If it plays its cards right, between now and Labor Day, the Hillary Clinton campaign has the unusual opportunity to drive a stake through the heart of the Donald Trump campaign, disqualify Trump as a potential president in the minds of a majority of voters, and exacerbate the divisions in the Republican Party.
Clinton and her PACs can spend some serious cash during August on ads in swing states, like this one, entitled “Unfit” (click here to view).
The message: Trump is unfit to be allowed within 100 yards of the nuclear codes; Trump is not a successful businessman but a con artist who has cheated his workers, contractors,and lenders; and Trump has no real plans to create jobs and improve the economy.
Not only could these ads lock in swing state voters’ growing view that Trump is unfit, they’re likely to get national news play during what is otherwise generally a slow news month. And daily attacks on Trump are also likely to provoke more disqualifying unforced errors on Trump’s part.
Making a big push in August would go counter to common political wisdom that, since August is a dead month in politics and voters don’t start to pay attention until after Labor Day, political campaigns can take a summer recess during this period.
But given the unique trajectory of the 2016 campaign, the Clinton campaign should stomp on the accelerator for the rest of August, not ease off.
Clinton’s post-convention polling bounce seems to be holding up—both nationally and in swing states—as Trump’s series of unforced errors have increased the perception among persuadable voters that Trump has neither the qualifications nor the temperament to be president or commander-in-chief.
And in a political campaign, the best time to administer some quick kicks to your opponent’s throat and drive a stake through his heart is when he’s already down.
Let’s look at a few examples where the common wisdom that August doesn’t matter in presidential elections was dead wrong.
In 2004, the infamous Swift Boat ads likely proved crucial in Republican George W. Bush’s victory over Democrat John Kerry.
For most of spring and early summer 2004, the polling lead swung back and forth between Bush and Kerry in the Real Clear Politics polling average. On July 26, the first day of the Democratic convention, Kerry was up by 0.6 percent. On August 8, a week after the Democratic Convention, Kerry was up by 2.4 percent.
On August 5, the first Swift Boat TV ad ran in three swings states. It featured 13 vets who claimed to have served with Kerry in Vietnam and alleged that Kerry’s accounts of his Vietnam service was false, dishonest and unreliable, that Kerry had dishonored his country and was unfit to lead. Kerry, thinking August was a dead time in the campaign was on vacation and didn’t respond for two weeks. In the meantime, with a slow news month, the major media featured the story, and additional Swift Boat ads were run on August 20, 26, and 31, receiving massive media coverage. (Click here to view.)
By August 26, Bush took a small lead in the polls that he never relinquished. By September 9, a week after the Republican convention, Bush’s lead had expanded to 7.7 percent, Kerry did manage to reduce that lead but eventually lost by 2.4 percent in the popular vote. Those of us who opposed Bush will never forget the sickening feeling in our stomachs as the effect of the Swift Boat ads sunk in, unanswered, during August and never left until Bush won re-election. A dagger had been plunged into the heart of the Kerry campaign.
In 1988, Michael Dukakis was leading George H.W. Bush by 17 points after the Democratic convention at the end of July. Then a Bush PAC ran the infamous Willie Horton ads insinuating (falsely) that as Massachusetts governor Dukakis had given a weekend furlough to an African-American felon who committed murder and rape once out of prison. Dukakis never recovered his footing and lost the election by nearly 8 points, nearly a 25-point swing.
Unfortunately, Democrats often don’t play as hard as Republicans. One exception is the famous “Daisy” ad that Lyndon Johnson ran against Barry “Better Dead Than Red” Goldwater in 1964, implying that electing Goldwater ran the risk of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union that would destroy humanity.
We see a small girl picking petals from a daisy and counting to 10, at which point the count switches to a military commander counting down to a nuclear launch, leading into horrifying footage of nuclear weapons exploding. (Click here to view.)
Although it only ran once, the ad is widely credited with the 1964 Democratic landslide that made it possible to pass the Civil Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid.
With a possible Trump presidency threatening the Republic and the planet, it’s no time for the Clinton campaign to follow common wisdom and take an August recess. August is exactly the time to hit Trump hard as unfit to be president and commander-in-chief and as a business con man and fake who has no plans to increase jobs. Done right, like Kerry and Dukakis, Trump may never recover.
Whatever reservations I have about Clinton, defeating the racist, misogynistic, xenophobic Donald Trump is essential to the future of the republic and the planet. Better still, defeating Trump in a landslide would send an even stronger message that America rejects Trump’s dark and dystopian vision.
And a presidential landslide would likely result in Democrats regaining control of the Senate and making substantial gains in the House. That’s essential to success if Clinton is serious about implementing progressive planks in the Democratic platform like appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn Citizens United, spending big on infrastructure and jobs, moving toward debt-free college, and increasing the minimum wage.
August is the perfect time to kick Trump while he’s down and drive a stake through his heart from which he will never recover. Even if it works, though, Democrats can’t become complacent by positive poll numbers and must keep driving in the stake right through November 8. And if Clinton does win, the Sanders/Warren wing must stay organized and mobilized to keep the pressure on her to follow through on the Democratic platform and to avoid needless foreign wars, not backslide into triangulating with Republicans.