In an already polarised political environment, campaigning was overtaken and overshadowed by America’s worst mass shooting in recent history.
As vigils took place around the world in memory of the 49 young people murdered in the attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, the contrast was marked between the responses of the two presumptive presidential nominees.
Just when it seemed that Donald Trump couldn’t be any more divisive, a combination of statements and tweets drew widespread criticism and sharpened the debate over national security and immigration.
The New York Times called Trump’s reaction – among other things apocalyptic”, putting his message in historical context thus:
“Exploitation of fear has been part of the American political playbook since colonial pamphleteers whipped their neighbors into a frenzy over British misrule. It took on new potency in the nuclear age with Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Daisy’ ad against Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Jimmy Carter’s warnings about Ronald Reagan’s finger on the button in 1980.
“But Mr Trump… has intensified the power of fear in presidential politics by demonizing an entire religious group. And he has expanded the use of that power by stirring up fear in the aftermath of national traumas, like the San Bernardino, Calif., attack and now the Orlando shooting, that traditionally elicited measured and soothing responses from political leaders.”
Even Britain’s former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said Trump’s tweets in the aftermath of the shooting were “heinous and self-serving”, while Trump himself reacted to criticism in the media in what’s now become the usual way, revoking the Washington Post’s access after its reporting of his comments, adding to what the Huffington Post called the campaign’s “media blacklist”.
Another consequence of Orlando is that Trump’s previous indications that he may be ready to “pivot” into a more traditional campaign posture appear increasingly doubtful. And as senior Republican figures moved to distance themselves from their nominee, a new national poll (conducted largely before Orlando) showed Hillary Clinton’s national lead widening.
For her part, Clinton’s wide-ranging reaction raised the question of gun control. “Weapons of war have no place on our streets,” she said, in a speech that didn’t mention Trump by name. But as Slate pointed out, “she didn’t have to.”
Before the tragic events of the weekend, Clinton had technically “clinched” her party’s nomination, celebrating with this “glass ceiling” video:
Yet with voters getting ready to go to the polls in California, New Jersey and four other states, the Associated Press rained somewhat on her victory parade, a significant moment, as she was still trying to keep up the get-out-the-vote pressure, after Bernie Sanders had outspent her in California by about $800,000 (£546,000).
The Sanders campaign’s ad efforts in the Golden State also included clever use of live feeds from a Dave Matthews concert.
But in the end he came up short and a visit to the White House soon followed, with Bernie saying he would continue to contest the final primary in Washington DC and – even after losing there, too – pledging to continue his “struggle”.
At least it was a chance for the subs of the New York Daily News to show they’re still on their game.
The two Democrats met after the final primary to discuss how the general election contest might play out, with – bear in mind – about a quarter of Sanders’ supporters having said they would not support Clinton as the nominee.
Regardless, we turn – in earnest – to a contest that Time magazine calls a “mismatch”.
Initial ads on both sides are focused on what the candidates perceive to be their opponents’ weaknesses, with the first Clinton campaign ad stressing “Who We Are”,while an emotive spot entitled ‘Grace,’ produced by the pro-Clinton PAC Priorities USA returned to the theme of Trump’s alleged mockery of a disabled reporter, after focus groups indicated that the incident and its accompanying clip is one of Trump’s “key negatives”.
Attacking the controversial Trump University, it seems, will also be fair game for the Clinton campaign.
The Pro-Trump PAC Rebuilding America Now returned the favour, buying its first general election ad and branding Clinton – and her husband – as “more of the same”.
So as the candidates gear up for their respective conventions next month, it seems we’re poised for an avalanche of negative ads.
One place where Trump ads won’t be appearing is on BuzzFeed, who turned down more than a million dollars’ worth of Republican ads, with chief executive Jonah Peretti saying: “We don’t run cigarette ads because they are hazardous to our health, and we won’t accept Trump ads for the exact same reason.”
Whether or not other news organisations follow suit remains to be seen.
As he prepares for the Republican convention in Cleveland next month, the ever-unconventional Trump has hinted at switching out politicians for star athletes. But what could alarm the Republican hierarchy more is when he says he won’t need to raise a lot of money for the general campaign, instead relying on his TV “star-power”.
And that might have an adverse effect on GOP candidates in crucial down-ballot races.
FirstWord’s Steve McGookin first covered a US presidential election in 1988 and says that this one is easily the most fascinating yet. He’ll be writing here regularly about political ads and the candidates’ media-messaging strategies until election day in November.