Republicans Counter Biden Announcement with Dystopian, AI-aided Video

Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman
President Biden sits in the Oval Office on March 10.

Shortly after President Biden announced his reelection bid Tuesday, the Republican National Committee countered with a video of its own offering a pretty predictable message: Four more years of Biden would be bad for the country.

But the production was anything but old school. The 30-second spot, which envisions a dystopian future during a second Biden term, was built entirely with AI imagery, the RNC said.

The video opens with a strained Biden voice addressing “my fellow Americans” and poses the question: “What if the weakest president we’ve ever had were reelected?”

Images that the RNC said were AI-generated follow, along with fake reports by what sound like news reporters.

An “emboldened” China is shown invading Taiwan. Shuttered storefronts are depicted as viewers are told 500 regional banks have closed, sending financial markets into free fall. A mass of migrants are shown crossing a river as the viewers are told that the U.S. border has been overrun by a surge of “illegals.” And military troops are seen on the outskirts of San Francisco as viewers are informed the city has been closed due to crime and fentanyl.

“Who’s in charge here? It feels like the train is coming off the tracks,” a voice says as the video closes.

An unusual disclaimer appears in the upper left corner of the RNC ad. “Built entirely with AI imagery,” reads the small white text.

Such political ads are likely to become more common as AI technology proliferates. The RNC said it used the approach to “look into the country’s possible future if Joe Biden is re-elected in 2024.”

AI language models and image generators have become increasingly accessible over the past year, resulting in a torrent of realistic-looking fake visuals accompanying major news events. Campaigns eager to stay on the cutting edge have been testing out the tools – dabbling with prompts for speeches in the style of certain politicians and enhancing fundraising pitches with AI-generated art.

To date, the RNC ad represents the most explicit use of the technology for political messaging.

“It’s another step toward the widespread use of synthetic media in the political realm,” said Matt O’Shaughnessy, a visiting fellow in the Technology and International Affairs Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It normalizes the use of synthetic media, especially by a major political organization.”

The tactic suggests the GOP is “taking the lead from Jack Posobiec,” said Sam Gregory, executive director of the human rights organization Witness, referring to the far-right provocateur who promoted the baseless “Pizzagate” claim in 2016.

Posobiec recently tweeted a fake video, which he described as a “sneak preview of things to come,” showing Biden announcing a military draft in response to Russia’s offensive in Ukraine. Posobiec did not respond to an inquiry made through the conservative website where he is a senior editor.

An RNC spokesman did not respond to a question about which image generator was used to make the ad. But Gregory said it was likely Midjourney, the platform recently used to generate make-believe scenes of former president Donald Trump being detained and Pope Francis wearing a fancy white puffy coat. The year-old company is run out of San Francisco with only a small collection of advisers and engineers. Its CEO, David Holz, did not respond to a request for comment about the RNC ad.

The Democratic National Committee ridiculed the ad in a statement, saying the GOP “had to make up images because, quite simply, they can’t argue with President Biden’s results.”

Some GOP ad makers and operatives, speaking on the condition of anonymity to address the party’s methods candidly, echoed that criticism. One reacted simply with an emoji of a face palm. Another said the bleak warnings about Biden’s second term made for a good concept but that real footage would have been stronger.

O’Shaughnessy, the Carnegie Endowment visiting fellow, said AI-generated media is most effective when convincing visuals are otherwise not available or when the AI technology enables larger-scale creation or more personal delivery. “This ad doesn’t fall solidly into either of those buckets,” he said. “AI tools probably made it faster and easier to create, but this could have been done without AI.”

Ethically, O’Shaughnessy added, the ad “walks a very fine line.”

“It frames the AI-generated scenes as hypothetical,” he said. “I think it adheres to some responsible principles, but the disclosure could have been more prominent.”

The release of the RNC video came about an hour after Biden posted a 2024 campaign launch video that draws from dozens of real videos and still images of his time in office. His three-minute video also features images of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, abortion rights protesters and voting rights activists as Biden makes the case for what’s at stake in the next election.

“The question we are facing is whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom, more rights or fewer,” Biden says in the video. “I know what I want the answer to be. This is not a time to be complacent. That’s why I’m running for reelection.”

Before releasing its video, the RNC put out a more traditional statement marking Biden’s entrance into the 2024 race.

“Biden is so out-of-touch that after creating crisis after crisis, he thinks he deserves another four years,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said. “If voters let Biden ‘finish the job,’ inflation will continue to skyrocket, crime rates will rise, more fentanyl will cross our open borders, children will continue to be left behind, and American families will be worse off.”

“Republicans are united to beat Biden and Americans are counting down the days until they can send Biden packing,” she added.