Mushroom Cloud Reappears in Anti-Trump Ad From Bill Bradley-Backed PAC

The group is spending at least $725,000 to air the ad in Ohio.

Bill Bradley, former U.S. senator from New Jersey, attends the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 6, 2016, in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Bill Bradley, the former Democratic senator from New Jersey and a long-time vociferous critic of super-PACs, has formed just such a group to go after Donald Trump in the final weeks before Election Day with a TV ad that invokes one of the most powerful political attacks in American history.

In September 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential campaign released “Daisy,” a 60-second television advertisement that juxtaposed a petal-picking child with images of nuclear obliteration to caution against a Barry Goldwater presidency. It aired only once, but is widely remembered as perhaps the most powerfully negative TV ad ever created.

Now a half-century later, adding another peculiar footnote to an unpredictable election cycle, Bradley’s new super-PAC, 52nd Street Fund, is using similar apocalyptic footage in its first—and likely only—ad buy of the 2016 presidential cycle. According to a person familiar with the plan, the one-week campaign started Monday in Ohio, a must-win state for Trump, targeting voters in the Columbus, Toledo, and Cincinnati media markets. 

“One nuclear bomb can kill a million people,” says the spot’s narrator, speaking over glowing shots of mushroom clouds. “That’s more than all the men, women, and children living in Columbus, Ohio.”

Unlike “Daisy,” which did not depict or mention Goldwater directly, Bradley’s 30-second ad includes a clip of Trump at a March town hall event with MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews, who suggested that Americans don’t want to hear a presidential candidate considering the use of nuclear weapons. Trump’s reply—“Then why are we making them?”—is accompanied by an atomic explosion that fills the screen. The ad ends with a silent, text-only warning: “Be careful who you vote for.” 

52nd Street Fund was registered with the U.S. Federal Election Commission earlier this month.  The group's name is a reference to a 1939 W.H. Auden poem, which is set in a bar on 52nd Street. The 1964 Johnson campaign appears to have borrowed a line from that same poem for its “Daisy” ad: “We must love one another or die.”  The new super-PAC is spending at least $725,000 on its ad, titled “Careful,” which was created by the Boston firm MMB, according a press release obtained early by Bloomberg Politics. The group has no plans at the moment to expand into other markets or purchase more airtime in the Buckeye State, said the person with knowledge of the super-PAC's intentions.

"I think the nuclear issues transcends all issues," said Bradley, who spoke for the first time about his super-PAC in an exclusive interview Tuesday with the Bloomberg Politics' "With All Due Respect." "If a president miscalculates, misreads the intent of the enemy, if the president doesn't have the leadership skills to diffuse a crisis before it gets to the nuclear level, then it doesn't matter what his position is on other things. Whether it's campaign finance reform or abortion or trade or immigration, because we will all be toast."

52nd Street Fund is backed by a small group of bipartisan donors who share his trepidation, Bradley said, adding that his friend, filmmaker George Lucas, first proposed the idea for the commercial. 

This foray into the world of outside money is particularly notable because Bradley, a progressive icon and 2000 Democratic presidential candidate, has for decades displayed antipathy toward the influence of money in politics. Even before the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, Bradley was calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn free-speech restrictions related to campaign spending. He has continued to argue more recently that federal, state, and local governments should be able to limit the impact money has on elections, and that super-PACs should be illegal because they are threatening American democracy.

Asked on "With All Due Respect" why he chose this format to attack the Republican nominee, Bradley responded, "I think that this is the best way to reach people, the most powerful way."

Less surprising is Bradley's decision to go after Trump. The two were foes long before the Manhattan billionaire’s political rise. While Bradley, who was a hall of fame basketball player for the New York Knicks, was running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1999, Trump wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that accused the former senator of having a “legislative record that is as embarrassing as his athletic record is impressive.”

Trump’s gripe centered on a tax reform measure that Bradley successfully championed in 1986, which ended real estate tax shelters. “It's like being an unbelted passenger in a racecar in which the driver has stomped on the brakes with both feet at 150 miles an hour,” Trump wrote about the legislation. “Mr. Bradley's big idea sent the real-estate markets through the windshield.”

Decades later, Bradley speaks with pride about that tax provision. In a May interview on MSNBC, Bradley called Trump a “below average real estate developer who almost went bankrupt because he got addicted to real estate tax shelters.”

In that same interview, foreshadowing the message behind his new scorched-earth ad, Bradley noted that he wouldn’t feel safe with Trump in the White House. “I don’t trust him with his finger on the nuclear button,” he said. “Just look how impulsive he’s been throughout this whole campaign. You need steadiness if you are the president of the United States.”

—Tyler Kendall contributed to this article. 

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