$50m on ads calling Trump ‘unhinged’ show Biden is finally on the attack

Donald Trump is a felon. And an “unhinged” one.

Anyone with a passing interest in the news will be aware of these assertions. But the Democratic Party has finally decided to shout about them – and go on the attack.

So far in this pivotal US election year, most questions about mental fitness have been asked of the incumbent, Joe Biden. But as Trump’s, slurred, rambling and nonsensical speeches become difficult to ignore, Democrats are looking to make the election a referendum on Biden’s opponent.

The Democratic Party, in a bid to shrink President Joe Biden’s stubborn deficit in the polls, will spend $50m (£40m) this month telling – or reminding – American voters that the great orange grifter appears to be losing his marbles, and is now, officially, a convicted criminal after guilty verdicts on 34 felony counts in the New York hush money case.

Biden’s aides say their new advertising campaign will highlight the stark choice facing voters before the first of two planned TV debates between Biden and Trump, which is scheduled for 27 June.

The campaign includes more than $1m specifically geared towards media reaching black, Hispanic and Asian American voters. The advert will be broadcast on mainstream and connected TV on streaming devices and mobile phones in battleground states, as well as on national cable.

In addition to Trump’s criminal conviction, the ad, titled “Character Matters,” notes the former president was also found liable for sexual assault and financial fraud in other cases.

“This election is between a convicted criminal who’s only out for himself and a president who’s fighting for your family,” a voiceover declares over images of a Trump mugshot and Biden high-fiving supporters.

The Democratic Party ads will also highlight some of the extreme and populist plans that Trump and his far-right policy advisers have planned for a Trump II administration.

(FILES) This combination of pictures created on February 16, 2022 shows former US President Donald Trump during a visit to the border wall near Pharr, Texas on June 30, 2021; and US President Joe Biden during a visit to Germanna Community College in Culpeper, Virginia, on February 10, 2022. Biden and Trump will face off in a 90-minute debate with mutable microphones, CNN broadcaster CNN said on June 15, 2024, as it laid ground rules for the first in-person clash between the pair ahead of November's election. The rules for the June 27 debate, which will have two hosts and no studio audience, were agreed by the Biden and Trump campaigns, according to CNN. (Photo by Sergio FLORES and Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by SERGIO FLORESBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Joe Biden will face each other in a TV debate later this month (Photo: Sergio Flores/Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

The Democrats’ campaign will seek to portray Trump as a “spiralling and unhinged man who will do anything for power, revenge, and retribution”, it said in a press release.

But will the attacks ads cut through?

Committed Democrat voters don’t need to be told who or what Trump is. And MAGA voters will not believe it.

Recent polls suggest that more than half of Americans, and almost all Republicans, believe that Donald Trump’s recently completed trial in New York was politically motivated.

Some Democrats have already voiced doubts on whether Trump’s criminal record matters that much – particularly to the floating voters who will decide the outcome of the election on 5 November. Successive polls have indicated that their core concerns are inflation, the cost of rents and immigration – subjects on which Trump polls better than Biden.

“It’ll have an effect, but a fairly small effect,” Ed Rendell, the Democrat former governor of battleground state Pennsylvania said this month, when Trump was convicted in the hush money case. “I don’t think we can count on it. We’ve got to get out and win the election talking about the things that are important.”

However, the latest Politico/Ipsos poll, out on Monday suggests Trump’s conviction might be costly. The survey found that 21 per cent of independents “said the conviction made them less likely to support Trump and that it would be an important factor in their vote”.

Trump is leading Biden by 1.1 percentage points in national polls, according to a polling average by the political website Fivethirtyeight.com – a deficit well within the margin of error. More worrying for Biden, polls indicate that Trump has the edge in five of the six swing states – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – that most Democrat and Republican strategists think will decide the election in November.

Some leading analysts, however, say the Democrats attack adverts make sense.

“I think these ads are the best course for Biden, and it’s pretty clear that his campaign thinks so, too,” says Todd Belt, a professor of political science at George Washington University. “They tried the ‘Bidenomics’ strategy only to find that when they bring up the economy, people think only about one thing – inflation.

“Focusing on the economy makes it a ‘referendum’ election on Biden’s time in office, and his campaign would much rather make it a ‘choice’ election between chaos and normalcy. They see this as their best play. It also coincides with most voters’ feelings that this is a ‘lesser of two evils’ election, so they are reminding people of the dangers of a second Trump administration to play into that voter tradeoff calculus.”

“Negative political ads have been proven to be extremely effective, particularly on undecided voters,” says Patricia Crouse, a political scientist, at the University of New Haven. “But a candidate does have to be careful not to overuse negative advertising or the voters start to tune out. I think Biden is probably waiting for the [TV] debate to distinguish himself from Trump on the actual issues.”

Other commentators have said that the TV confrontations will offer Biden a good chance to make up ground. Trump’s former White House spokesman-turned-critic, Anthony Scaramucci, has even predicted that Trump “will get his clock cleaned” by an underrated Biden in the TV encounters.