To say this 2016 presidential campaign has been unusual so far is belaboring the obvious. So we apologize for that.
But it has been very, very unusual.
“The campaign is unlike anything I have ever seen,’’ said Mack Mariani, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Xavier University. “If you had made this a movie, it would not have been believable.”
Let us take, for example, Ohio’s own entry into the Republican presidential scrum, Gov. John Kasich.
Kasich, who is still struggling to break through to the top tier of candidates, had a most unusual week.
- A Super PAC supporting his candidacy, New Day for America, launched a $2.5 million TV ad campaign in New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation primary, which implies that, when it comes to dealing with the threat of the Islamic State, Donald Trump and Ben Carson don’t have the experience to deal with it.
- Right after the ad went up, Trump’s lawyer, fired off a letter to New Day for America and the Kasich campaign warning them that attack ads against Trump could lead to legal action.
- A Twitter war erupts when Trumps starts firing off tweets insulting Kasich; and the Kasich replies in kind, with a series of tweets questioning whether or not Trump has the chops to deal with foreign affairs and national security.
- And, inexplicably, Right to Rise, the Super PAC of another GOP contender, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, whose campaign has been foundering and who is targeting many of the mainstream GOP voters that Kasich’s campaign depends on, decided to spend money on TV ads and direct mail in Ohio. It’s not likely they will be laudatory of Kasich, who has a very high approval rating in his home state, but it left a lot of people scratching their heads as to why the Bush forces would target Ohio now. Ohio’s primary will be held on March 15.
“I don’t get that one at all,’’ Mariani said. “What good does that do the Bush campaign in the long run. Are they trying to get into Kasich’s head?
Or maybe, Mariani said, the Bush forces think if they could make a dent in Kasich’s high approval numbers in Ohio, it might help them elsewhere.
“After all, Kasich has been campaigning in New Hampshire and everywhere else on his record in Ohio,’’ Mariani said.
John Weaver, a top strategist in the Kasich campaign, called the Bush Super PAC ad buy “a quick and effective way to spend down their funds before Jeb is out of the race.”
Still, it’s a head-scratcher.
Much easier to understand is the motive behind the new ad running in New Hampshire by Kasich’s Super PAC, New Day for America. You can watch it here.
It begins with side-by-side photos of President Obama, Trump and Carson, with a deep-voiced narrator who intones, “On the job training for president does not work. Benghazi. Beheadings. Paris.” And the 30-second ad ends with the narrator saying Kasich is “the first with a plan to destroy ISIS.”
Kasich’s Super PAC has said it plans to spend $6.5 million in ads in New Hamphire between Oct. 1 and the Feb. 9 primary.
Kasich is going to need all the help he can get – he has put most of his eggs in one basket, New Hampshire, and has said that he needs to do well there or he can pack it up and go home.
Well, at the moment, it’s not looking good for the Ohio governor in the Granite State.
Real Clear Politics, a web site that tracks political news and polling, did an average of four polls done among New Hampshire GOP voters between Oct. 29 and last Tuesday. Kasich ended up in sixth place, with an average of 7.5 percent support.
Who was in first?
Trump, of course. With an average of 26.3 percent.
If those polls are anywhere near being right, Kasich has about 11 weeks to climb over five other GOP candidates to win the New Hampshire primary.
So he is blanketing the airwaves with ads; and campaigning on the ground nearly every other day in New Hampshire.
Right after this first ad, entitled “Commander in Chief,” hit the airwaves, Trump’s general counsel, Alan Garten, fired off a letter to both New Day in America and the Kasich campaign threatening legal action.
“Please be advised that in the event your ads contain any false, misleading, defamatory, or otherwise tortious statements or representations regarding Mr. Trump’s businesses or his brand, we will not hesitate to seek immediate legal action to prevent such distribution and hold you and your organizations jointly and severally liable to the fullest extent of the law for any damages resulting therefrom,’’ Garten wrote
Whoa! We’ve been covering politics for over 40 years now and can not remember such a letter being sent by one campaign to another.
Mariani saw the “Commander in Chief” spot and thought it was fairly innocuous as campaign attack ads go.
“I didn’t see anything there that crossed the line,’’ Mariani said. Maybe, he said, the Trump campaign is anticipating that future ads from New Day for America and the Kasich campaign will be a lot tougher and harder-edged, more personal when it comes to attacking Trump.
“Maybe this letter is just a warning shot,’’ Mariani said.
Matthew David, the chief strategist for New Day for America, put out a statement saying that “you can’t sue your way to the Oval Office.”
“You can’t sue ISIS away,’’ David said. “Suing Vladimir Putin won’t evict Russia from the Ukraine. The role of commander in chief requires leadership, not lawyers.”
Then, Trump started a Twitter war with Kasich, firing off one attack after another.
“Watch Kasich squirm,’’ Trump said on Twitter. “If he is not truthful in his negative ads, I will sue him just for fun!”
And there was this from Trump: “John Kasich, despite being governor of Ohio, is losing to me in the Ohio polls. Pathetic!”
He was apparently referring to an Oct. 8 Quinnipiac University Poll that had Kasich running third among Ohio Republicans, behind Trump and Carson.
Kasich fired back with tweets of his own, including one in which he used a 2007 CNN interview in which Trump said that Hillary Clinton “would be terrific negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran.”
And this: “@realDonald Trump wants to bomb Iraq’s oil fields. Hullo (sic) $5 gas….”
It went on and on like this on Twitter on Thursday.
It is this kind of thing, Mariani said, that makes him think this is race is so unusual.
“Let’s say Trump doesn’t get elected,’’ Mariani said, only half-jokingly. “I can see one of the TV networks creating a fictional show, ‘Trump in the White House.’ Starring Donald Trump. It would be a huge hit.”
This campaign, Mariani said, “could be the longest and most successful audition for a role in the history of television.”