The ad is notable not because it’s the first conservative PAC ad against Sanders. It’s the first one that does not look like an in-joke meant to help him. “Sanders’s Answer” is quite a contrast with “Too Liberal,” an ad that Todd Ricketts’s* Ending Spending Action Fund put $600,000 behind in Iowa. The intention was spelled out in the happy stock footage and screengrabs chosen to portray Sanders as unelectable — “raise taxes on Wall Street,” “Medicare for all.” On mute, it looked like a pro-Sanders ad, as Hillary Clinton’s campaign argued that it basically was.
The Future 45 spot is more subtly taking the form of an actual negative ad. The viewer is asked to consider whether a minimum wage hike or bank tax would kill jobs. The kicker quote from Sanders, for example, is surgically removed from its context in a CNN town hall hosted by Chris Cuomo.
“Yes, we will raise taxes. Yes, we will,” Sanders said at the time. “But also let us be clear, Chris, because there’s a little bit of disingenuity (sic) out there, we may raise taxes, but we are also going to eliminate private health insurance premiums for individuals and for businesses.”
Still, the new ad's targets are carefully chosen. A 2015 poll conducted by supporters of a minimum wage hike found a majority of all voters — and 92 percent of Democrats — supporting it. Clinton, too, supports a hike in the minimum wage, to just $12 per hour, but that is strategically left out of the spot.
Similarly, the idea of a “tax on Wall Street,” framed just that way, is a blockbuster. Up to 71 percent of Democrats have told pollsters they favor that idea. Both Donald Trump and Jeb Bush have juiced their tax plans with rules that would hit big investors; in Bush’s case, taxing carried interest as income, instead of subjecting it to the lower capital gains tax. Neither ad mentions Sanders’s specific idea of a 0.5 percent speculation fee on hedge funds.
Supporters of Clinton, asked to explain the polls that show Sanders faring much better than her against Republicans, argue that he has never been attacked as she has. The Future 45 and Ending Spending spots serve dual roles. They “attack” Sanders, and point to how he could be defined in a general election. They also remind Democrats of the issues where Sanders agree with them most.
“After fighting to a tie in IA and winning N.H. by huge margins, with Clinton’s campaign talking staff changes, messaging shifts and lowering expectations in NV, Sanders is arguably the front-runner at this time," said Brian O. Walsh, the Republican strategist who serves as president of Future 45. “The ad is holding him accountable for his socialist policy promises that would raise taxes on the American middle class.”
*Update: The name of Todd Ricketts has been corrected.