Paul for President, “The One You Can Trust”

  • Ad Titles: “The One You Can Trust”/“The One Who Can Beat Obama”
  • Ad Sponsor: Ron Paul Presidential Campaign Committee
  • Issues of Focus: Washington political climate, beating the incumbent, consistent conservatism
  • Type of Advertisement: Hybrid Negative/Positive Advertisement
  • Release Dates: August/December 2011
  • Length: 65 seconds

Script: (Note: there are two versions of this video, both uploaded by the Paul campaign. The two versions of the script are noted below.)

Narrator: It’s the story of a lost city, lost opportunity, lost hope. A story of failed policies, failed leadership. A story of smooth-talking politicians, insider deals. Games of he said, she said. Rhetoric and division.

One man has stood apart, stood strong and true. Voting against every tax increase, every unbalanced budget, every time. Standing up to the Washington machine, guided by principle.

Version 1: Ron Paul, the one who will stop the spending, save the dollar, create jobs, bring peace. The one who will restore liberty. Ron Paul, the one who can beat Obama and restore America now.

Ron Paul: I’m Ron Paul and I approve this message.

Narrator: It’s the story of a lost city, lost opportunity, lost hope. A story of failed policies, failed leadership. A story of smooth-talking politicians, insider deals. Games of he said, she said. Rhetoric and division.

One man has stood apart, stood strong and true. Voting against every tax increase, every unbalanced budget, every time. Standing up to the Washington machine, guided by principle.

Version 2: Ron Paul, the one with a plan to cut a trillion dollars year one, eliminate the waste, balance the budget. Ron Paul, the one we can trust, the one who will restore America now.

Ron Paul: I’m Ron Paul and I approve this message.

Analysis of “The One You Can Trust”/”The One Who Can Beat Obama”

Elia Powers, University of Maryland

Ad Context

Ron Paul, the Libertarian Texas congressman, isn’t known to bombard the airwaves with scores of campaign advertisements. He has a loyal if not large following, and his appeal is unlikely to grow substantially through traditional advertising campaigns. His calls for fiscal austerity mirror his campaign’s tendency not to match his opponents’ spending on television advertising. But that changed in the months before the 2012 Republican primaries and caucuses commenced. In October 2011, the New York Times ran a short article announcing that Paul had started a multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign. The Times called the campaign “the first serious push by a presidential candidate this year to influence votes in the early primary states with pricey broadcast commercials.” The article noted that Paul is “flush with cash early and is looking to spend it ahead of the first nominating contests…” Predicting the likely impact of the advertisements on the overall Republican primary, the Times argued that “His decision to spend millions on campaign ads will test that idea in the early states that matter.”[1]

Paul’s “The One” advertising campaign is atypical for several reasons. First, it is one minute long – not the standard 30-second length that plays well and is cost effective on television. Even more unusual, the “The One” was released two times in 2011. The first version of the video, “The One Who Can Beat Obama,” was released in August. According to Politico, the advertisement first aired over the summer in Iowa and New Hampshire. The news outlet reported that the advertisement was produced by a prominent Republican ad man and cost “six figures” in New Hampshire and a “substantial sum in Iowa.” The video came after Paul’s strong showing in the Ames straw poll.[2] Paul invested a great amount of time in Iowa, where he was holding steady in third or fourth place in the polls leading up to the early-January caucus.

In December 2011, Paul’s campaign re-released the advertisement with a different ending. Instead of trumpeting Paul as “the one who can beat Obama and restore America now,” the new ad, “The One You Can Trust,” promised that Paul “is the one we can trust, the one who will restore America now.” The Washington Post ran a blog post with the link to the video and short synopsis of its message.[3] Both videos are meant to look like big-budget movie trailers. By featuring two different endings, the advertisements resemble Hollywood blockbuster films that often try out alternative endings before settling on one.

Ad Assumptions

Both videos appear to be direct shots at Republican front-runner Mitt Romney. “The One Who Can Beat Obama” is a challenge to Romney’s selling point that he is the most electable candidate in the general election. “The One You Can Trust” is a slogan meant to give credence to the common narrative that the former Massachusetts governor is a flip-flopper without true convictions.

