Once upon a time, people running for office worked on making people like them. Not anymore, at least not in this presidential campaign. This one is all about making people hate the other side, or, more precisely, making sure those who dislike the other major party's nominee don't stop doing so before election day.
As often has been remarked, neither the Democrat or Republican candidate is widely loved. In fact, Americans are more likely to view both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in a dim light than to smile benignly on either one. More people dislike Trump than Clinton but it seems a few of these are prepared to hold their nose and vote for him anyway. Nate Silver from FiveThirtyEight explains it thus:
He’s still at only 37% or 38% in national polls that include third-party candidates. That might seem like an easy number to improve upon, but his favorability rating is only about 35%, meaning that he’s already relying on support from a few voters who don’t like him but may vote for him to prevent a Clinton presidency.
While Clinton is still comfortably ahead in national polling at about 43%, she's lost a few points in recent weeks. Not too much to cause any panic, but clearly the race isn't over yet. Last week, as the Clinton Foundation threatened to increase the perception she was untrustworthy, she kept hitting away at Trump, saying he pandered to racist extremists. Meanwhile, Trump accused her of being 'too ethically challenged' to lead the country. It's clear both sides believe there is only one route to the White House: attack, attack, attack.
This has been the Clinton campaign strategy for some time. Here's Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, in his role as the Lowy Institute's Distinguished Fellow, speaking to an audience in Melbourne last week:
Clinton advisers told me, back before either convention, 'David we are not going to talk about policy during this campaign. We are going to put 70% or our money and effort into telling the country this man is temparemantlly unfit to be president. That is our message'.
And they have a lot of money to spend. Folks in swing states are being bombarded with ads that depict Trump as a poor role model for children, a loose cannon who could unleash nuclear war, and a president who would invite the Klu Klux Klan to run the country.. No doubt there are others in the works.
As night follows day, Trump (with the help of newly installed campaign director Steve Bannon) will up the ante on his 'crooked Hillary' message as well.
Here's a salient reminder of how Bannon views the world, courtesy of David Catanese at USNews.
During a 2013 panel about the conservative movement, Bannon spoke about the insurgent populist wave on the center-right that could easily describe Trump's candidacy.
"It's going to continue to hammer this city, both the progressive left and the institutional Republican Party," he said. "Everything that we see and every trend that we see is very strong to ... really an outsider's voice and an outsider's movement to really take their country back. By the way, I think anger's a good thing. If you're fighting to save this country, if you're fighting to take this country back, it's not going to be sunshine and patriots, it's going to be people who want to fight."
Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt ranks the attack dog mentality about even on both sides:
Throughout American history some elections have been driven by resentment and revenge. 2016 seems to me to be one of those, ranking with the 1968 vote after a year of tears, misery and war, as well as the “Bloody Shirt” elections following the Civil War.
Only a relatively few voters are marching door to door this year inspired by Hillary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s personal stories of triumph over long odds or their promises of a new morning in America.
Quite a few are campaigning because they are very, very ticked off at one thing or another — or many things.
Whatever the source of the resentments, the degree of vitriol all around has reached levels not seen since Nixon’s era.
So it's not your imagination; this is a really nasty business, and one that's likely to get even more brutal as the weeks tick down.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images