I don’t think John Boozman has anything to worry about in a state as red as Arkansas but who knows anymore. If Mississippi’s in play, everything’s in play. And ads like this will be running in every state, especially ones where Republican incumbents are more vulnerable than Boozman. This is why the smart money is on a Democratic Senate next year.
As for the presidential election, my pal Karl makes a good point. It’s not just Hillary’s ads that Trump will have to contend with. It’s hundreds of millions of dollars in ads by Democrats down-ballot airing his greatest hits in hope of making them stick to congressional Republicans. If you’re a Republican candidate, you can either run away from Trump and risk annoying Trump fans whose support you need or you can run towards him and be grilled by the media about stuff like this for months.
The biggest headache for Democrats in crafting an anti-Trump message this fall may be the sheer volume of material. Do you pick a few key lines of attack, like comments about women and his more con-artist-y business ventures like Trump University and hammer at those, or do you try a comprehensive “Trump is the worst” plan and throw everything at the wall to see what sticks? I’m not so sure the second strategy is better than the first. You would think that having too much oppo material is a nice problem to have, but one of the reasons the “con artist” attacks on Trump in the GOP primary didn’t gain much traction, I think, is that some voters may have become inured to Trump oppo at that point. (I’m talking about soft Trump supporters. The hardcore ones, whom he had in mind when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and they’d stick with him, have always been unpersuadable.) It doesn’t take much to establish that he’s a bad guy, particularly since he’s been nationally famous since the mid-80s. I think voters tend to make up their minds quickly on whether he’s so bad that they can never vote for him, and once those who can decide that they can, they’re pretty much deaf to anything new that’s brought to their attention afterward.
If I’m right about that then the order in which Democrats bring up lines of attack against him may matter. If they try a bunch of ads like this up front, accusing him of being callous towards women, some chunk of swing voters may decide “bah, that’s political correctness” and then go deaf to other attacks, like Trump University, that are still to come. There’s basic psychology at work there: Once you’ve determined that you’re willing to invest emotionally in someone whom many others insist is bad, you’ll go a long way to protect your investment even if new evidence is offered that your determination is wrong. No one wants to admit they got conned. So it may be that ads like this start to flower and Trump’s national polls take an initial hit but then never drop much further even as Democrats are rolling through his corporate bankruptcies, chumminess with Putin, and on and on. Honestly, who’s still making up their minds about Trump at this point, in either party? How low-information does a voter need to be to have somehow avoided the last 10 months of news coverage entirely? How many undecideds are going to sit through one wave of brutal attack ads after another, each on a different subject, for month after month while resolutely remaining undecided until Democrats find that one perfect argument that finally tips them over towards Hillary? If there’s a strong anti-Trump break among the electorate, it should come early, not late.
Exit quotation from Trump supporter John Phillips, setting up Trump’s alt-right fans for heartbreak: “If Donald Trump is going to win the general election, he’s going to have to prove to the public that he’s not Adolf Hitler, which is going to be easy for him to do.”