The ads rely on the viewer being familiar with Romney’s perceived faults as a candidate, and they frame Paul as the anti-Romney. That Paul is consistent on the issues is highlighted by the line: “Voting against every tax increase, every unbalanced budget, every time.” Paul is known for sticking to his talking points and Libertarian principles, and this ad moves Paul’s perceived strengths and Romney’s perceived weaknesses to the forefront.

These ads also operate under the assumption that viewers are fed up with the status quo in Washington, D.C. and displeased with the direction of the country. Both are smart bets at a time when approval ratings for Congress are at an all-time low and President Obama’s approval ratings are tenuous. Using language such as “lost opportunity,” “lost hope,” and “failed leadership,” underscores the claim that President Obama has not been the transformative president he promised as a candidate. He has not changed the culture in Washington – an argument the video makes while invoking Obama’s campaign rhetoric of “hope.” When the White House is shown in the ad, the camera moves right to left, an indication of a country heading in the wrong direction. The imagery of an empty storefront and a dilapidated main street is a pessimistic take on the state of the economy.

But the ads go beyond trying simply to highlight the differences between Paul and Romney and Paul and Obama. They frame Paul as the anti-everyone. The use of quick jump cuts showing Obama, Romney, Rick Perry, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in sequence while the words “Smooth-talking politicians, games of he said, she said, rhetoric and division,” show on the screen is a classic use of the montage, which is a linkage — or collision — between camera shots that results in new concepts being formed.[4] The Paul ads also use associational juxtaposition in which qualities transfer via sequential depiction, with Paul contrasted not only with Democratic leaders but also with other Republican primary opponents.[5] Viewers are supposed to lump all of these politicians together into the category of corrupt, status-quo politicians and associate them with the dark clouds moving over the Capitol building in the video. Paul, on the other hand, is portrayed as a political outsider who rises above the fray. No images of Washington, D.C. are shown during the second half of the video that focuses only on Paul. The other candidates are portrayed as contributing to an environment of political corruption; he represents the lone heroic one standing up for reform and against the corruption.

Ad Content

Paul’s ads use the big-budget movie trailer motif to create the impression that something major is in the works. The announcer’s voice and the use of ominous music in the first half of the ad create suspense, and the triumphant music and visuals in the second half of the video bring a happy ending to the story. The production details, such as showing the movie preview screen with the familiar phrase, “The Following Preview Has Been Approved for All Audiences by Restore America Now” (Paul’s campaign slogan) and the use of the faux title, “Balanced Budget Productions,” rely on the familiar markers of the movie trailer genre. Even the font used in the video is reminiscent of the font used by blockbuster filmmakers in their movie trailers.

The makers of these ads strive to counter the notion that Paul is a fringe candidate who is unelectable by showing Paul in the most presidential of settings – a campaign event that has the look and feel of the Republican National Convention. Paul walks into a grand room with bright lights shining directly on him. He stands on a raised stage behind a podium with a red-white-and-blue banner. A crowd of sign-waving supporters surrounds the stage. Most notably, the ad ends with confetti falling to the stage – creating the appearance (along with uplifting music) of a Paul nomination victory.

Candidates must be able to perform the presidency. Stagecraft is a huge part of politics, and these ads are a testament to the importance of creating the illusion of victory and mass appeal. Paul’s campaign desperately wants viewers to be able to picture Paul as the Republican nominee or even the president. These ads portray Paul as a leader and a statesman. Placing him in this convention setting and having Paul perform the role of the victor is central to the campaign strategy of getting viewers to believe Paul can actually win the nomination and ultimately the election. As Erickson notes, performance imagery illustrates political aims and can hoodwink the public.[6] The images offer a different reality than the public opinion polls tell. At the time of the ads’ circulation, Paul was capturing an estimated 9 percent (August 2011) and 10 percent (December 2011) of the Republican primary vote.[7]

Through performance, candidates can signal active leadership and highlight salient events or issues.[8] These videos are also prime examples of visual framing because they promote a particular interpretation of issues and events.[9] In the case of these ads, the Paul campaign is highlighting Paul’s consistency on the issues while pointing to specific goals such as saving the dollar and creating jobs. They want viewers to interpret this election as a referendum on business-as-usual, insider Washington politics – with Paul positioned as the agent of real change.

