The Daisy, the Mushroom Cloud and Trump

Hillary Clinton and her allies’ attack ads against Donald Trump are reminiscent of a classic election ad. They will give American voters another reason to resist the temptation to vote for the Republican candidate in November.

In the history of televised election campaign advertising, few ads have gotten people talking more than the ad the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign aired only once, on Sept. 7, 1964, to attack Republican Barry Goldwater’s extreme national defense positions. The ad made waves for weeks after it aired. In it, a young girl plucked a daisy and little by little, her plucking became a countdown to nuclear apocalypse. The message was clear: Voters should think twice before entrusting nuclear launch codes to someone as extreme as Goldwater, who did not hesitate to openly consider using nuclear weapons during the peak of the Cold War. The ad appealed directly to peoples’ emotions and contributed to Johnson’s crushing victory in November 1964.

Donald Trump’s misguided foreign policy, his unpredictable personality, and his obvious ignorance of global security issues worry a significant part of the U.S. electorate and open the door to attack ads based on these fears. Among other worrisome statements, the Republican candidate discussed the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the fight against the Islamic State. He also stated that he supports Japan acquiring nuclear weapons, after openly demonstrating that he was ignorant of the basics of nuclear strategy during the Republican debates.

It was just a question of time before attack ads against Trump started appealing to people’s emotions and targeting the fears that his candidacy inspires. Yesterday, the pro-Clinton super PAC, Priorities USA, released its first ad of this kind.* The ad, called “I Love War,” features a series of statements by Trump, which raises concerns that are disturbingly reminiscent of the ones about extremist candidate Goldwater in 1964.

Like many other negative ads about Trump, this one is particularly efficient because it allows the candidate himself to express the ideas that evoke negative feelings toward him. The official Clinton campaign also played on this, highlighting the risks of Trump’s explosive temper if he ever entered the White House. The conclusion of the ad leaves little to the imagination. One thoughtless gesture, “just one wrong move” by a president, could lead to catastrophe. Here again, it is the candidate himself who is speaking and directly appealing to emotions.

And it is not the only ad against Trump that features his problematic statements about military policy. Clinton’s official campaign has also just released an ad with controversial statements by Trump about veterans. The ad is similar to one already used by the Clinton campaign, in which children are seen listening to Trump statements you would not want your children to hear. In this new ad, veterans and the parents of soldiers killed in combat listen with incredulity and consternation to a series of Trump statements that should make veterans think twice about the Republican candidate’s promises to them.

Of all the negative ads during this campaign—there have already been plenty and there will be many more to come—these will have a good chance of standing out from the crowd. Will these ads contribute to a defeat as monumental for Trump as Goldwater’s defeat was in 1964? Probably not. But it has become incredibly clear that a less prickly Republican candidate than the one party activists chose would have had a much better chance to win this year’s election, which several observers have said should have favored the Republican Party. The Republican presidential candidate is a burden to his party in 2016 and his opponent’s advertisements will continue to target the best source of material for attacking Donald Trump: Donald Trump.

*Translator’s note: A super PAC is a group that can collect and spend funds to support or campaign against a candidate during an election, as long as it does not coordinate with the candidate’s official campaign.

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