Populism on the right isn’t dead or even slowing down. On the contrary, its mass appeal is growing as evidenced by viral campaign ads that sometimes transcend politics and break through barriers erected by elite media companies.
“America First” seems to be the slogan to champion in any Republican primary in 2022. Hundreds of candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and other offices up and down ballots will have to convince voters of their authenticity by standing out from the crowd.
Four recent viral political campaign ads set the standard for carrying forward the next rendering of Trumpian populism.
“I’m not doing this for you,” the burly, bald man tells the establishment powerbroker to the shock of the cocktail swirling clubhouse-goers. He then rips off his hoity-toity Oxford shirt to reveal an America First T-shirt.
His name is Teddy Daniels, and he’s running to represent President Joe Biden’s hometown district in the U.S. House.
There are several balancing acts in this ad, as there are in the other ads that will be discussed. Most obviously, and perhaps most importantly, there’s the mix of humor and enormity.
Daniels tears his clothes off, rock music kicks in, and action-movie lettering splashes on the screen as the outsider candidate goes off on those who “sell out America.”
Optimism among Americans about the direction of their country fell off a cliff over the past few months, so more people may be ripe to hear a negative political message.
Still, keeping it light-hearted, especially when highlighting the ad’s protagonist, is necessary. After all, it is only 2021, plenty early in the political calendar, and the ad should keep people’s attention until they’re ready to share it on social media.
Daniels’ most penetrating lines come toward the end of the ad. A Purple Heart recipient for military service in Afghanistan, his purpose for running is twofold: freedom and family.
“We are at a pivotal moment in American history,” he says. “If we don’t act now, we could lose our freedom forever.”
“I’m in this fight for my family, and I’m in this fight for your family,” he adds.
Cory Mills, a U.S. House candidate in Florida, has a more authentic ad that ditches the theatrics.
“I’m an America First conservative, and there’s nothing that concerns me more than the America Last agenda that our government has today,” Mills declares.
The strength in this ad is its straightforwardness in both political messaging and the candidate’s biography. A successful populist movement is based on issues, but it thrives with strong leadership. The ad puts you up close and personal with Mills, who overcame a drug-infested childhood home life and went on to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Would you risk your life?” Mills asks the viewer. “Would you make the sacrifice?”
Like Daniels, Mills also cites “freedoms and liberties” as well as fighting “for our families, for our future.”
The libertarian-conservative fusionist theme continues in the following ad featuring freshman Congresswoman Lauren Boebert explaining why she carries a concealed Glock handgun in Congress and in Washington, D.C.
“So forget what you hear in the fake news,” she says. “Here are the real reasons why I choose to defend myself in our nation’s capital.”
From there, Boebert’s able to work in biographical information, that she’s a mother of four and an entrepreneur/business owner. She segues into the issue of “sky-rocketing crime” across the country, including D.C., one of the 10 most dangerous cities to be in.
“One of the challenges of working in D.C. is people here don’t understand how we live in real America,” she adds.
Perfect. Boebert clearly shows the contrast between the rulers and the ruled, cementing herself as a representative of the latter.
Last but not least comes Madison Cawthorn’s ad against certifying the electoral college results for the 2020 presidential election. It’s actually half-ad, half-documentary, clocking in at over six minutes long.
What makes this one especially relevant to populist and dissident messaging is that it goads Big Tech and the corporate press into lashing out with their censorship, fact-checking, and other thought-policing tactics.
Cawthorn can now boast of a “misleading” label on Twitter, a badge of honor for any American intolerant of voter fraud and unconstitutional election meddling.
“Fact check that,” Cawthorn taunts in the video.
Typical political and marketing consultants will talk about earned media and paid media, but it’s a whole new level when you’re garnering trigger warnings by the very forces that America First populism opposes.
America First is a serious movement (and threat) against the powers-that-be at the top of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Effective messaging will hit the issues and values that define the people’s righteous anger, while also raising up leaders and shining a light on the shadowy powers opposing the people’s will.
It looks like the message is getting out in 2022 whether they like it or not.