By MARSHA MERCER
Since businessman Donald Trump glided down the
escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for president in June 2015,
he has stoked fear.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending
their best,” he said that day. “They’re sending people that have lots of
problems, and they’re bringing those problems . . . they’re bringing drugs.
They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
In the home stretch of the 2020 campaign, Trump is running
as the law and order president, claiming Democrats will tolerate lawlessness.
“You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” he warns,
raising the specter of anarchists running loose to loot, burn and obliterate
American cities whose police have been defunded by Biden and “radical socialist
Former Vice President Biden does not support defunding
the police and has made clear rioters, looters and arsonists should be
“Donald Trump keeps telling us if he was president,
you’d feel safe. Well, he is president – whether he knows it or not,” Biden
Fear is a time-tested campaign tool used by both
parties to excite voters. More than half a century ago this week – on Sept. 7,
1964 -- perhaps the most effective presidential campaign ad in history aired on
Known as “Daisy,” the 60-second, black-and white spot
for President Lyndon B. Johnson shows a little girl counting as she picks
petals off a daisy. An ominous male voice then counts down to a nuclear blast,
and the camera focuses on the child’s eye, which transforms into a massive,
fiery mushroom cloud.
“These are the stakes,” Johnson intones in a
voiceover. “To make a world in which all God’s children can live, or to go into
the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.”
The Daisy ad was shocking at the time, but it’s more
subtle than campaign ads we see today.
It didn’t even mention Barry Goldwater, LBJ’s Republican
opponent, and it ran only once – although it aired repeatedly on talk shows and
Goldwater was already
trailing Johnson, so it’s unclear how much the ad contributed to Johnson’s
landslide victory of 486 electoral votes to Goldwater’s 52.
To win reelection, Trump doesn’t need to scare vast
numbers of people into voting for him – just enough to carry the battleground
states, as he did in 2016.
But will it work? In 2018, Republicans wielded the
cudgel of fear in congressional races, and Democrats still flipped about 40
House seats to regain control.
Trump’s strategy is to attack Biden with everything
and the kitchen sink.
Biden wants to raise your taxes, offshore your job,
throw open the borders, wage endless foreign wars, surrender to China and
destroy the suburbs, Trump says. That’s a hefty agenda for someone Trump derides
As technology accelerates, campaigns can target
digital ads to individual voters through social media in record time.
Hours after news broke of journalist Bob Woodward’s
bombshell book, “Rage,” a new Biden ad on Twitter played audio tape of Trump
saying to Woodward about COVID-19: “I wanted to always play it down . . . I still like playing it down.”
The ad faults Trump for failing to inform the public
accurately and blames him for tens of thousands of lost American lives.
“It’s unconscionable,” Biden tweeted. Trump maintains
he just wanted to avoid panic.
The anti-Trump Lincoln Project, founded by a group of
Republican operatives, fills social media with ads attacking Trump and Republican
A new Lincoln Project ad hits a new low. The ad shows hideous
pictures of flesh-eating parasites and likens Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican
of South Carolina, to a parasite.
Still, the worst in negative ads and fearmongering may
be yet to come.
Of the nearly 70,000 political television ads that ran
in the final days of the 2016 campaign, fewer than one in 10 were primarily
positive, according to a CNN analysis of data from Kantar Media/CMAG.
The reason is both parties believe, as Richard Nixon
did, that fear is a great motivator. Nixon’s speechwriter William Safire wrote
in his book “Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House”:
“People react to fear, not love – they don’t teach
that in Sunday School, but it’s true,” Nixon said.
©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.