Trump a most valuable aide in Clinton’s TV adverts battle

Republican’s own words used in ads to undermine him - and they have hit the mark

Between feats of American athletic greatness being televised from the Olympics in Rio, one Hillary Clinton TV advert running against her rival Donald Trump has stood out.

The ad is based entirely on the New York businessman's appearance on David Letterman's Late Show in October 2012. Letterman gives Trump plenty of rope, discussing where the ties and shirts from the Trump clothing collection are manufactured.

“These were made – I don’t know where they were made, but they were made some place – but they’re great. It’s ties, shirts, cufflinks, everything, sold at Macys. And they’re doing great,” says the billionaire, trying to feign ignorance at where his shirts are made.

Off-camera, someone tells Letterman that the shirts are made in Bangladesh. "Well, that's good. We employ people in Bangladesh. They have to work too," Trump says, awkwardly.


Nervous grimacing

"They are great ties," the reality TV stars declares when Letterman moves on to them. The talk-show host points out that the ties are made in China. Cue laughter from the crowd and nervous grimacing and embarrassed shrugging from Trump. (A longer excerpt of the interview online shows Trump in the same interview complain about America's place as "the world leader" being usurped by China.)

The clip is just a sample of the deep pool of material that Clinton has been drawing from to hurt Trump, pointing out his hypocrisy and casting him as a man who, contrary to his campaign rhetoric, has not fought for working- and middle-class Americans and is temperamentally unfit and indeed too dangerous to become “commander-in-chief”.

Another strong pro-Clinton ad called “Role Models” shows the faces of sombre-looking children reacting to clips of Trump’s most inflammatory statements from his campaign.

The Clinton camp has been using Trump’s words in their campaign ads to undermine his candidacy and they have hit the mark. Ad experts argue that the most effective and credible negative ads are those that use the candidate’s own words against them.

Coinciding with these ads, Trump's poll numbers have fallen nationally and in battleground states, so much so that Clinton and the pro-Clinton Priorities USA super PAC – a political action committee that can raise unlimited sums and run ads independently of a candidate – has paused their TV ad campaigns in the key states of Virginia, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

Incendiary comments

And Trump’s response to Clinton’s attack ads? He has not spent a cent on TV advertising, sticking to his primary campaign strategy of relying on his celebrity profile at mass rallies and dominating the news cycle with incendiary comments. In a head-to-head race that is, for the most part, about swing voters, these remarks are backfiring and fuelling Clinton’s strategy.

"The rules are you define yourself, you define your opponent and you define the stakes in this election. She has done a pretty good job of defining Trump as a crazy person," said Neil Oxman, co-founder of the Campaign Group, a Democratic firm that makes political ads.

“He gets the MVP [Most Valuable Player] award for making himself the issue in this election. She couldn’t have done it without his help.”

Almost $100 million (€88 million) has been spent on general-election TV advertising in the past two months and the bulk of this, about $89 million, has been by Clinton or pro-Clinton groups, according to ad data firm Advertising Analytics. Even the Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein have spent more than Trump.

Erroneous denials

There has not been total TV silence from the Trump side. A pro-Trump super PAC, Rebuilding America, has spent about $5 million on material including a hard-hitting ad running during the Olympics coverage comparing Bill and Hillary Clinton's past erroneous denials – his over his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky and hers in connection with her personal emails.

A day after announcing an overhaul of his campaign team and plans to stick to the primary "let Trump be Trump" strategy, his campaign started placing ads on Thursday in four battleground states – Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, albeit in the final days of the Olympics.

This time four years ago, then Republican nominee Mitt Romney had spent an estimated $2.8 million during the 2012 Olympics on NBC, the US channel that owned the broadcast rights, while Barack Obama's campaign spent an estimated $4.5 million.

“It’s not too late for Trump. There are 11 weeks and five days to go. This is not yet Reagan-Mondale, Nixon-McGovern or Johnson-Goldwater,” said Oxman, referring to the biggest landslide victories dating back to 1964.