Politics, and in particular elections, are all about persuasion. What can you say, and how can you frame it, to convince people to follow you? Or at least convince them to not follow the other candidate? Plenty of ads are aimed at firing up the base, getting people already on board extra-super-special excited, maybe excited enough to donate money or volunteer for the campaign. Maybe excited enough to talk to friends and family about considering to vote for you.
One thing unique about the 2020 presidential election is that a significant portion of the most high-profile advertising for Joe Biden has been about giving Republicans and other 2016 Trump voters a reason to reconsider their choice this time around. The Lincoln Project is a group of Republicans created around that very purpose. And given how tight many swing states were last time around, it’s no wonder this is where so much advertising money and energy is being spent: The Lincoln Project alone has spent nearly $28 million on anti-Trump ads.
So what are the anti-Trump ads that may be the most convincing to a committed Republican? Obviously this discounts anyone who would show up to one of the president’s Superspreaderpalooza’s or join a boat rally, which is too far down that rabbit hole. But maybe it’s your uncle who likes what he hears about the economy and taxes, and tries to forget “grab ’em by the pu$$y” and kids in cages ever happened. As the election draws near, I decided to try and find out.
Here are five that are perfectly tuned to appeal to different types of across-the-aisle voters.
This spot from the Biden campaign came out on October 9, and it’s a direct reaction to a September report in The Atlantic that said Trump called troops killed in combat “losers” and “suckers” (which Trump denied). It features retired Sergeant 1st Class Paul Cruz talking about how those comments made him feel. This is one aimed at Trump’s character as it applies to a crown jewel in Republican ideals, the military, and the disrespect it embodied.
This one narrowly beat out The Lincoln Project’s “Mattis,” which compares Marine General James Mattis’s record of service (he resigned as Trump’s secretary of defense in 2018) to Trump’s—The Commander vs. The Coward. The Biden ad pulls at the heartstrings a bit more, but watched together in succession, they tap into patriotism and service without Trump’s vapid jingoism.
The Dog Lover
Who doesn’t love a nice cuddly dog? This adorable spot from a group called Dog Lovers For Joe runs through presidential best friends over the decades, from both parties—until the current president of course. It’s a classic ‘Which of these doesn’t belong?’ trope with a cute and cuddly angle, but clearly drawing conclusions on Trump’s character based on his distinct lack of canine companionship. It’s a bit fluffy, but it’s also an entirely unexpected—and charming—angle.
This is one of the Biden campaign’s most recent and best ads. It works here because it’s not just about building up Joe, but instead aims to narrow the divide between Americans. Much like how Biden framed the approach to COVID-19 relief during the last presidential debate, here the contemplative tone of Sam Elliott’s voice-over declares there are no Democratic rivers or Republican mountains, just a country in need of a fresh start and a calmer, less chaotic, more optimistic outlook.
For once, Donald Trump is correct: I will listen to scientists. pic.twitter.com/jmxoDn1Ezp
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 20, 2020
The Biden campaign has struck gold before by using Trump’s own words against him, but that was fun pandering to the Dem base. Here he does it to illustrate the straight-up common sense involved in listening to scientists and medical experts when dealing with a global health pandemic. Definitely a I-can’t-believe-it’s-come-to-this moment.
The Manly Man
The big finale here is a plea to the better instincts via the children. THE CHILDREN. This is basically a cross between playing to the relationship between fathers and sons and “Mirror,” which blatantly illustrates the hypocrisy of supporting Trump while hoping for the best for your daughter. In “Men,” it’s the velvet gravel sound of Sam Elliott again, this time stepping outside the political divide to talk about character, ideals, and decency. Your dad wasn’t perfect, but he taught you how to own up to it when you did something wrong. Ouch! This provides an emotional out for any stubborn Trump voter who would typically rather go down with the ship before admitting fault. It’s a gentle reprieve in the name of manly manliness. “We made a mistake,” says Elliott, and you can almost picture his bassett hound eyes and gargantuan ‘stache filled with sympathy. “So it’s time to own up, to be the man our dads raised us to be, and the fathers our sons need us to be. Because they’re watching us the way we watched our dads. It’s our turn to set the example.” Waterworks, amirite?