There's been a lot of hand-wringing about the negativity we have seen so far in this presidential campaign that started really, in essence, the day after President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012.
It just 'seems' like an eternity, doesn't it?
If there was one thing we could or should do to restore some tiny sliver of sanity to our presidential politics, it would be to return to the days of when the intensity of a presidential campaign didn't start up until after Labor Day, took a brief hiatus during the World Series at the end of October and mercifully ended the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November every 4 years.
Don't really know how to do it since campaigning and spending money to get elected are part of everyone's protected right to free speech and all that. So get ready for the next presidential campaign for 2020 to start, well, it has already started for the ones who were vanquished in the primaries this year plus others who want to be President because they 'just know' they are better suited than either of the 2 nominees this year, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Two things seem to be going on nowadays:
- Not many younger people seem to have read much history
- The faux 'indignation!' of the major news channels, cable and radios talk show hosts is a ruse to keep you, the political news consumer, coming back for more so the more titillating the news story, the higher their ratings which drives their ad revenues to ever higher levels which leads to more profits for all the 'bad' corporations which includes liberal outlets such as NBC, ABC, CBS and MSNBC.
If you read any history about presidential politics in America, you will quickly discover that negative campaigning has been with us from the beginning and Founding of our Republic. George Washington was the only person to ever run unopposed and elected unanimously by the Electoral College.
It has all been downhill since.
John Adams, or one of the political operatives behind John Adams, is attributed as saying the following about Thomas Jefferson, the Writer of Our Declaration of Independence, for goodness sakes!:
"(Mr. Jefferson) was nothing but a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father, as was well known in the neighborhood where he was raised, wholly on hoe-cake (made of course-ground Southern corn), bacon, and hominy, with an occasional change of fricasseed bullfrog, for which abominable reptiles he had acquired a taste during his residence among the French in Paris, to whom there could be no question he would sell his country at the first offer made to him cash down, should he be elected to fill the Presidential chair"
In response, Mr. Jefferson, who was a Governor of Virginia in addition to many other important positions, or those in his political camp such as James Callender, called Mr. Adams, the sitting Vice-President of the United States! at the time:
"(A) hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."
(click through title link of this post if you want to see video content of Adams/Jefferson feud. And really, who doesn't enjoy seeing political fights even from the early 19th century?)
We worked with Lee Atwater on our re-election campaign in 1986, who, if nothing else, was one of the latest in the direct line of campaign operatives that originated with James Callender and which includes James Carville and David Axelrod and Paul Manafort who is now running the Trump campaign.
Lee was part of the Republican campaign consulting firm, Black, Manafort, Stone and Atwater in the 1980s which didn't lose many campaigns. One of Lee's guiding principles was to find ways that would drive up the 'negatives' or unfavorable ratings of his candidate client's opponents over 40%.
'If you can do that, you candidate will not lose!' he would say with the thought being that voters will vote against a candidate who is viewed as being more detrimental than the other with more emotion and certitude than they vote 'for' all the the favorable ratings of your candidate could ever imagine.
The psychological and emotional effects of a negative impression of a person you may know is far more impactful on your decision to spend time with them in any way than any multitude of favorable attributes that person might have.
We learned from the 'Positive Coaching Alliance' that it takes between 7-10 positive comments from a coach to rebuild the attitude of any young player for every 1 negative comment.
The same can be said about voting for a presidential candidate. And if you hear 10,000 absolutely outlandish, and in the case of Mitt Romney's character assassination by the Obama campaign, untrue and unfounded ads about his business career and integrity, there is not enough time to run 100,000 positive ads that you will see to unwind the damage of those negative ads.
Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis was on the receiving end of one of Lee's more famous attacks ads, the 'Willie Horton' ads in 1988. He pointed out that his campaign thought they could run a totally positive campaign, despite having hammered former Missouri Dick Gephardt as being a 'flip-flopper' to win the Democratic primary in the first place.
He was proven wrong.
'Negative ads are the crack cocaine of politics' former Democratic Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle often said in public. *
GOP campaign consultant Mike Murphy, who despite having $150 million this year to help Jeb!(Bush) (sic) win the Republican nomination, which didn't happen, is credited with saying: “(T)he only difference between negative and positive ads is that negative ads have facts in them.”**
President Obama used negative ads in 2012 to bludgeon the formerly sterling reputation of Mitt Romney into an unrecognizable pulp to win re-election to the White House.
Former Republican Bill Clinton destroyed long-term Republican Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole long before the general election was held in November, 1996 with a series of negative attacks, many of which were unanswered which is the absolute worst thing any candidate can allow happen in politics.
So get ready for a barrage of negative ads from both the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns.
You ain't seen nothing yet. Trust us.
Apparently the threshold for Lee Atwater's negative ratings is now 70% since both candidates seem to be heading that way on their own.
Imagine what will happen when each side helps them get there.
quotes * and ** from great article 'Nuke 'Em' by Frank Rich. Read this if you want a more full summary of negative ads in American politics from the beginning through Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman to LBJ on Goldwater to today. You will notice not too much is different