It was probably inevitable that Las Vegas would be the scene of an ill-tempered denouement to what has been the biggest show business campaign in history.
While some of our more literary readers might have detected an echo of the pervasive weirdness of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, there was also maybe a hint of Stephen King’s The Stand, where followers of the Devil gather in Sin City for an old-fashioned good versus evil showdown.
The third and final Presidential debate took a dramatic twist when Donald Trump suggested he could not guarantee he’d accept the outcome on November 8. It was the culmination of repeated claims at his recent rallies that the election could be “rigged” against him, along with allegations of widespread voting fraud.
Even though statistics don’t remotely bear out these claims, Trump has clearly done a good job selling the idea among his core constituency. Ari Berman writes in The Nation this week that “Seventy-three per cent of Republicans believe the election could be stolen from Trump.”
The two campaigns now face a looming deadline – pushing their ticket as hard as they can down to the election-day wire. The big marketing challenge is that both candidates are known commodities. They’ve been around for years – and the more voters learn about them, the less they seem to have warmed to them. These are, after all, the two most disliked candidates ever to win their party nominations.
They’re so unpopular, in fact, that Reuters reported this week that:
“Some 53 per cent of the 1,247 people [polled] aged 18 to 35 said they would prefer to see a meteor destroy the world than have Republican New York real-estate developer Trump in the Oval Office, with some 34 per cent preferring planetary annihilation to seeing the Democratic former Secretary of State win.”
So the end is nigh, one way or another. And with both candidates’ core support already locked in and largely committed, according to recent polls, their respective prizes are starting to take shape. For Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, there seems to be the possibility of a “wave” election that would see her comfortably secure the Presidency and could tip control of Congress back their way.
For Trump, the possibility of contesting a “rigged” outcome – and, of course, it wouldn’t be rigged were he actually to win (distant though that possibility now appears) – sets up a way for him to continue to galvanize an already angry base. But to what end?
One possibility that has been floated in recent months and took on new impetus this week was that he and his campaign team would seek to set up a brand new media organisation to build on the cult status that he has established with his core supporters.
And we got a glimpse of what may lie in store after the election, with the live-streaming on Facebook of a possible prototype for “Trump TV” which, according to BuzzFeed, held an audience of around 170,000, after peaking at about 200,000 – making it second only to ABC News in audience last night via that platform.
Having his own channel would perpetuate the concept of ‘politics as TV reality show’ and play into Trump’s attention-seeking celebrity personality, while providing a potential organisational focus for his supporters, many of whom no longer identify with the establishment Republican party – if they ever did.
Whether “Trump TV” might appear exclusively online, via cable or an established network, using Facebook Live to test its viability seemed a smart idea, since that platform has shown some dominance during this election cycle.
In the world of traditional television, meanwhile, this has been the first week that the Trump campaign has spent more on TV ads than its rival (but as CNN points out, when spending by Super-PACs is included, Clinton still has the advantage).
One such PAC, Priorities USA, has been airing this Spanish-language ad as the Clinton campaign seeks to expand its map into states with a large Hispanic population and which – like Arizona or even Texas – may previously have not been in play.
Republicans, meanwhile, are mounting something of an ad blitz on a number of key senate races.
Ad Age provides a regular update on which swing states are seeing increases or decreases in ad spend, while there’s a good article at BillMoyers.com on how it’s often unclear who is actually paying for campaign ads, since the disclosure information required by the FCC can be incomplete.
One of the most powerful ad spots recently was cut by the Clinton team from a remarkable speech by First Lady Michelle Obama in response to the escalating allegations of improper sexual conduct against Trump.
Its reception confirmed the First Lady as Clinton’s most effective surrogate on the campaign trail.
In campaign organization, anyone who has worked with a start-up company knows that after settling on a name, one of the most time-consuming tasks can be coming up with a slogan that perfectly encapsulates the essence of what you’re selling.
Sometimes it comes easily – you keep it simple and say what you mean. Maybe you’ll try out a handful and see which might stick.
According to the Washington Post, the Clinton campaign apparently tried out no less than 84; most of them generic and pretty meaningless. The Post’s Philip Bump ranks them from most to least terrible.
Finally, Electionland is a new collaborative project by ProPublica aimed at safeguarding voting access (it currently features some facts on Trump’s suggestions that elections can be “rigged”).
And with all the furore over the notion that a candidate for President might cast doubt on the fundamental idea of the peaceful transfer of power, it’s maybe worth reminding ourselves of how it’s supposed to work.
This is the letter left by outgoing President George HW Bush for the man who beat him in the 1992 election, Bill Clinton.
So as we head into this campaign’s final three weeks, it looks increasingly likely that what happens after November 8 will be just as important as anything that unfolds in the meantime.
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.