Blood trickles down a mock severed head resembling President Donald Trump. Flames engulf a black limousine in the nation’s capital as protesters look on. Celebrities and television hosts talk about assassinating the president, blowing up the White House, and hoping for a recession.
These clips of some of Trump’s staunchest opponents are part of a montage posted on YouTube on June 26. The video is not a product of an internet meme factory but a new advertisement paid for by the Republican National Committee and posted on the official GOP channel.
The advertisement, titled “Unhinged,” features Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters encouraging supporters to form crowds and harass members of the Trump administration in public spaces, comedian Samantha Bee using a crude word to describe the president’s daughter, and rapper Snoop Dogg shooting a mannequin resembling Trump in the head.
The images have become a creepy new norm since Trump shocked the world by winning the presidential election in 2016. Trump’s opponents have employed radical rhetoric and violence against his supporters and staff since the early days of his presidency.
And they haven’t backed down. In the month of June alone, three Trump administration officials were harassed in public and forced to leave restaurants. A Hollywood actor called for the president’s son, Barron Trump, to be “ripped from his mother’s arms and put in a cage with pedophiles.” A Democratic Party volunteer in Florida threatened to kill the children of Republican Congressman Brian Mast.
The images in the ad, though extreme, are a reflection of the current political climate. A new poll by Rasmussen found that 59 percent of all voters “are concerned that those opposed to President Trump’s policies will resort to violence,” with 33 percent, or 1 in 3 Americans, being very concerned. Meanwhile, a whopping 31 percent of voters believe “it’s likely that the United States will experience a second civil war sometime in the next five years.”
Prior to Trump, the Republicans would not have dared to go on the attack in such a bold manner. The unprecedented advertisement suggests that the GOP is learning from Trump by weaponizing the alarming rhetoric of their opponents against them.
Trump has employed the tactic since the beginning, relentlessly associating his opponents with their worst misdeeds. In the latest example, one day after the new GOP ad premiered, Trump inaugurated Waters, who had just made the controversial call to harass Trump Cabinet members, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has made multiple cringe-worthy gaffes in public appearances, as the “unhinged FACE of the Democrat Party.”
“Congratulations to Maxine Waters, whose crazy rants have made her, together with Nancy Pelosi, the unhinged FACE of the Democrat Party,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Together, they will Make America Weak Again! But have no fear, America is now stronger than ever before, and I’m not going anywhere!”
Congratulations to Maxine Waters, whose crazy rants have made her, together with Nancy Pelosi, the unhinged FACE of the Democrat Party. Together, they will Make America Weak Again! But have no fear, America is now stronger than ever before, and I’m not going anywhere!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2018
Commentators on both sides of the political spectrum have warned that extreme rhetoric and the recent public harassment of Trump cabinet members can backfire in the 2018 election since voters would sympathize with the victims. With the new ad, the GOP is taking advantage of the tide.
Trump allies and conservatives flooded Twitter with praise.
“This ad should run in an endless loop til November 2020,” Mark Davis, a radio talk show host, wrote. “Finally, a GOP with some fight in it.”
“The best political ad I’ve ever seen,” wrote Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent and frequent Fox News commentator.
“This ad created by the GOP is brutal, and demonstrates why liberalism is not learning lessons after 2016,” wrote Andrew Walker, an ethicist with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The ad was released with the latest news about the harassment of Trump administration officials still fresh in Americans’ minds.
On June 17, White House adviser Stephen Miller was chased out of a restaurant and called a fascist. On June 19, chanting protesters forced Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to cut short a dinner. And on June 22, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, because she worked for the president.
The day after Sanders’s ejection, Waters called on her supporters to form crowds around Trump administration officials in public spaces.
“If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” Waters said.
The Secret Service has since installed a detail at Sanders’s home.
Pelosi uncharacteristically rebuked Waters for the comments.
“In the crucial months ahead, we must strive to make America beautiful again,” Pelosi wrote on Twitter. “Trump’s daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable but unacceptable.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed Pelosi’s rebuke.
“I strongly disagree with those who advocate harassing folks if they don’t agree with you,” Schumer said according to CNN.
The string of public harassment is not a new phenomenon. Trump administration officials, allies, supporters, and Republicans, in general, have faced an unprecedented onslaught of harassment and threats since Trump was elected in 2016.
Republican Arizona Rep. David Schweikert said that he received more death threats in 2017 than in the six prior years he served in Congress combined.
“There’s an absolute attempt to dehumanize anyone who disagrees, and particularly the rage is off the charts right now because our philosophy is actually working,” Schweikert told Plaidcat, a Republican podcast.
“And we had more death threats last year, in my office, even one towards my little girl, than we’ve ever had in all the other years combined, and my fear is that this rage that is being generated for political turnout is actually really becoming unhealthy for our political society.”
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