It’s all over bar the shouting…

But, if we know anything about this election, there will be plenty of angry words yet.

With the primary contests winding up in both the Republican and Democratic parties, we appear to be heading for a general election campaign fought out between the two most unpopular nominees “in polling history”.

As we gear up for the party conventions in July, who honestly would have predicted just a few weeks ago that it would be the Democrats’ gathering in Philadelphia that might end up the more acrimonious of the two; while the Republicans’ event in Cleveland – where local law enforcement had been planning for riots in the city in anticipation of confrontation – would actually turn out to be a coronation?

Straight after Donald Trump’s crucial primary victory in Indiana ended Ted Cruz’s challenge, Hillary Clinton put out two ads attacking the presumptive GOP nominee.

While the first one perhaps misses the mark – since it reinforces a lot of what actually makes Trump popular with his supporters – the second uses Republicans’ own words quite effectively against their party’s standard-bearer.

And the move signalled a broader pivot to ads focused on the general election, with pro-Hillary PAC Priorities USA debuting a slate of ads as part of an expected ad blitz in coming weeks.

It looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more highly-targeted ads on YouTube, as Mother Jones reports, going after “key groups that include Latinos, African American women and millennials”.

Web ads are also increasingly showing up on TV. As Cady Zuvich of the Center for Public Integrity explains, the strategy of getting “free” media allows PACs – in this case the pro-Clinton Correct The Record – to “remain exempt from the kinds of public disclosures [and costs] applied to paid political communications”.

Bernie Sanders’ fundraising, meanwhile, has fallen off from previous record months and despite the Vermont Senator’s recent primary victories, Mrs Clinton still appears to be heading for the nomination. The question now is becoming how much damage Bernie might inflict on her general election campaign before it even gets started. Both Sanders and Clinton also probably know that if Bernie was to get out of the race now, a significant number of his supporters could gravitate to Trump.

But it seems that even as the Clinton camp’s frustration has grown the DNC is preparing to offer Sanders a key role at the convention, according to the Washington Post.

On the Republican side, since our last column Trump consolidated his position as the GOP front-runner with primary wins in New York and Pennsylvania, but the most significant was in Indiana.

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Ted Cruz’s campaign finally imploded despite a ‘pact’ with the other remaining Republican, John Kasich, and a last, desperate move by naming Carly Fiorina as his potential VP.

(Talking of running mates, there might be something very interesting to watch if the Libertarian Party can harness its potential third-party position and attract big Republican donors unhappy with Trump – particularly now that popular former Massachusetts Governor William Weld is on board.

So it looks like Trump will cruise into Cleveland – which campaign strategist Paul Manafort promised would be “the ultimate reality show” – with the required number of delegates, or at least with no-one else to make a race of it and the diminishing likelihood of a “white knight” challenge.

There were even suggestions that Trump might be headed for a “makeover” with Manafort telling a top GOP meeting that the candidate’s persona on the campaign trail was a “role” he was playing and his behaviour would somehow moderate between now and November.

But we got a small hint of what the general election campaign might look like in an exchange Trump had with Fox News’s Sean Hannity.

One of the most bizarre stories of this already bizarre campaign was the revelation by the Washington Post that Trump had posed as his own publicist in the 1990s “to brag about himself”.

While the story of Trump’s alter-ego “John Miller” may seem inconsequential or even amusing, it revealed much about the candidate and issues over his credibility. It showed, too, that we have basically moved to a “post-factual” campaign, where the accuracy of public statements have little consequence.

For the media, meanwhile, amid soul-searching about the death of fact-checking and the industry’s complicity in Trump’s rise, the ratings continue to roll in. CNN reported an “outsize rating boost” on the back of its election coverage while Isaac Chotiner writes at Slate that Trump is “TV’s new normal.”

NBC’s Nightly News even relocated its broadcast to Trump Tower for a night.

President Obama took the opportunity of his final White House Correspondents’ dinner to remind the press that, well, they pretty much needed to be ashamed of themselves in terms of the “appropriate” level of coverage.

But maybe the last word this month should go to RNC chairman Reince Priebus – who’s probably relieved that his convention looks like it’s not after all heading for a prime-time re-run of the Democrats in Chicago in 1968.

He told ABC’s Jonathan Karl, who had asked about one more thing in Trump’s personal life:
“All these stories that come out — and they come out every of couple weeks — people just don’t care.”

The next big landmark date is June 7, with primaries in California, New Jersey and a number of other states, then it’s on to Cleveland.

Strap yourselves in.

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.

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