A collection of images from Republican ads and campaign messages portrays the left as angry, menacing and weak on crime.
The way Republicans often tell the story, America is on a roll. Unemployment is down. Economic growth is strong. Tax cuts are putting more money in people’s pockets. “Best financial numbers on the Planet,” President Trump declared on Twitter recently.
But sometimes a good story just isn’t enough — especially when the political and legal threats to Mr. Trump are posing a graver threat than ever to Republicans’ majorities in Congress.
As voters consider whether to put Democrats back into power on Capitol Hill after the midterm elections, Republicans are painting a grim picture of what that might look like.
Violence and drugs will become greater scourges, Republican ads and campaign messages say. The nation’s borders will be less secure. Undocumented immigrants will bring more crime — a narrative that took center stage this week.
A radicalized, angry left wing that already controls the Democratic Party will grow even more emboldened. And once in power, they will start to undo everything Republicans have accomplished, possibly even Mr. Trump’s election.
Here are examples of some of Republicans’ latest messaging.
In Stephen K. Bannon’s new film, called “Trump @ War,” the opening scene is pure carnage. People in Trump T-shirts are shown bloodied and beaten. Demonstrators rage and set fires in the streets.
Mr. Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who has formed a group to try to save Republicans from defeat in the midterm elections, said in an interview that his goal with the movie is to motivate the president’s supporters by laying out in graphic terms how Democratic control of the House would mean impeachment and the end of Mr. Trump’s movement. “The Trump agenda either moves forward, or it doesn’t,” he said.
A strong undercurrent of victimization runs through many scenes, which show Mr. Trump’s opponents coming off as seething with contempt and anger. The message, Mr. Bannon said, is that if Republicans lose in November, these are the people who will be in charge.
A call to fight the ‘resistance’
The liberal resistance to Mr. Trump has been appearing in more and more Republican ads. And the way they are shown should look familiar. The demonstrators in these ads look a lot like how antiwar activists were portrayed in campaign ads for former President Richard M. Nixon 50 years ago. And many of the societal degradations Republicans depicted then are also prevalent in commercials now: drugs, violent crime and a breakdown of order.
A major difference, however, is the role that illegal immigration plays as the catalyst for the chaos in today’s ads.
In this ad produced by the Congressional Leadership Fund for Troy Balderson, the Ohio Republican who appears to have just edged out his Democratic opponent in a special election, the viewer sees a succession of images: someone in a hooded sweatshirt pulled over the face, a syringe dropping into white powder, a mob waving signs that say “Crush ICE.” And the kicker: Danny O’Connor, the Democratic candidate, is a sympathizer, the ad says. [See the entire ad here.]
At the same time, the announcer warns of the dangers of open borders:
The liberal resistance is demanding open borders. They want to eliminate the law enforcement agency that enforces our immigration laws, opening America’s doors to more crime and drugs.
There is also a throwback to an infamous ad from Pete Wilson in 1994 — when he was running for California governor — that showed undocumented immigrants rushing across the border. The ad for Mr. Balderson shows a faceless person scaling a fence.
A portrayal of the left as ‘unhinged’
This video, produced by the Republican National Committee, sticks with the theme of a radicalized left. It shows graffiti, a burning car and video of celebrities like Johnny Depp talking about committing violence against Mr. Trump. [See the full video here.]
In a clip that Republican candidates often cite, Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, is shown telling a crowd that they should confront members of the Trump administration in public places. The video also includes Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, saying, “I just don’t even know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country.”
Titled “The Left In 2018: Unhinged,” the video plays to a newer accusation that many conservatives have been making — that the rhetoric of some liberals is encouraging violence against Republicans. And recent events have played into their hands, like demonstrators publicly accosting the Homeland Security secretary, the Senate majority leader and other prominent Republicans.
That kind of hostility, Republicans argue, is what voters should expect from a Pelosi-led Democratic Party.
“Nothing works as well as Pelosi, because no other political figure ignites the passion she does,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, which has put Ms. Pelosi in many of its ads in recent years. The group has spent tens of millions of dollars to elevate her profile, and then to attack her.
Calling Democrats’ patriotism into question
This ad from a Republican candidate for governor of Nevada, Adam Laxalt, accuses his Democratic opponent, Steve Sisolak, of joining “the fanatical resistance movement.” [See Mr. Laxalt’s ad here.]
Mr. Sisolak is shown at an event where an upside-down American flag is displayed behind him. He is juxtaposed alongside other unflattering, unpatriotic images, suggesting he is no mainstream Democrat. The ad also has images of a fire at a protest and police in riot gear.
In the background, the announcer is heard saying:
Inciting violence in the streets. Disrespecting our American flag. The radical left has become unhinged.
The ad taps into the sense of “Love it or leave it” patriotism that also underpinned the Nixon ads — or, more specifically, the sense that the antiwar movement was unpatriotic.
Aided by a media team that was ahead of its time in understanding the power of television and marketing for candidates — a young Roger Ailes was an adviser — the Nixon campaign took the antiwar demonstrations and race riots of 1968 and used them to its advantage by promising to restore order. In doing so, Mr. Nixon appealed to Americans’ sense of insecurity and vulnerability.
The situation might not be as dire or violent today, but the threats, as they are portrayed, look very similar. To watch some Republican ads today, it seems like 1968 all over again.
Additional work by Evan Grothjan.