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Hillary Clinton’s unusual ad strategy: show people listening to Donald Trump talk

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The typical negative campaign ad usually features a solemn-voiced narrator telling you how horrible the candidate’s opponent is. Ominous music plays; news clippings fly across the screen. The opponent’s voice is only heard briefly, if at all. The point is to tell you what to think.

But throughout this general election campaign, Hillary Clinton’s team has embraced a very different and unusual strategy. Many of her ads just play clips of Donald Trump speaking, as people watch in silence. For the most part, viewers are left to come to their own conclusions about what Trump is saying, rather than being explicitly told what to think.

Here’s the newest version, an ad called "Mirrors," released this week, in which young women look at themselves in mirrors while various sexist comments Trump has made in the past play:

And an earlier ad, called "Role Models," showed even younger children watching Trump make various offensive or disturbing statements on television:

It’s rare for a candidate to effectively hand over the mic to her opponent for an entire ad spot, but apparently it tests well. And Trump has inarguably provided a lot of material for Clinton to use.

Furthermore, the ad reflects a larger strategic choice by Clinton to emphasize Trump’s negative personal traits rather than attempting to tie him to the Republican Party or Republican ideology. This is part of an effort to pry married white college graduates, many of whom might ordinarily lean Republican on the issues, away from Trump because of his style and temperament.

Indeed, Ruby Cramer and BuzzFeed News reported this week that around May, the Clinton team decided to change its messaging to emphasize Trump’s personal traits rather than partisanship or ideology. The strategy appears to be paying off for Clinton, if not for Democrats in general, as Clinton tends to run several points ahead of Democratic Senate candidates in most competitive states.

It’s unclear how much credit Clinton’s message, rather than the basic facts about Trump, deserves for that, though. But as Matt Yglesias reminds us, Clinton and her team are likely saving their most devastating attack ads on Trump for later in the campaign season.