President Obama ran in his first general election campaign, in 2008, were negative. Four years later, when he was running for reelection in challenging economic circumstances, that figure rose to 58.5 percent.

For now, much of the sense that Clinton is running a negative ad war is based upon anecdotal evidence, with viewers reporting that positive spots in battleground states are a rarity, far outnumbered by anti-Trump commercials.

Such a negative campaign could result in a new president entering office with depleted political capital. But for now, Democrats won’t complain, so long as Clinton wins in November. 

“What she is doing is working,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons. “So I feel like she should keep doing it.”