A ‘Mirror’ into Clinton’s campaign

By Edridge D'Souza

(Bryce Vickmark/Zuma Press/TNS)
(Bryce Vickmark/Zuma Press/TNS)

The Hillary Clinton Campaign recently released the iconic ad “Mirrors”, featuring clips of young girls looking at themselves in the mirror, overlaid with audio statements of Donald Trump making degrading comments toward women. “I’d look her right in that fat, ugly face of hers,” he states, as the video cuts between clips of young girls with somber expressions, staring at themselves in the mirror. The video is only half a minute long, but has already received much attention from commentators who have drawn parallels between this ad and the Clinton campaign’s previous ad “Role Models,” which features young children watching the news as the GOP nominee made several statements mocking the disabled, advocating violence and using crass language.

Clinton’s ads check all the typical boxes of a campaign ad: They feature serious music to tug at the heartstrings, capitalize on the ‘think of the children’ vote and generally succeed in their goal of making her opponent look bad. However, the most striking feature of this series of ads isn’t that her campaign is adding on new commentary. Rather, they’re simply publicizing the ugliest parts of Donald Trump’s public statements. They work even devoid of a broader context, highlighting the most egregious statements that would usually have disqualified any other candidate.

This is a part of a political strategy that usually works only in debates. In the 2012 election, President Barack Obama’s iconic “Please proceed, governor” embodied the old rhetorical device of standing and doing nothing while your opponent shoots themselves in the foot. In any other election, this would be the preferred strategy – Clinton would simply show up to the first debate and wait for Trump to say something that would be considered a gaffe if anyone else had said it. She wouldn’t need to actively attack him as much as sidestep his attacks while waiting for him to say something wrong.

However, if we’ve learned anything in the past year of this campaign, it’s that Trump has mastered the art of avoiding gaffes by doubling down on them and insisting that he’s correct: the infamous Megyn Kelly quip, his defense of his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s battery of a journalist and countless other controversial comments. Whereas Howard Dean is infamous for losing the 2004 Democratic Party nomination because of an awkward scream, the media’s low expectations of Donald Trump has allowed him to get away with openly mocking a reporter’s physical disability with hardly any consequence.

It’s fitting, then, that since we’re now focusing on the general election, Clinton’s strategy for attacking Trump doesn’t involve adding her own commentary. However, unlike past elections, she cannot simply sit idly and trust that the media will report Trump’s controversial comments with a negative spin. Rather, by the example set in these two ads, it’s become clear that her way forward is to control the narrative without saying anything. By cherry picking the worst parts of Trump’s public statements, of which there’s no shortage, she can make voters aware of the sort of person Trump is; the voters can then supply their own commentary without her campaign ever needing to say a word.

Of course, there are those for whom an ad cannot change their minds. Some voters are dead-set on keeping Clinton out of office and will vote for Trump no matter what. The Clinton campaign’s strategy evidently isn’t tailored toward them. However, she’s taking advantage of the fact that some of Trump’s statements are more distasteful than others. For several weeks during the Democratic National Convention’s post-convention bump, Trump’s statements against the Gold Star Khan family reduced his probability of winning by fivefold.

Clinton’s strategy from here on doesn’t involve focusing primarily on policy. Instead, the way forward seems to be figuring out which one of Trump’s statements will cause the most negative backlash if given more scrutiny by ordinary people. It goes without saying that this election is about breaking the traditional campaign rules and Clinton’s “Mirrors” gives us a glimpse into what kind of general election we’ll see after the first debate.

Edridge D’Souza is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].