Remember the summer of 2012? Mitt Romney had burned through all of his primary cash by the beginning of June, leaving him without much opportunity to answer attack ads from Barack Obama’s campaign until after the convention. That was almost three months of impotence, and the experience convinced the RNC to move the convention into mid-July to prevent another similar debacle in 2016.
With Donald Trump as the nominee, though, Democratic PACs sense that they may still have a five-week window for an encore. Get ready for a deluge of attack ads in swing states, National Journal’s S.V. Dáte reports:
Donald Trump loves to brag about how he always counterpunches when attacked, but he could soon be taking an unanswered, $20 million pummeling in those few states that will decide the November election.
A series of ads painting him as an unserious, unready, and unscrupulous businessman who also happens to disparage women and minorities is to start airing June 8, the day after the final primaries in which Trump is likely to clinch the Republican presidential nomination.
“That’s a good day to start,” said Justin Barasky with Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Democrat Hillary Clinton. “We’re not going to the make the same mistake Republicans did in waiting too long [to go on the offensive].”
For five full weeks, in a lull between the primary season and the GOP convention, these messages may have the airwaves to themselves in seven swing states, with the notoriously tight-fisted Trump loath to spend tens of millions of his own money to counter the attack and the Republican Party unable to defend him until he officially becomes the nominee.
“Notoriously tight-fisted” presumes much, though. Trump’s usually willing to spend, and spend garishly, in his personal and business lives. He hasn’t done so in this presidential cycle, but then again, he hasn’t had the need to do so, either. He has managed to dominate the Republican primaries while spending minimally, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll use the same strategy in the general election, assuming he wins the nomination.
How much damage can Democratic PACs do in a five-week span? Some, probably, but don’t count out Trump’s ability to garner media coverage and make up for the lack of advertising. As soon as Cruz gets put away, Trump will turn his attention fully on Hillary Clinton, and will almost certainly use outrageous attacks and claims to get plenty of attention from national media. They’ll be spending money in swing states calling Trump an unscrupulous businessman, but in between commercial breaks, news reporters and analysts will be debating whether Trump went too far in claiming that Hillary deliberately sacrificed four Americans in Benghazi to cover up her incompetence in making Libya a failed state. The PACs will call Trump unserious while the media amplifies Trump’s calls for Hillary’s indictment and demands all of the financial records from the Clinton Foundation, and so on.
That will work for a while, anyway. At some point, the mainstream media may tire of being Trump’s free advertising service, although it certainly brings the ratings. That moment may be coming soon, as Trump clinches the GOP nomination and the story becomes whether a Republican or Democrat win the White House. Republicans may bet on Trump’s ratings to win that editorial battle, but … don’t count on it.