Don’t read New Republic but this popped up on my feed this morning and I thought it was especially interesting in the wake of Cruz getting booted from NYC. From New Republic:
Muslim women in American flag headscarves. A shopkeeper speaking Spanish to his customers. Orthodox Jewish men walking down a city street. This is the New York depicted in a recent Hillary Clinton ad: a cultural melting pot that showcases America’s openness and tolerance.
Both Clinton and Bernie Sanders have released uplifting ads about the Empire State in recent days. But these are not indicative of how New York is generally portrayed on the campaign trail. Not since the early 2000s, when politicians were tripping over themselves to praise New Yorkers after September 11, have campaign ads shown the state in such a positive light.
More often, New York is used as a symbol of greed, excess, and general depravity. It represents the source of the country’s problems, not its best aspects. It shows the fundamental clash between wealthy, powerful elites and down-to-earth people in real America.
In his 2014 memoir God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, Mike Huckabee described a great culture war gripping America that pitted New York against rest of the country. Fancy Manhattan restaurants, he wrote, never served grits. Guns were all but outlawed, and people stared at his cowboy boots on the subway. This is the New York most commonly depicted in campaign commercials, a city cordoned off from the American heartland and its wholesome values.
Political ads are often about identifying a villain: someone or something that makes voters either angry or afraid. Commercials about Wall Street, featuring sleek office buildings with tinted windows, do both. Look at these bankers who threw the country into a recession! You should be angry! What’s going on behind those ominous dark windows? You should be afraid! That is what makes these ads so effective—and Wall Street such an obvious target.
Less effective are the ads that attack the city as a whole. In January, Ted Cruz released a commercial in Iowa that featured an old newsreel of Trump saying, “I mean, hey, I lived in New York City or Manhattan all my life, so you know my views are little bit different than if I lived in Iowa.” The announcer concludes: “Donald Trump, New York values, not ours.” The idea was that there was something rotten about New York itself—and the people it produces.
This is a difficult idea to sell because it requires viewers accept the premise that all of New York’s eight million people are fundamentally corrupt. “It’s harder for citizens to draw the link,” Fowler said. “It’s easier to vilify the big banks than the city itself.” It’s particularly tricky territory for Republicans, who like to assail coastal elites for their moral apathy but often invoke the heroism of New Yorkers on 9/11 when discussing their counter-terrorism policies. When Cruz released the “New York Values” ad, “it didn’t end up playing very well,” Fowler said. Trump could simply write off the critique with a testament to the bravery he witnessed in New York immediately after the Twin Towers fell.