The general election unofficially began on Wednesday as Donald Trump became the de facto GOP nominee. And, boy, is it going to be ugly.
Likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton premiered an unsurprising line of attack in an online ad against her probable November opponent — throwing back some of the choice words from his now-vanquished Republican rivals just as the real estate mogul now has the daunting task of trying to unite the GOP behind him.
“Con artist,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “The most vulgar person to ever aspire to the presidency.”
“He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“A narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said about Trump on Tuesday, just hours before he dropped his own bid.
“He needs therapy,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said exasperatedly in the ad’s final kicker.
Even as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus telegraphed that the party should let bygones be bygones and unite behind Trump, there were plenty of signs Wednesday that would not be an easy task. Many GOP leaders remain firmly in the #NeverTrump camp, and Trump trails Clinton badly in general election polls.
Those anti-Trump forces had tried a similar tack earlier this year with a blistering ad aimed at women voters — especially crucial for any candidate in the general election.
In the spot from Our Principles PAC, women read verbatim vulgar insults and slurs Trump has hurled at women throughout his career — “Bimbo. Dog. Fat pig.”
This came from a GOP group, but expect similar spots from Democrats to use this tactic against Trump repeatedly during the general election, too.
Republicans also worry that Trump’s likely nomination will put more Senate seats in play even as they’re already facing a daunting map and playing defense in several places. One longer-shot Senate candidate, Arkansas Democrat Conner Eldridge, tried a similar tack this week with his own online spot. Shots of Trump’s demeaning comments toward women and remarks about one of his ex-wives play as Republican Sen. John Boozman is labeled a “Trump enabler” for his support of the now-certain GOP presidential nominee.
Expect Trump to fight back hard, as he already proved to do in the successful primary campaign where he beat 16 rivals. Instagram videos were a favorite of Trump’s in hitting his fellow Republicans, and he’s already used the platform to go after Clinton.
In one such brief March video, he shows clips of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an ISIS fighter and argues that Clinton would be a “punchline” on the national stage as he shows a clip of her imitating a dog barking.
Trump has also signaled he won’t be afraid to flash back to the ’90s and dredge up scandals from the Clinton administration, including former President Bill Clinton’s affairs and subsequent impeachment, Whitewater and other controversies. In fact, earlier this week he was spotted having lunch with author Edward Klein, who wrote many gossip and rumor-peddling books about the Clintons (much of their content has been discredited).
National Republicans have already given peeks at the overall playbook they intend to use against Clinton if she is the Democratic nominee. They’ve spent years hitting her over the Benghazi attacks and the controversial private email server she used while at the State Department. Here’s a Republican National Committee online ad from earlier this year that hits her over those subjects.