Negative campaigning: It still works


Political operatives have a name for it.

Opposition research.

Every major political campaign dating back to, oh, most of the previous century has featured it. The organization hires teams of researchers to do one thing: look up negative aspects of an opponent’s record to use against them.

Why embark on this mission? Because it works. Every single time. Voters eat this stuff up, no matter how much they complain how they dislike negative campaigning. They respond to it.

The potential Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump presidential campaign that looms not too far into the future is going to provide “oppo research” teams a veritable trove of negatives.

If I were willing to wager my recreational vehicle, I’d say that Clinton’s team is facing what one could call a “target rich environment.”

Remember the time her husband ran for president in 1992? His campaign famously developed what came to be called The War Room. It developed a quick-hit strategy to answer every negative attack leveled at Gov. Bill Clinton by President Bush’s re-election team. The Bill Clinton team learned the lessons taught by the 1988 campaign of Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, which allowed the Bush team to “peel the bark” off of Dukakis, as the late campaign strategist Lee Atwater said famously.

I’m willing to presume that Mrs. Clinton’s team has resurrected that notion for her campaign this fall.

More to the point, though, will be the opportunities that the presumed Republican nominee, Trump, will present to the newest Clinton version of The War Room.

Trump has littered his GOP primary campaign with countless public utterances worthy of outright ridicule, not to mention condemnation.

It makes me recall the era not long after the 9/11 attacks. Those of us in daily opinion journalism were handed so many opportunities and topics on which to comment that we faced the editor’s prized dilemma: What can I set aside for tomorrow or another day even later on which to offer an opinion or perspective. Take it from me: It is far more preferable to have too much from which to choose than not enough.

Team Clinton is going to have that kind of “problem” staring it in the face once the GOP nominee’s identity becomes clear.

Yes, I know that Trump’s team will have its chances as well. Which one of the campaigns, though, will have the resources available to them to do the kind of research they’ll need to skewer their opponent? My hunch: the edge goes to Clinton.

Donald Trump already has demonstrated his ability to “go negative” when the other candidates have fired broadsides at him. He does so in amazingly crude ways. He’s criticized opponents’ physical appearance; he has denigrated a journalist’s physical handicap; he has chided an opponent for the manner in which he perspires. All of this, though, has endeared him to the Trumpsters who have glommed on to his message — whatever the hell it is.

And those examples comprise a tiny fraction of Trump’s much-touted business, personal and political history.

And it’s that crudeness that, by itself, is going to present the Clinton team with much of the opposition research material it figures to use against their expected foe.

You want negative campaigning? We’re about to get it.

It won’t be pretty. We’ll bitch about it.

Bring it on!


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