The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion This brutal new ad portrays Donald Trump as a full-blown sociopath

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)


One of the assumptions guiding top Democrats as they prepare to face Donald Trump is this: While Trump’s media ubiquity has rendered him highly visible and well known to the American people in a general sense, many voters are not acquainted with the full range of all the specific things he’s said and done, in all their wretched and depraved glory.

With the news dominated by reports that Hillary Clinton is now the presumptive nominee, based on an Associated Press tally of anonymous super-delegates, her Super PAC, Priorities USA, has unleashed a new wave of advertising in swing states that is focused solely on Trump’s belittling of a disabled reporter:

Super Pac Priorities USA released an add on June 7 attacking Donald Trump on his remarks regarding the disabled. (Video: Priorities USA)

The ad is running in seven swing states — Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Iowa — and it’s backed by a $4 million buy for its first week, as part of a broader $20 million buy between now and the conventions.

Note that this ad doesn’t merely show footage of Trump mocking the reporter. It shows a family with a disabled daughter discussing how hurt and shocked they were to see him abusing someone with a similar disability.

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The spot is another sign that Democrats think they can render Trump unacceptably toxic before a general election audience by relentlessly spotlighting his profound cruelty — as displayed by Trump himself. This strain runs through much of the evolving Democratic critique of Trump and, more broadly, of Trumpism. In one early tell, the Clinton campaign released a web video recapping footage of Trump calling for mass deportations and a ban on Muslims, and linking those to his vow to revive torture and take out terrorists’ families. More recently, Elizabeth Warren’s big speech pillorying Trump focused hard on his suggestion that he relished making a profit off a housing crash, but crucially, she argued that his own quotes revealed his cruel, cavalier attitude towards the millions of people who would be badly hurt by it.

And in Clinton’s own recent speech, she repeatedly hit Trump as dangerously unfit for the presidency, due to his lack of experience and dangerously incoherent ideas, but she went much further, essentially portraying him as a full blown sociopath. Dems are also circulating new reports that Trump privately urged his surrogates to keep up the bigoted attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Mexican-American heritage, and to keep arguing that he is unfit to preside over a case involving Trump, given his pledge to carry out mass deportations. Not to put too fine a point on it, but arguing that Mexican-Americans might be hostile towards Trump because he wants to carry out the forced removal of millions of illegal immigrants is how Trump is defending himself.

As I’ve argued, the strategic imperative against Trump is similar to the one Dems faced with Mitt Romney, but with a crucial difference. In 2012, voters seemed inclined to grant Romney the presumption of technocratic ability on the economy. Similarly, some polls now show Trump with an advantage on the economy over Clinton. Then, as now, Dems need to drive home to voters that, whatever economic know-how the GOP nominee possesses, he is not actually on their side. In 2012, they painted Romney as an aloof, plutocratic symbol of the cruelties of outsourcing and globalization. In the case of Trump, their focus is increasingly on Trump’s personal cruelty — not just in business, but also from the perch of his newfound media dominance. The calculation is that once general election voters are fully exposed to Trump’s seeming delight in marginalizing and abusing people — individuals and groups alike — they’ll find it horrifying. His cruel derangement will render him unelectable.


 * CLINTON IS PROJECTED TO WIN NOMINATION: The AP has called the nomination battle for Clinton, prompting this response from the Sanders campaign:

“It is unfortunate that the media, in a rush to judgement, are ignoring the Democratic National Committee’s clear statement that it is wrong to count the votes of superdelegates before they actually vote at the convention this summer.”

It is true that the outcome is unofficial at this point. But after today’s voting, Clinton will have clinched a majority of the pledged delegates, rendering Sanders’s ongoing case for fighting on untenable.

* THE FINAL FORECASTS: FiveThirtyEight’s final forecasts find that Hillary Clinton has a 90 percent chance of beating Bernie Sanders in California today, with a projected outcome of 53-45. She has a greater than 99 percent chance of winning in New Jersey, with a projected outcome of 66-32.

However, the HuffPollster averages have California much closer, at 48-44. Whoever wins, the delegates there are very likely to be split, which means that, thanks to New Jersey, Clinton has a chance at expanding her delegate lead, depending on outcomes in the other voting states.

* SANDERS HOPING FOR MASSIVE WIN IN CALIFORNIA: The Post’s write-up of the current state of the Democratic primary notes this:

Sanders is banking on a stellar performance in California, the most populous state in the nation, to bolster his argument that scores of superdelegates should switch allegiance from Clinton to him between now and the Democratic convention in late July….Sanders has already effectively ceded New Jersey — the second-biggest prize on Tuesday — to Clinton. Without a sweeping victory in California, he may not have much of a case left to make.

And so, even if Sanders wins in a tight outcome, it doesn’t do much for him.

 * PAUL RYAN ROLLS OUT POVERTY AGENDA: The House Speaker today will introduce the first installment in his forthcoming poverty agenda. Politico’s John Bresnahan reports:

The GOP recommendations include: expanded work requirements for those receiving federal welfare, food or housing assistance; more “flexibility” for state and local governments to improve programs, although what that means isn’t always fully defined; consolidation of dozens of existing federal programs into fewer, better run efforts; improved accountability for federal programs while “rewarding” those which show the best results; more effectively target those Americans in greatest need of help; and reducing waste and duplication.

More work requirements and more authority to the states. Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress is releasing a detailed progressive poverty and opportunity blueprint for contrast.

 * THE SUPER-DELEGATES ARE UNLIKELY TO FLIP: Nate Cohn provides key context on why Bernie Sanders is unlikely to get super-delegates to switch to his side:

It’s not likely that there’s a big pool of delegates who pledged to her a year ago and have since switched. If anything, these early supporters are likely to be her strongest backers….The news networks projected that Mr. Obama was the presumptive nominee in the 2008 Democratic primary based on the same rules for tabulating superdelegates. Mrs. Clinton did not decide it was worth taking the fight to the convention.

They just aren’t going to switch. Sanders has been suggesting otherwise mainly to keep his supporters engaged while the voting is still going on.

* PELOSI THROWS SUPPORT TO CLINTON: House Dem leader Nancy Pelosi, who had remained neutral throughout, endorsed Clinton this morning. From her statement:

In this campaign, we have seen her vision, her knowledge, her ability, indeed her stamina, to get the job done for the American people. I congratulate and thank Senator Bernie Sanders for the great invigoration he is bringing to the presidential primary, and welcome the political and intellectual participation of his supporters to advance our shared fight for progress for the American people.

Look for more of this: As top Dems come off the sidelines, they’ll take special care to speak to the future role of Sanders supporters.

* AND REPUBLICANS FRET ABOUT TRUMP DAMAGE: The Washington Examiner channels Republicans’ mounting worries about getting damaged by Trump’s controversies:

Republican insiders say that their party’s elected officials, none of whom have Trump’s fame or detachment from the GOP brand, have reason to worry. Endorsing Trump, which most have done, makes them responsible for everything he says….politically, voters tend to associate down ballot candidates with the top of the ticket. And no down-ticket candidate will ever get as much air time and attention as a presidential nominee, especially one such as Trump.

It would be an amusing outcome if the very thing that has enabled Trump to get this far — his ability to command media attention — ended up maximizing the damage to the party.