Anyone familiar with U.S. politics knows the constant presence of negative campaigning, such as attack or contrast ads, used by politicians in order to demean their opponents. Such methods are undoubtedly useful in swaying the eyes of the general public as a tool — a singular aspect of a candidate’s campaign strategy.
Many political analysts have been growing concerned that mudslinging has become too normative within recent election cycles, instead becoming the primary way for candidates to market themselves. Nowhere is this transition to primarily negative campaigning more pertinent than the current presidential race, courtesy of businessman and Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
There’s not much that I could say about Trump’s proposed policies that hasn’t already been said several times by professional analysts and commentators, but I do feel that his style of rhetoric (and the implications of its seemingly infectious nature) deserves attention and scrutiny. Since the very beginning of Trump’s bid for the White House, he has built his platform by exploiting the weaknesses of not only the United States, but his opponents as well.
Trump’s very presence in this election cycle seems to have set a new standard for how politicians aim to market themselves — a standard that focuses on being the loudest voice in the room rather than the voice with something constructive to say. I think, though, that the only thing more shocking to the state of this election than Trump himself is the way in which his rivals — most notably, Fla. Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz — have sunk to his level of animosity.
The fact that the highlight of last week’s GOP debate was Trump affirming that he is well-endowed after an earlier comment from Rubio should be telling of how far the state of U.S. politics (or at the very least, the state of the Republican party) has fallen into contests of pettiness and pride.
When we see candidates who take more time to target what makes their competition weak rather than focusing on their particular strengths, I like to think they aren’t telling us that they are the “best,” but rather that they are the “least worst.” As students, we are all preparing to enter the broader world, one where the social issues being dropped from discussion in favor of name-calling will become all the more relevant. Moving forward, do we really want the “least worst?”
Since it seems unlikely that the level of negativity in this election cycle will decrease in the upcoming months (if anything, it will likely continue to intensify as the race becomes more narrow), it falls to us to see past that negativity. We have to consider more carefully what each candidate says about the issues, rather than what they say about each other. We need to come to terms with the stakes of this election, and when the time comes, I hope we can make the right decisions.