You’d think Republicans would be satisfied to stand on their merits in the Senate race in TN, where Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker is running even or ahead of Rep. Harold Ford in most polls.Instead, the Republican National Committee is running ads against Ford that range from despicable and quasi-racist smears to basic lies about his voting record.If you read a lot of blogs, you probably know about the so-called “bimbo” ad that the RNC ran and then was forced to take down. If you haven’t seen it, follow the link; it’s truly breathtaking. Nestled amidst several mischaracterizations of Harold Ford’s voting record, you see a trashy-flashy white woman who leeringly says she met Harold at “the Playboy Party,” presumably a heavy-handed allusion to Ford’s meaningless drive-by appearance at a 2000 Democratic Convention event sponsored by the Bunny Empire. And at the very end of the ad, the self-same trashy-flashy woman re-appears to wink and say: “Call me, Harold.”In case you didn’t know this, Harold Ford is a good-looking young African-American man. Thus, this ad was about as subtle as a Klan cross-burning. As a southerner, I really hate this kind of crap, and thought it had been buried decades ago. Apparently not.After pulling down the “bimbo ad,” the RNC immediately put up a new ad that avoids the overt racism, but that’s full of lies and distortions about Ford’s record, suggesting he is the champion of rampant pornography, state-sponsored teen abortions, and gay marriage.Anyone who has followed Ford’s career or his campaign understands that his voting record and his campaign message diverge from the RNC smears by about 180 degrees. Hell, my colleague The Moose, the very scourge of Democratic cultural liberalism, has suggested Harold Ford could and perhaps should become the first African-American president.I hope and pray that these attacks on Harold Ford will backfire, not just because Ford is a bright young rising star in the national Democratic constellation, but because his national and Tennessee GOP opponents have gone so far over the line to try to defeat him. Tennessee voters have an unparalleled opportunity to let the whole world know that the worst political wedge tactics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries won’t work, even in a culturally conservative red state. Personally, I’ll renounce my own Georgia-based prejudices and sing a couple of choruses of Rocky Top on Election Night if the Volunteer State sends Harold Ford to the Senate.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
I ran across a story on faulty focus group memories of Trump, and I wrote about the implications at New York.
As an unpopular president facing a sour electorate, Joe Biden really needs to make 2024 a comparative election rather than a straight referendum on his presidency. Luckily for him, his likely general-election opponent, Donald Trump, is equally unpopular for reasons that are quite vivid. He’s as well known as Biden, and he works very hard to reinforce the traits that might make an undecided voter (even one unhappy with Biden) reluctant to put him back in the White House. So half of Biden’s work in drawing contrasts is done for him, and part of the other half is made easy for him by Trump’s strongest supporters, the “deplorables” (to use the Hillary Clinton term that has become a MAGA badge of honor) who enjoy shocking the world by advertising their hero’s most questionable characteristics.
It is becoming apparent, however, that Trump’s potential coalition is being augmented by low-information voters with a hazy understanding of the Trumpier features of the 45th president’s record, character, and agenda. By that I do not mean the non-college-educated voters who make up so large a part of the Trump base. Many if not most of them are pretty educated about their candidate. But there’s evidence that disengaged and/or deeply alienated folks who may nonetheless vote in a presidential election (if not any others) don’t know as much about Trump as you might assume, as the New York Times’ Patrick Healey has observed:
“Our latest Times Opinion focus group discussion with 13 undecided independent voters included a striking result: 11 of the 13 said they would vote for Donald Trump if the election were held now, and only two said they would vote for President Biden. The reason: overwhelming concern about the economy.
“But I was less surprised by the big vote for Trump than by this: The group didn’t blame Trump for things he was responsible or accountable for.
“For instance, several people linked their economic troubles to COVID, but they didn’t put any blame on Trump for that. Some were upset with the end of abortion rights nationally, but they didn’t tie that to Trump’s Supreme Court appointments. Several wanted bipartisanship, but they didn’t blame Trump for his hand in sinking the recent bipartisan border deal. One person, a Latina, blamed Trump for worsening racism in the country and recounted a searing incident that happened to her — but she was among the 11 who would vote for him anyway.”
Healey concludes that “a lot of our focus-group participants — and many voters — see Trump as an acceptable option in November, yet they don’t know or remember a lot about him.” This makes them, of course, highly susceptible to Trump campaign messaging asserting that the economy during his presidency was the greatest ever; that he’s a natural peacemaker who inspired respect for the United States everywhere; and that he’s a decent, law-abiding businessman (and family man!) whose near-constant forced court appearances are uniformly the product of his persecution by the other party.
Democrats, of course, will have opportunities (and increasingly, an obligation) to set the record straight about Trump and his presidency. But the difficult thing is that low-information voters also tend to be low-trust voters, which means they don’t tend to believe traditional arbiters of objective reality like the mainstream news media, and may not grant more truthful politicians superior credibility. Further distorting understanding of the Trump administration (and thus its possible return) is the huge trauma associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which gives everything that immediately preceded the disaster an undeserved glow, while immolating memories of less powerful traumas associated with the former president’s tenure.
In other words, low-information voters who dislike politics so much that they are not inclined to dig into facts and evidence touching on political topics are highly vulnerable to the kind of disinformation that benefits Donald Trump. And if they are in a bad mood in November, they could help turn the election into a negative referendum on Joe Biden even if they are inviting something — and someone — far worse. Democrats will have to work hard to break through with the truth.