Right after President Joe Biden announced his bid for reelection Tuesday, the national GOP shot back with a fiery ad lambasting the president—and used AI to dream up a nightmarish second term with San Francisco front and center.
The “Beat Biden” ad asks viewers to imagine a world where the president wins reelection, shooting a string of “what-ifs” that Republicans answer with grim vignettes: crumbling banks, soldiers on the streets, China invading Taiwan and 80,000 “illegals” storming the border. The messaging is clear: If Biden wins, the GOP argues, America will fall.
The ad, described as “AI-generated” on the Republican National Committee’s YouTube channel, leans heavily on images of San Francisco to make its point.
The 32-second ad includes computer-generated shots of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the Golden Gate Bridge on an overcast day and what appears to be San Francisco streets lined with encampments. Faceless people with rifles, a man with face tattoos smoking—these scenes are overlaid with one question: “What if crime worsens?”
“Officials closed the city of San Francisco this morning, citing the escalating crime and fentanyl crisis,” explains a robotic narrator.
The Republican National Committee told Axios that Tuesday’s ad was the first 100% AI-generated video the party produced, though the committee didn’t elaborate on how exactly it was made. But the decision to use AI-generated visuals may be a controversial one, as artists, journalists and filmmakers grapple with increasingly powerful chat, image and video generators that blur the lines between reality and fantasy.
Popular programs like OpenAI’s Dall-E 2 or Midjourney have made it easier to create photorealistic yet fabricated imagery. OpenAI and other companies started to clamp down on allegations of political bias in February, however, and have since added guidelines to prevent chatbots and image generators from producing “politically biased” responses.
Republicans, for their part, have accused chatbots of anti-conservative bias, alleging that ChatGPT had “gone woke” in January.
Nonetheless, Democrats said the GOP’s fabricated, dystopian version of San Francisco is an all-too-convenient gambit to whip up fears about Biden’s reelection campaign.
“Republicans continue to use fearmongering and scapegoating as a platform because they have no real solutions,” said Honey Mahogany, chair of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. “San Francisco has its fair share of problems, but it is a fact that many red cities and states have far greater rates of crime, poverty and gun violence than we do—they should focus on that.”
San Francisco has long been a go-to punching bag for conservatives, as well as a subject of intense scrutiny over its handling of crime, drugs and homelessness. Though data paints a more complex picture of crime in the city, fears of violence and disorder have proven to be a powerful force in San Francisco and national politics.
The GOP’s ad marks the beginning of what is likely to be a highly contentious 2024 presidential election—and may be the first of many using images of stereotypically progressive San Francisco to attack Democratic candidates.
“Voters will be further polarized and emotions played upon in a tit-for-tat exchange [… among] whoever has enough money to slickly and quickly produce the videos,” said Richie Greenberg, a former Republican candidate for SF mayor, who described the GOP video as “political meets tech in PR warfare.”
Biden asked voters Tuesday to give him more time to “finish the job” he started in 2020, promising to fight for abortion and voting rights, along with other issues.
“I said we are in a battle for the soul of America, and we still are," Biden said. “The question we are facing is whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom. More rights or fewer.”
The Republican National Committee did not immediately respond to The Standard’s request for comment.
Liz Lindqwister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org