Brack: Parasite ad may backfire to help Graham


White House photo

It’s gotten so bad in the cauldron of American politics that you wonder whether people are itching to argue about the color of the sky.

“It’s blue,” one might say. “No,” says another. “It’s orange. I saw it on TV in Oregon.”

“You’re both wrong, it’s black.”

In truth (real truth, not fake truth), all three are correct. On a glorious day in South Carolina, the sky is blue. On a wildfire day in the far West, the sky is pumpkin orange. At night, the sky is black.

Three different realities can be true at one time. Everything doesn’t always fit neatly into an either-or cubbyhole. People can walk, talk and chew gum at the same time. But in an America increasingly torn apart by leaders spewing caustic venom and peaceful protests gone awry, too many politicians want you to forget how many answers or positions in politics are varying shades of gray. They want you to think things are black or white. 

With just six weeks left in a campaign season on acid, they’ll keep trying to manipulate you because you can either vote for or against someone. The tone of politics isn’t going to get better in South Carolina or anywhere else. Increasingly negative political ads will continue to air around the clock. Why? Unfortunately, because they work — and because voters fall for them without doing enough research.

The worst — the absolute worst — is a new ad that spews a comparison of GOP U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to a parasite. Buttressed by gross images of creepy-crawly bugs and decaying animals, this ad is shameful. Aired by the Lincoln Project, a group of traditional Republicans who desperately want Trump Republicans off of the national stage, the ad is nothing less than Republicans eating their young — or in this case, those who enable Trump. They want more of the old-time, country club GOP to return to focus on fiscal conservatism, a strong military and steady foreign policy instead of the directionless ranting of a president supported by lemmings who have forgotten how to think.

“Some animals are parasitic,” the ad says. “They drink the lifeblood of their host, infect whatever they touch and spread like a virus. They’re often right under our noses, camouflaged, convincing their hosts they’re not harmful at all.”

The graphic, disturbing ad is referring, of course, to how Graham built a maverick reputation in Congress, in part, by being an acolyte of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. During the 2016 GOP presidential primary season, Graham, one of several candidates running for the top office, loudly criticized Trump as a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” Then after McCain’s death, something happened as Trumpism ascended. Graham, perhaps worried that someone in the GOP in South Carolina would threaten his power, veered to Trump, eventually becoming one of his chief supporters in the Senate. 

The Lincoln Project, fronted by some of McCain’s top aides, targeted Graham. But the group’s efforts seem more like a personal vendetta than a difference of political opinion. It may have gone too far.

Recent polling shows Graham tied at 48 percent with Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison, who has been impressive in raising tens of millions of dollars to counter Graham. Harrison has a real chance. 

But it’s possible the nastiness of the Lincoln Project’s ad will backfire. Conservative South Carolinians like Trump. They’re not as enamored with Graham, but they’ll vote for him. 

Hanging in the balance is the 4 percent of voters who haven’t decided. What has got to be keeping Graham and Harrison up at night is whether something like the Lincoln Project’s parasite ad is enough to turn people off so much that they cast a sympathy vote for Graham because people from out of state were mean to him. It could happen. 

Just think about how you feel when somebody criticizes your favorite football or baseball team. Your natural reaction is to double-down and ramp up your support. For those on the fence, tough, gross criticism of Graham could cause voters to refuse to take the negative ad bait and push Graham over the finish line first in a squeaker.

Andy Brack is publisher of Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.

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