Saturday, April 23, 2016

Attack Ad: The War Room

The above ad is Ted Cruz's new attack-ad The War Room. Let's take a look!

The Ad: The War Room

At 2:32, the ad is more a mini-series than an attack ad. It opens in a cleverly constructed campaign war-room with (fake) Hillary sitting at the head of a table and proxies for Huma Abedin (her right-hand), John Podesta (her senior strategist/chairman) and Robby Mook (her youthful lead coordinator) discuss the upcoming launch of opposition research against Donald Trump.

Three walls of the war-room are clear glass with writing on them--this allows the camera to walk around and peer at them. 

As they gleefully go through the list of Trump's downsides (with pauses for the Hillary actress to glower evilly when, for example, they almost let it slip she's more unpopular than Trump is) they eventually come to a real problem: what if Trump isn't the nominee?

A staffer slides Hillary a folder and when she opens it, the reflected light is like from the inside of Pulp Fiction's briefcase. Unlike the McGuffin, though, the camera does show us what's in there: Smilin' Ted Cruz.

What if it's Ted Cruz?

At this point the team laments that America might actually want a real leader--someone with backbone--and principals.

"How do we stop Ted Cruz?" Demands fake-Abedin, becoming more and more impatient and worried. "How do we stop Ted Cruz?"

The other senior staffers sit in worried silence, looking down.

"I don't think we can," says fake-Podesta.

Fake-Hillary glowers once more and slams the folder shut. 


What It Means

Someone had a lot of fun with this. Firstly, despite its length, it's watchable and the performances are strong efforts at caricature. It has enough credibility to appeal to an inside-baseball watcher who knows who all these people are supposed to be and it has enough drama that it's funny even if you don't.

It also deftly hits two targets at once and makes the case--which everyone knows--that Trump is an oppo-researcher's field-day and Hillary would definitely like to run against him. This isn't exactly news but the ad does a decent job of laying it out while taking dead-on punches at Team Hillary.

The one nod to symbolism comes with Hillary's campaign logo seen in the background as the ad opens. The blue H with the red arrow is presumably well enough recognized to set the stage properly even though we haven't seen Hillary yet.

When a staffer refers to her as "Mrs. Clinton," and she gives him a slow-burning glower, he switches to "Madame Secretary"--Hillary wants her title used, not her last name. 

Why Doesn't Hillary Speak?

A mystery for some is why the Hillary actress doesn't have any lines. The likeness is good enough that it's totally clear who she's supposed to be. Hot Air thinks it's because the actress must not sound anything like Hillary--but The Omnivore isn't so sure.

There are a couple of other reasons why it might not be wise to put words in her mouth. The first one is that there's no real way to have her say anything without mocking her voice. The Omnivore suspects that it's okay to cast her as a boss the staffers are terrified of--but there's probably some unnecessary dangerous territory in putting words in her mouth.

The second reason is that while the ad is supposed to make fun of Team Hillary, it's really focused on attacking Trump. In this view Hillary is getting poised to win the White House--courtesy of Donald Trump. The entire thrust of the ad isn't "Look how evil Hillary is." That sale has already been closed with Cruz's audience. The point is that this woman is going to win

There's probably a diminishing return on how much of that you could offer a conservative audience before they can't take it.

Finally, there's probably a line that Ted Cruz's team is reluctant to cross. Getting personal with Hillary early and viscerally would invite a counter-attack that despite what the ad says, Cruz doesn't need or want. If you remember Santorum's awesome attack ad that crossed the "morphing line" having an Iranian leader's face morph into Obama's, that was bold--perhaps too bold.

Cruz's team knows they don't have to go there (at least not yet) so why play with fire.

How About The Substance?

Right now the biggest problem for Ted Cruz's team is the near-universal realization that if the Senator had an ounce of real charisma he'd be running away with this thing. The problem is that Ted Cruz's weakness is exactly what the ad is denying: he's incredibly "stoppable." In fact, if he loses Indiana in a couple of weeks, he may be "self stopping."

It has been speculated that Hillary would even prefer Ted Cruz to Donald Trump since Cruz is unable to pivot away from his (very, very conservative) brand and Trump can pivot like, well, something that pivots a lot. The fact is that as the last-best-hope against Trump, Ted might be the last-man-standing but he's regarded as an asshole and nobody really likes him (when asked to liken him to an animal, a focus group picked "mosquito" or, maybe "hornet").

Hillary's net-negatives are NOT above Cruz's and Cruz's negatives are very, very high. Also there are several (probably) bogus Cruz sex scandals floating around--but notably, despite the libelous National Enquirer story about Cruz's philandering, Cruz has not sued them. That might raise eyebrows.

Basically? There's plenty of opposition-research on Cruz and the ad is essentially dishonest in suggesting a counter-campaign would have no chance against him.

On the other hand, the claim that Cruz polls better head-to-head vs. Hillary than Trump is true. Just not ahead of Hillary (that's Kasich).

Final Grade

The War Room would get an 'A' if its substance were better. It gets a solid B+ for being a superbly executed attack ad that, if it fails, fails in its attempt to sell a product that it doesn't really make a case for.

Grade: B+

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