Hmmm: Trump campaign pauses all TV ads while it reworks its messaging strategy

We can only guess what the next batch of advertising from TrumpWorld will look like but I know what my money’s on. Three words: Hydroxy, hydroxy, hydroxy.


Whatever problem you have — coronavirus, unemployment, riots, you name it — just take the hydroxy and hope for the best.

The interesting thing about this ad “pause,” made in the wake of Bill Stepien replacing Brad Parscale as campaign manager, is that lately their ads had focused on hammering Biden for the left’s “defund the police” push. That seemed like a potentially fruitful line of attack, especially with violence ticking up in some cities last weekend. Did Stepien see data that suggests it’s not paying off?

I suppose that data would be “the polls,” but I meant private data. Anyway, per NBC:

President Donald Trump’s campaign has virtually disappeared from the airwaves as it undertakes “a review and fine-tuning of the campaign’s strategy” as an official put it after the replacement of campaign manager Brad Parscale.

With less than 100 days until Election Day, the Trump campaign spent virtually nothing on television or radio ads on Wednesday and Thursday, according to data from Advertising Analytics. And it has effectively nothing booked through August.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s campaign has spent $3.9 million over those two days and has another almost $6 million booked through the end of August.

One obvious pivot they could make in their advertising would be to go negative on Biden’s record. We’re more than halfway through the year and less than 100 days from the election and Trump has said scarcely anything about policies supported by a guy who spent 35 years in the Senate and eight more as VP. The White House invested more energy in trying to prove that Hunter Biden was up to something shady in Ukraine than it has in reminding voters that there’s reason to think they won’t like what they get from a Biden presidency, starting with foreign-policy decisions like supporting the Iraq war. Biden’s rivals in the primary used the crime bill he spearheaded in the mid-90s as proof that he doesn’t share the left’s priorities on reforming a broken justice system. That would be a … complicated attack for President Law And Order to echo, but Trump has some cover to do so from his own support for criminal justice reform. If nothing else, ads about Biden’s record might remind progressives that they’re not required to vote for him after all.


Another pivot would be to start running ads about COVID-19. One of the most shocking things I read this week was a HuffPost story reporting that, between July 1 and July 26, not a single dollar of the $38 million spent by Team Trump on advertising went to an ad about the pandemic. It simply hasn’t figured at all in the president’s campaign message. Anti-Trumpers will read that and think, “What are they supposed to say? ‘150,000 dead ain’t bad under the circumstances’?” But they have to say something. Ceding the field to Biden on the most important issue of the campaign is electoral suicide. Run some ads touting the number of tests that have been conducted, the number of ventilators that were built, progress on vaccines under Operation Warp Speed, and so forth. America’s response is a sh*tshow, but the point of PR is to make sh*tshows seem less bad. Ads might boost public support for Trump’s handling of the crisis somewhat, which would be crucially important to getting him back in the race. His COVID polling is what’s killing him right now.

And remember, Stepien’s the guy who reportedly championed the (brief) change in “tone” that Trump’s had lately on the virus. There are enough clips of him from the last two weeks touting masks, canceling the GOP convention, and holding COVID briefings to put together a “no, really, he cares a lot” ad. Maybe that was the point of pivot in the first place — just to get Trump on message for a week or two, enough time to generate ad material, then let him go back to grumbling about reopening and hydroxychloroquine. Stepien got what he needed.


The last possibility is outside the box: Maybe they’ll launch a campaign of meta-ads about how Democrats are going to rig the vote. To listen to Trump lately, most notably in his tweet about delaying the election, you would think he’s resigned to defeat and has moved on to grasping for ways to spin it or to stop the election from happening at all. If he had his way, the campaign might follow his lead and start focusing in ads on the “cheating” that’s about to be perpetrated to deny him a second term. Here he was today raising the possibility of China and Russia forging mail-in ballots, which is bizarre even for him. Why would countries with teams of professional hackers resort to manufacturing hard evidence which can be scrutinized and debunked as counterfeit when they could focus on trying to hack the computerized vote totals instead?

The top U.S. intelligence official on election security gave a closed-door briefing to the House today and was asked about foreign enemies forging ballots. Nope, not worried about it, he said. So why is Trump worried? Probably because he’s begun trying to pre-spin a loss and knows that raising doubts about the integrity of ballots now sets him up to claim later that he was cheated. Coincidentally or not, it also primes the pump for Russian and Chinese propaganda mischief. They don’t have to lift a finger to try to change the actual vote totals in November. All they have to do is plant false evidence online that ballots were tampered with to encourage the belief that only foreign chicanery can explain his defeat:


The President is so vocal in his distrust of voting by mail that there are concerns among intelligence and law enforcement officials that he is laying the groundwork for the exact sort of foreign disinformation campaigns they warn about.

“They can’t physically do anything about (mail-in ballots) but (they can) create social media narratives to create levels of doubt and play into the debate,” a law enforcement official said. “We are alert for the fact they may take doubts about mail-in ballots and exploit that online.”

Trump’s consigliere, Bill Barr, also raised the possibility of forged ballots recently even though he had no evidence that it’s happening and the head of DHS’s voting-security unit has been publicly skeptical of it. The upshot of Trump’s many weeks of disparaging mail-in voting is, well, this:

He’s also begun tweeting that we “Must know Election results on the night of the Election,” which is convenient for him since Democrats are likely to massively outnumber Republicans on mail-in voting this year. If day-of voting is the only trustworthy voting in Trump’s telling, that positions him up to claim on election night that he’s the “real winner” even as tens of millions of votes for Biden flow in on the ensuing days. “If Trump were really concerned that the election will be rigged, he and Republicans would be, y’know, taking steps to correct that,” tweeted Gabe Malor earlier this afternoon. “They’re not.”


With any other presidential campaign we’d say, “Of course they’re not going to waste money on ads that pre-spin an impending defeat as fraudulent. They’re trying to win! Ads like that would achieve nothing except to soothe the candidate’s ego.” But this isn’t any other presidential campaign. The candidate’s ego is a top priority, so much so that the campaign has already run ads in the uniformly Democratic Washington D.C. market for the sole purpose of cheering Trump up. I don’t think they’ll waste campaign resources on “rigged!” ads right now, when there’s still a lot of campaign ball still to be played, but if we start getting deep into September and the numbers continue to look grim, I can imagine them switching to a “burn it all down” messaging effort to delegitimize a likely Biden victory. It would be horrendous, designed to make the country more embittered and ungovernable, but it would also make Trump feel good. And that’s what’s important.

Here’s what the Lincoln Project is up to lately. They must be raking it in to be cranking out six-minute ads.

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David Strom 6:00 PM | May 21, 2024