Why ‘Grace’ could do to Trump what ‘Stage’ did to Romney
When Donald Trump was confronted with evidence that he lied about “thousands” of American Muslims celebrating 9/11, what did he do?
At a campaign rally in November, he viciously mocked Serge Kovaleski — a disabled reporter who covered the aftermath the terror attack for the Washington Post — for politely refuting his claim. And when called out for his cruelty, he denied knowing Kovaleski, though the reporter had covered Trump for years.
Trump’s sick impression has now become the centerpiece of this Priorities USA ad airing widely in several swing states:
The focus here, Greg Sargent explains, is on “Trump’s personal cruelty — not just in business, but also from the perch of his newfound media dominance.”
It’s also a larger critique of what Trump presents as “strength.”
To Trump being strong is being willing to offend the powerless and people you know can’t fight back, like a federal judge barred by law from defending himself. Believing you can brutalize anyone who hurts or threatens you is the core of a philosophy that justifies torture and advocates for the killing of innocent women and children. It’s the reason that he seems conservative, regardless of having the convictions of kelp.
What’s important about the ad is what it doesn’t mention — the context of the attack.
Instead it forces you to experience Trump’s attacks from the perspective of the parents of a disabled girl, inviting you to imagine the actual consequences of his buffoonish cruelty.
And the logic behind this is reassuring to anyone who hopes to keep Trump on Twitter and out of the White House.
You may have heard that there may be more white voters than pollsters originally suspected based on census data, which is supposed to be good news for Trump (and his pals in the #WhiteGenocide movement).
The billion dollar baby’s only path to the presidency — besides a massive landslide that would actually put New York and California in play — is to outperform Mitt Romney with white voters in the Rust Belt states. And he has to do this while not doing much worse minority voters and nearly matching Romney’s prodigious support among college-educated Republicans. It’s difficult math to make work — but it’s his only hope.
So here Democrats are reaching out to the white voters Trump desperately needs.
This ad points doesn’t touch on Trump’s race-baiting and religious bigotry, which triggers all sorts of primal fears and summons up decades of conservative “dog whistle” frames. It just says: here’s a man who when challenged attacks the most vulnerable person he can find; here’s a man you cannot trust to look out for your family’s interests.
This ad — named “Grace” after the little girl profiled — has the potential to be this cycle’s “Stage,” which was also produced by Priorities USA.
The Obama Administration’s incredibly successful auto rescue certainly helped. But some argue that this ad played a significant role in seeing President Obama do better in 2012 with working-class white voters in the Midwest than he did in the rest of the U.S.
“Stage” made the case that Romney was at least blind to the callousness of his own actions. It implicitly argued that if he carried that mentality to the White House, he might be willing to do anything to achieve his goals — including passing into laws the brutal austerity outlined in his running mate’s budget.
Like “Stage,” “Grace” shows is that Democrats have a decent understanding of the Republican nominee’s psychological appeal.
Romney knew business — so they argued he lacked empathy for those impacted by his ruthless dealings. Trump makes hurt people feel strong — so they’re challenging the very notion of what it means to be strong by challenging one of the most toxic messages of our society.
We’ve been taught to hate weakness, especially in ourselves. When hurt people see a bully, they often identify with him in hopes they will avoid his wrath.
But as most of us get older, we realize that what drives the bully often is fear, especially fear of the weaknesses we all suffer in these flimsy flesh shells.
This ad asks you to see that real strength comes from empathizing with the vulnerable. It asks you to show real strength — for Grace.