Trump Time Capsule #111: Ads

The famous 'Daisy Girl' ad, for Lyndon Johnson and against Barry Goldwater, was shown only once during the 1964 campaign but is famous more than 50 years later. (Wikimedia)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Most campaign ads, like most billboards or commercials, are unimaginative and formulaic. Our candidate is great! Their candidate is terrible! Choose us!

With the huge majority of political ads, you would look back on them long after the campaign only for time-warp curio purposes—Look at the clothes they wore in the ’80s! Look how corny “I like Ike!” was as a slogan! Look how young [Mitch McConnell / Bill Clinton / Al Gore] once was!—or to find archeological samples of the political mood of a given era.

The few national-campaign ads that are remembered earn their place either because they were so effective in shifting the tone of the campaign, as with George H. W. Bush’s race-baiting “Revolving Door” ad against Michael Dukakis in 1988; or because they so clearly presented the candidate in the desired light, as with Ronald Reagan’s famous “Morning in America” ad in 1984. Perhaps the most effective campaign advertisement ever, especially considering that it was aired only one time, was Lyndon Johnson’s devastating “Daisy Girl” ad, from his campaign against Barry Goldwater in 1964. The power of the Daisy Girl ad was of course its dramatizing the warning that Goldwater might recklessly bring on a nuclear war.

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It’s impossible to judge these things in real time, but I think there’s a good chance that “Mirrors,” an ad released this week by the Hillary Clinton campaign and shown after the jump, is another one that people will look back on.

You can say what you want about Hillary Clinton’s performance skills as a campaigner, and we’ll have another important chance to assess them just two days from now in the first debate. (Preview here.)

But I think it is hard to dispute that her video-ad team is very skillful. Consider also their “Role Models” ad from two months ago:

Noting this for the record, with 44 days and a few hours to go, as one more aspect of the 2016 campaign that people may re-visit years from now.

Probably because she is so very familiar a figure on the U.S. political scene, Hillary Clinton’s pioneering role as potentially America’s first female president has attracted less sizzle than the brand-new Barack Obama did during the 2008 campaign, as potentially the first black president. But an ad like “Mirrors” may make the point more pointedly than another “glass ceiling” speech.