The negative ads released this week by the Trump and Biden campaigns foreshadow a bitter and deeply personal White House race heading into November, with each contender seeking fertile ground to launch attacks on his opponent.
Both campaigns and their affiliated outside groups have already poured millions of dollars into attack ads, a sign that the negativity will only ramp up as the election gets closer.
“Scorched-earth city. Are you kidding me?” GOP strategist and former Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye said when asked what the recent spate of ads means for the coming months. “This is already portending to be, and to some extent already has been, as nasty a campaign as we have seen in modern times. And if we thought 2016 was nasty, buckle your seat belts.”
Ads from President Trump and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE are already hitting each other on their respective records, fitness for office, handling of the coronavirus pandemic, relationships with China and more.
The Trump camp is just starting to roll out the products of a $10 million ad campaign, on top of broadsides from outside groups intended to ding Biden on his rhetoric regarding China, his son Hunter’s business dealings and the sexual assault allegation from Tara Reade.
A Trump Facebook ad released Thursday asks if the former vice president, 77, is “too old” to serve as president, saying, “Geriatric mental health is no laughing matter.”
Another clip from the Trump campaign released last month highlights Biden’s son’s work in China and defends Trump’s decision earlier this year to ban travel from there over coronavirus concerns.
And while the Trump campaign has refrained from highlighting Reade’s allegation against Biden, potentially wary of the several sexual misconduct accusations against the president, supportive outside groups have seized on it.
“Tara Reade said Joe Biden sexually assaulted her. Democrats and the media are trying to ignore her chilling story. We won’t let them,” reads text from an ad from the pro-Trump Great America PAC. The minutelong clip goes on to play recordings from women who said Biden touched them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable.
Biden has denied Reade’s allegation and apologized for his past treatment of women. Trump has repeatedly denied accusations of sexual assault and harassment against him.
Democrats say Trump has to attack Biden to retain hope of reelection, noting his personal approval ratings have remained under water since his inauguration.
“There’s nothing Trump can do in his reelection campaign that’s going to improve his own personal popularity. That is set in stone,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “So the only way the president can win reelection is turn this from being a referendum on his presidency to a referendum on Joe Biden. And the only way to make this a referendum on Joe Biden is for the president to attack him relentlessly.”
Biden’s camp has not shied away, of course, from launching its own strikes on Trump, with recent ads mainly focusing on the fallout of the coronavirus and Trump’s praise of China.
“Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE doesn’t understand. We have an economic crisis because we have a public health crisis. And we have a public health crisis because he refused to act,” a narrator says in the nearly three-minute clip on the president’s coronavirus response released this week. “Donald Trump didn’t build a great economy. His failure to lead destroyed one.”
“Trump rolled over for the Chinese. He took their word for it,” says another ad released last month in reference to China’s claims over its death toll from the coronavirus. “Trump didn’t hold China accountable.”
The Trump campaign brushed off Biden’s ads, saying he is trying to remain relevant while relegated to his basement in Delaware in the midst of the pandemic.
“Joe Biden continues to lob political duds from his basement in a desperate search for relevance,” said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director. “If anyone is dividing America, it is Joe Biden, who sits on the sidelines and offers nothing but criticism as he attempts to undermine Americans’ confidence in the response to the virus.”
Heated campaigns and negative ads are nothing new to White House races — famous zingers at debates and potent ads have at times inflicted unrecoverable wounds on opponents’ campaigns. And the 2016 cycle introduced a new level of bitterness into presidential politics, with then-nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE labeling Trump supporters “deplorables” and Trump showing up at a debate with women who had accused former President Clinton of sexual misconduct.
The nastiness reflects the current hyperpartisan political landscape, with polls showing high levels of enthusiasm among both Democrats and Republicans to either flip or defend the White House this year.
“Trump losing reelection, he certainly, and his camp, could see as a rejection of all things Trump. And they can’t have that,” Heye said. “On the Democratic side, their loathing of all things Trump is at an absolute fever pitch. It is a core to their being from the second they wake up until they go to bed, and then even in their dreams. This will be a no-holds-barred, no-disqualification professional wrestling match.”
And with campaigns historically saving their hardest-hitting attacks for closer to November, neither side is expected to relent any time soon.
“The ads are negative now, and by the time you get to Election Day, they’ll be unrelentingly negative,” Bannon told The Hill. “It’s only going to get worse from where it is now.”