This has been an interesting 2016 presidential campaign on both sides of the aisle and it certainly has been entertaining. And we still have about nine months to go before Election Day.
Republican anti-establishment choice Donald Trump has implemented a shock and awe style of nastiness that has galvanized a group of voters. They have embraced his unique style that has taken nasty politics to another level. And he’s not prejudiced, he bashes everybody including fellow Republicans.
Here is the thing when it comes to Trump and candidates like him. They can take a history lesson from Connecticut voters. We experienced a female version of Trump in bitter, nasty U.S. Senate campaigns during the 2010 Richard Blumenthal vs. Linda McMahon campaign and Chris Murphy vs. Linda McMahon 2012 campaign. The polls can be in your favor, you can invest millions of dollars for a high-profile campaign, but if you come off as nasty and mean like McMahon it won’t likely sit well with voters on Election Day.
In McMahon’s two campaigns, it’s well documented that she spent nearly $100 million of her own money, including nearly $45 million against Murphy. While McMahon produced nasty campaigns in both election cycles I’d like to focus on the Murphy election, which in some respects mirrors the current Trump-Republican campaign.
Trump is a successful businessman and constantly boasts about spending his own millions on his campaign. He is also a successful entertainer on many levels. McMahon is a successful businesswoman and was the longtime chief executive officer of one of the most entertaining arenas of the world – World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.
Early in the campaign Murphy spent most of his time on the defensive, responding to McMahon attack ads. In a New York Times Election Day story on Nov. 6, 2012, it was noted that her constant attack ads likely took their toll on McMahon. The story reported that Mark Gudim, a home inspector from Brookfield, said he was an unaffiliated voter and was undecided until a few weeks before Election Day when “I couldn’t take the advertisements anymore. I drive a lot every day for work, and every time I turned on the radio, there she was,” he said. “It wasn’t about what she was going to do, it was always bashing Chris Murphy. It definitely got old.”
You might remember the McMahon-Murphy debates in 2012 actually had a similar tone to the recent Republican debate on Saturday. The atmosphere was rowdy with cheers, jeers and boos coming from the crowd.
In the first debate, McMahon continued to take swipes at Murphy including in her closing argument, typically where candidates summarize their views and positions on the issues at hand. McMahon used her time to reiterate her TV campaign ads and continued her negative barrage.
In August and September poll numbers fluctuated with McMahon leading by a few points a week or two and then Murphy leading a week or two. The candidates were running close according to the polls heading into the three debates. But Murphy dominated the debates and by election time momentum had swung his way. Murphy ended up winning with 828,761 votes and McMahon had 651,089.
While Trump has been the most vocal, the Republican presidential candidates have gone out of their way to bash President Barack Obama and Democrat presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. But the Republicans also bash their Republican opponents and “you’re a liar” has been a common phrase.
If Trump ends up as the Republican nominee, and it’s a real possibility, the question is how long will it take for the nastiness and constant bashing to take its toll with voters? Spending millions of dollars and producing a nasty campaign did not bode well for McMahon – twice. It likely won’t bode well for Trump.
Right now, at least in my opinion, it looks like this campaign is the Democrats' to lose.
Dan Nowak is chairman of the Cheshire Democratic Town Committee's Communication Relations/IT Committee, a volunteer position. He is a Cheshire Parks and Recreation Commissioner and has been a sportswriter at the New Haven Register for 36 years.