I’ve made political ads. They’re painstaking. You decide on the theme. You work over the script. Then you film and film and film. You do the same line over and over again. Then you go into the editing room and pick the one that you think works best. Is my inflection just right on that one? Did I emphasize the wrong word there? Every fraction of a second in one of these ads is a conscious decision.
So, that’s why I think it’s fair to look at Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels’ latest ad on immigration and conclude that he’s a jerk.
The content of the Michels’ ad is offensive enough. Michels proudly proclaims that he built Donald Trump a prototype of a border wall — not mentioning that he hoped his construction company would win a contract to build it and add to his fortune. He touts his endorsement from Trump and then proclaims that for “illegals” there should be “no drivers license, no benefits and no tuition.”
No tuition? Does he mean he supports Bernie Sanders’ free tuition proposal but only for “illegals”? Ironically, earlier in the ad Michels calls Pres. Joe Biden “utterly incompetent.” I suppose I get what Michels intends when he says “no tuition” but isn’t that murky phrasing utterly incompetent? Again, I’m not nitpicking here. Campaigns parse every syllable of a 30 second ad. To let a sloppy phrase like that get through really does call into question Michels’ competence.
And, of course, never mind that people need drivers licenses to get to jobs so that they can, you know, pay taxes, which by the way, undocumented immigrants do a whole lot more of than sap benefits. And where would Wisconsin’s economy — which already suffers from a labor shortage — be if we deported all those undocumented workers?
For a guy who’s running as a successful big businessman with all the answers, to not understand how important these workers are to the economy is, well, utterly incompetent.
Michels is so clearly race-baiting that he goes out of his way to say that he’s not. “That’s not racist,” he declares near the end of his ad, thus underscoring just how much it is just that.
But in addition to the content there’s the tone. Michels’ whole affectation is one of snarky, snide condescension. His last utterance is especially off-putting. He says, “When I’m governor that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” meaning he’s going to deny all those things to the “illegals”. You’ve got to watch his ad to see if you agree with me, but I think there’s a certain jerkiness in the way that line is delivered that cannot be overlooked. Once again, don’t forget that Michels probably rehearsed and recorded that line a dozen times and he and his campaign chose for him to come off just that way, like an arrogant, entitled know-it-all.
Michels is clearly trying to appeal to the most rabid of the Trumpy base. He’s going straight for their resentments. (And by the way, it would be interesting to know if Michels’ company has ever employed any “illegals.” My guess is that his primary opponents are hard at work researching that as I write.)
With Trump’s endorsement and millions of dollars of his own money to spend on the campaign, the odds are good that this New York millionaire will win his party’s nomination. I have to say I like the contrast between the understated, genuinely nice and full-time Wisconsin resident Tony Evers and Michels, who is by my reckoning a real jerk.