Monday, November 7, 2016

One Campaign Ad that Expresses the Essence of Donald Trump

Can a campaign commercial reveal a candidate's soul?

The Trump campaign sought to take maximum advantage of FBI Director James Comey's announcement on October 28, 2016 that additional emails had come to light by issuing the above video.  It's interesting, and telling, to re-watch this Trump campaign commercial following James Comey's  big "never mind!" about those additional emails.

The whole Clinton private server and email business has been entirely overblown. See Matt Yglesias's explanation HERE: "The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign."

The Clinton email server has entertained us for more than a year now, so when Comey made his announcement on October 28, Donald Trump could hardly contain himself.  "[The FBI] are reopening the case into her criminal and illegal conduct," announced Trump. "Hillary Clinton's corruption is on a scale we have never seen before," he crowed. "We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office." With mock solemnity Trump intoned: "I have great respect for the fact that the FBI and the Department of Justice are now willing, to have the courage,  to right the horrible mistake that they made. This was a grave miscarriage of justice, that the American people fully understood, and it is everybody's hope that it is about to be corrected."

Trump hit pay dirt. Comey's announcement combined with press sensationalism promptly dropped Clinton three points in the polls.

Here is a closer look at this ad the Trump Campaign trotted out to take advantage:

1.  "The Clintons, from dead broke to hundreds of millions," it begins.  

But it's a lie. The Clintons are not worth "hundreds of millions."  Hillary Clinton is apparently worth about $31 million (mostly from speaking fees); Bill Clinton may be worth another $80 million--so their combined net worth is slightly in excess of ~$111 million. This is a sizable sum. But unlike Trump, the Clintons have paid income taxes on their earnings from speaking fees (43.2% in 2015) and they donated generous amounts to charity (10% of their income in 2015).

Voters concerned about wealth in the White House might note that Trump boasts of being worth $10 billion, but is probably worth more like $3.7 billion. We're not sure because Trump still refuses to share his tax returns. We think he has not paid income taxes in ten years on account of past bankruptcies.  So anyone listening to this ad should hear an echo:  "Trump, from dead broke to billions... without paying taxes." And voters are supposed to do what with this information?

2. "So how did Hillary end up filthy rich? Pay to play politics..."says the ad.

The ad pulls a bait and switch from the Clintons' combined net worth ($111 million)--falsely represented as "hundreds of millions"--to "how did Hillary end up filthy rich."  And the ad further jumps from the source of Clinton's wealth (speaking fees--on which, as noted she paid substantial taxes) to charitable donations flowing to the Clinton foundation (which is not a direct source of their wealth).

The allegation of "pay to play" politics here is the loosest of innuendos. Yes, $225,000/speech speaking fees  by a person about to run for president raises a concern of influence buying. It illustrates a problem that is endemic in our politics: but it is not an issue that distinguishes Clinton from any of the other 538 elected officials in Congress. An appearance of impropriety on account of big money is not an issue that favorably distinguishes Trump (who has not paid taxes on billions of income over a period of years, and whose organization has sizable Russian financial entanglements with Putin's inner circle) from Clinton.

3. "From criminals, dictators, countries that hate America..."  

The Clinton Foundation is a well respected and legitimate charity. The foundation makes its donors public. Who on that list is the ad referring to as "criminals, dictators, and countries that hate America...?" The ad does not say.

4. "Hillary cut deals for donors..."  it goes on.

What deals and what donors, any thinking person would ask. But, of course, such ads are not aimed at thinking persons.

5. "Now the FBI has launched a new investigation..." it concludes.

Another lie. There was no "new" investigation. The ad references Comey's letter to Congress on October 28, 2016 wherein he informed Congress about an additional batch of emails they would look at. The FBI was simply following up on the prior work it had done in reviewing emails--leading to the conclusion that no laws were broken. But the ad attempted to blanket Comey's announcement  with a slimey ooze of innuendo about Clinton speaking fees and donations to the Clinton Foundation.

We've seen ads like this before. Back in the 1988 election Michael Dukakis attracted almost as much animus from the GOP faithful as Hillary Clinton.  Unknown neighbors tore down and vandalized our campaign signs for Dukakis. The George H.W. Bush campaign ran its infamous Willie Horton ad, alleging that "Dukakis grants weekend passes from prison to murderers." As misleading, nasty, and racists as that ad was, at least it had the decency to identify a particular scary criminal.  The Trump ad here merely says "Trust me...., the Clinton foundation takes donations from criminals, dictators, and countries that hate America," never mind who. Never mind identifying an actual issue of substance about the email server.

This Trump ad about Hillary "corruption" is every bit as sleazy and odious as the Willie Horton ad. It makes false allegations about Clinton's net worth, and it links the Clinton Foundation and its donors to the emails "scandal" as if there were a real scandal, or as if these things had anything to do with each other.  But whereas the Willie Horton ad represented a shameful aberration and was not reflective of George H.W. Bush's true character, this Trump ad expresses the very essence of Donald Trump.  "I'm Donald Trump and I approved this ad," he says.

We cannot be sending someone with Trump's character into the Oval Office. Voting ends tomorrow, so fingers crossed.

You can follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

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