For a preview of what the next six months of general election jousting between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will look like, take a moment to watch the pair of ads released by the Clinton campaign over the last 24 hours. The ads portray Trump as both a dangerous demagogue with a penchant for racially charged remarks and as a loose cannon candidate whose behavior is unacceptable even to fellow Republicans.
One ad focuses on Trump's comments about Mexicans and Muslims, and his initial refusal to disavow support from white nationalists:
Another ad is just a compilation of statements that Trump's fellow Republicans, including Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Marco Rubio, have said about him:
"President Trump" is a dangerous proposition.
Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio agree.https://t.co/fUkISvgaXC
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) May 4, 2016
These ads give a pretty good sense of the general tone the election is likely to take right off the bat, and the sorts of attacks that Clinton is likely to pursue as the election proceeds. You can think of them as teaser trailers. There's sure to be lots more later in the year, once the main event is upone us.
And what both ads make clear is that Clinton is going to make a sustained early effort to portray Trump as simply and totally unacceptable in a way that Trump's Republican primary competitors never really did—or at least didn't do in any concerted way.
One of the reasons that analysts got the Trump campaign wrong, and that he was able to outperform expectations was that many observers expected that the GOP would make a unified effort to cast Trump as someone who should be disqualified.
Although, as Clinton's video shows, there were certainly scattered efforts to take on Trump, and to rule him unfit for the presidency, they tended to come in bursts, one at a time, by desperate candidates who had effectively already lost. (Witness Ted Cruz, who played nice with Trump throughout last year, laying into Trump on the morning of the Indiana primary this week.) And so, as Nate Cohn writes in The New York Times, "The Republican elite treated Mr. Trump as it would have treated a fairly ordinary candidate, even as he said extraordinary things. That's a big part of why he won."
Maybe Trump will figure out how to respond to these attacks in a way that renders them less effective. He's indicated that he will make an effort to behave in a way that is more "presidential" as the general election begins. But so far, at least, it's not clear what that will look like, and how it will mesh with these sorts of charges being lobbed at him.
Trump spent yesterday flip-flopping on whether or not he would consider Ohio Gov. John Kasich as his running mate, and suggesting that, contrary to what he's said previously, he might consider raising the federal minimum wage. He may be toning down his rhetoric a little bit here and there, but he's still the same old Trump. And Clinton is going to draw out that less-presidential version of Trump, in part by attacking him with ads like these.
That's why I suspect he'll have a difficult time escaping his outrageous primary persona. Even if Trump manages to successfully adopt a more presidential demeanor in the general, Hillary Clinton is going to make every effort to remind voters of all the times that he wasn't very presidential in the primary.