- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The general election campaign began to take shape Wednesday with a burst of TV attack ads across swing states that depicted Donald Trump as a foul-mouthed misogynist, confronting the likely GOP nominee with the threat of getting “Bained.”

That’s what contributed to the downfall of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. He waited too long to push back against attacks that used his successful career at venture capital firm Bain Capital to depict him as heartless corporate raider who left in his wake shuttered factories and laid-off workers.

The image wasn’t completely fair but it stuck, despite the parade of people the Romney campaign latter trotted out to attest to the millionaire’s enormous generosity and compassion.

“He just took it on the chin for months and he was losing the race at that time,” recalled Republican pollster Jim McLaughlin, adding that Mr. Trump shouldn’t make the same mistake and fight back early in key battlegrounds such as Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

Trump’s going to need resources to be able to fight back,” he said.

Mr. Trump proved mostly immune to TV attack ads in the primary race, able to use his dominance of social media to respond with a single tweet that would not only reach his more than 8 million Twitter followers, but get repeated across every news medium.

By the time the billionaire businessman had locked up the nomination earlier this month, he had weathered more than 50,000 TV attack ads, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.

Still, experts warned that Mr. Trump will have to resort to more traditional — and much more expensive — retaliation with paid TV spots in order to compete with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“If he is being pummeled by a bunch of political advertising in the swing states and he is not on the air in those states, in spite of his presence in the news media, that’s going to cost him,” said Travis Ridout, a political science professor at Washington State University and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project that tracks political advertising.

“Maybe not a ton but just a couple percentage points, but that really could matter in the swing states,” he said. “So he is going to want to be on the air. He’s going to need to buy a bunch of TV ads and compete with Clinton and the Democrats at that level.”

But, Mr. Ridout said, Mr. Trump has the advantage of having a well established public image from being a celebrity most of his life, making it more difficult for opponents to dictate his brand.

“Mitt Romney was just sort of a blank slate and Democrats got out there before Mitt Romney got out there to define himself,” he said. “In that regard it is going to be a little more difficult to come up with something to characterize Donald Trump.”

After running a very lean self-finance primary campaign that cost the real estate tycoon about $47 million, he has begun putting together the national fundraising network he will need in the general election, including forming a joint effort with the Republican National Committee.

The fall campaign is expected to cost more than $1 billion.

And questions persist about how soon Mr. Trump will be able to finance big TV ad buys.

The Trump campaign refused to answer questions about advertising strategy.

Mrs. Clinton and her allies have provided a glimpse of their strategy to brand Mr. Trump as a male chauvinist, a loose cannon and more con man than business titan.

Priorities USA, a pro-Clinton super PAC, began a $6 million TV ad campaign Wednesday in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Nevada, hitting Mr. Trump for making derogatory remarks about women.

The two ads that began airing Wednesday were just a taste of $96 million ad blitz that the political action committee has planned for this summer.

One of the ads shows women wearing white t-shirts with Mr. Trump’s face on it as they lip-sync Mr. Trump’s comments about women, including his remark about celebrity Kim Kardashian: “Does she have a good body? No. Does she have a fat ass? Absolutely.”

Another woman mouths Mr. Trump’s remark about Fox News host Megyn Kelly after they clashed at a candidates debate: “She had blood coming out of her wherever.”

The other ad used video of Mr. Trump making similar statements, ending with the tag line: “Donald Trump is wrong for us.”

Mr. Trump responded as he usually does, with tweets.

“Amazing that Crooked Hillary can do a hit ad on me concerning women when her husband was the WORST abuser of woman in U.S. political history,” Mr. Trump said in one Twitter post.

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