Anti-Bloomberg ad signals new political trend

The new anti-Michael Bloomberg commercial, "Insult", is thought to be the first attack ad on an non-candidate.

Experts expect between $6 and 7 billion will be spent on messaging during the 2016 campaign season and its run-up. The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision opened the door to more outside spending on advertising, and that has changed a lot of things – including who gets attacked by attack ads.  

Last week, the National Rifle Association kicked off a multi-million dollar ad campaign with a 30-second spot.

“Liberals call this flyover country,” it begins. “It’s an insult.  But nobody insults your life like this guy: Michael Bloomberg, billionaire, elitist, hypocrite.”

The NRA says Bloomberg “has declared war” on the organization and its five million members. The former mayor of New York City has pledged to spend at least $50 million pushing for more background checks on gun buyers.

But Bloomberg is out of office.  He is not running for anything  at least right now.  And according to Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, that is what makes the NRA’s campaign so novel.

“To see him be the target of the ad is, in many ways, something we have never seen before,” he says.

In the past, attack ads have tied politicians to other politicians and donors to their campaigns. Franz believes this is the first advertisement not tied to a candidate or a campaign.

“This is the post-'Citizens United' world that we live in,” he says.

Franz and others say it is hard to overstate how much the landscape has changed over the last few years.

“The way we’ve organized now, since ‘Citizens United,’ essentially everything is on the table,” says Danilo Yanich, a professor of public policy at the University of Delaware. Everything and everyone.

Ken Goldstein, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco, says Michael Bloomberg and other big donors are being cast as outsiders.

"The message here is that there is something improper about these people being involved in politics," he says. "That their money is trying to fool you."

This is an update, Goldstein says, of a technique campaign operatives have used for a long time.

“One of the first things one does in opposition research is see if they can tie the other side to someone who is unsavory or unpopular."

What the NRA is hoping, Goldstein says, is that this ad — and others it plans to run nationwide — will affect how Americans see Michael Bloomberg and the cause he backs.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...