Interestingly, the ads utilize the narrator’s voice and words on an otherwise blank screen, but we do not hear Paul speak until the standard endorsement line at the end. This speaks to the primacy of visuals. Viewers often pay attention to and remember visual displays of political leaders and do not necessarily remember words.[10] The ads thus help the audience visualize Paul as president, framing him with all of the trappings of a viable presidential contender and a victorious president.

The camera angles used in these ads further create the impression that Paul is transparent, powerful, and a visionary. Paul is shot at almost every angle imaginable – from below, from above, from the front, from the back, and even from 180 degrees in one frame. This camerawork is not just an artistic exercise; it shows the viewer all sides of Paul in an effort to frame him as a transparent candidate. You can look at him from any angle. He has nothing to hide.

The first time we see Paul he is walking out of the dark and into the grand room. The left part of his face is illuminated. He’s walking through a crowd with cameras flashing around him. It’s unclear where he is, but with a man wearing a suit behind him and a crowd gathering around him one could image this is a State of the Union speech. The behind-the-podium shots of Paul are a mixture of low-angle shots (which portray Paul as a powerful figure) and shots from behind and from above (which allow us to witness the sea of adoring fans and gauge the grandiosity of this setting). When the narrator speaks the words “guided by principle,” the camera gives us a low-angle close-up on Paul’s face, which allows us to closely evaluate the claim. In the final wide-angle shot of Paul on stage waving to the crowd, the camera for the first time moves left to right, an indication of progress.

Who is Talking About the Ad and the Issue

The Paul ads received minimal press coverage, which is not surprising given Paul’s perpetual outsider status. The main coverage came from the New York Times, Washington Post, and Politico articles referenced earlier. Many news media outlets have covered Romney’s perceived flaws as a candidate and Paul’s consistency on the issues, but little was said about this relationship in the context of Paul’s campaign ads.

“The One” ads made their rounds through social media – also not surprising given Paul’s popularity among young people who are well-versed in Facebook and Twitter. On Paul’s campaign website, “The One You Can Trust” was shared nearly 900 times and liked more than 500 times on Facebook.[11]  “The One Who Can beat Obama” was shared on a Ron Paul fan site,[12]prompting more than 3,500 comments on the page about Paul’s Republican bona fides and his chances to win the nomination. The video was liked by more than 2,700 people on Facebook.


[1] Shear, Michael D. “Campaign Barrage Begins With Paul.” The New York Times. October 20, 2011. Accessed on March 9 from http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/campaign-ad-barrage-begins-with-paul/.

[2] Hohmann, James. “Exclusive – New Ron Paul Ad Calls Him ‘The One.’” Politico. August 16, 2011. Accessed on March 9 from http://www.politico.com/morningscore/0811/morningscore394.html.

[3] The Washington Post. “Ron Paul Ad: The One You Can Trust.” December 27, 2011. Accessed on March 9 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/ron-paul-ad-the-one-you-cantrust/2011/12/27/gIQAgr8vKP_video.html.

[4] Stephens, Mitchell. The Rise of the Image the Fall of the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 102.

[5] Grabe, Maria E. & Bucy, Erik P. Image Bite Politics: News and the Visual Framing of Elections. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 102.

[6] Erickson, Keith V. Presidential Rhetoric’s Visual Turn: Performance Fragments and the Politics of Illusionism. In Visual Rhetoric: A Reader in Communication and American Culture. Olson, Lester C., Finnegan, Cara A. & Hoe, Diane S. (eds). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008, p. 358. 

[7] RealClearPolitics. “2012 Republican Presidential Nomination.” Accessed on March 18, 2011 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XESux7oFMDY.

[8] Erickson, “Presidential Rhetoric’s Visual Turn,” p. 364.

[9] Grabe and Bucy, Image Bite Politics, p. 98.

[10] Grabe and Bucy, Image Bite Politics, p. 56.

[11] Ron Paul2012. “New Ron Paul Ad: The One You Can Trust.” Accessed on March 9 from http://www.ronpaul2012.com/2011/12/24/new-ron-paul-ad-the-one-you-can-trust/.

[12] Ron Paul.com. “New Ron Paul TV Ad: The One Who Can Beat Obama.” August 16, 2011. Accessed on March 9 from http://www.ronpaul.com/2011-08-16/new-ron-paul-tv-ad-the-one-who-can-beat-obama/.