There are nearly 100 days left until Election Day, and we’ve begun to notice a new, coordinated conservative messaging effort start to take shape. The President’s campaign, down-ballot Republicans, and their allies in the Right-wing media have begun to paint a false picture of a crime-ridden America in chaos, in order to portray Trump as America’s only hope to save it.
This coordinated messaging effort is playing out in parallel to Trump’s actions to escalate the deployment of federal troops to Democratic-led cities across the country. We’ll take a deep dive into these efforts and more in this week’s FWIW.
2020, BY THE NUMBERS
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $99.9 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the midterm elections. Joe Biden has spent $42.7 million advertising on those same platforms. Here’s how much each campaign spent just last week:
Nationwide and in key states, the Trump campaign is spending online at an insanely high rate. For several weeks now, they’ve doubled, tripled, or quadrupled the Biden campaign’s spending on platforms like Google and Facebook – and it ain’t just for fundraising ads. (We’ll dig into that below.) We’ll also note that the Biden campaign is receiving major air cover on persuasion advertising from outside progressive groups online, which narrows this spending gap tremendously.
FWIW, here are the rest of the top spenders on Facebook last week:
Here’s what last week looked like in terms of Google advertising:
Each week, we’re breaking down Facebook spending in key presidential battleground states, beginning with Arizona, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. We’ll soon be expanding our tracking here to include additional states we think may be in play. Here’s how much the campaigns and major outside groups spent on ads focused on the presidential race from July 12th to July 18th:
As PACRONYM CEO + Founder Tara McGowan pointed out on NPR last week, “Trump’s losing right now – definitively. That does not necessarily mean that Joe Biden is winning. And so even though he’s benefiting from how low in the polls Trump is, he’s still got to really fight for enthusiastic votes and turnout from the Democratic base.”
THE OVAL OFFICE AUTONOMOUS ZONE
The President’s campaign has been desperate to change the channel from the coronavirus disaster that their boss has made exponentially worse, and it appears that they’ve lasered in on a new narrative that has been reinforced in the press and advertising over the past month.
They’ve gone after Biden’s age, and they tried this whole “Beijing Biden” thing, but now, it seems they’re attempting a more insidious play: portraying the President as our nation’s last great “law and order” hope to defend against rampant crime and anarchy.
In dozens of ads and earned media plays over the past month and a half, the Trump campaign has attempted to flood voters with content highlighting crime, anarchy, cities burning, and violent protests. It doesn’t matter that the ads are misleading. This narrative, which appears to be intended to also soften the ground for the administration’s recent orders to deploy federal troops to cities across the country, has been repeated and amplified by his administration and right-wing media, and has created an echo-chamber that the Biden campaign and groups on the left should take very seriously.
Some Trump Facebook ads we’ve seen feature direct side-by-side images of Trump with law enforcement next to images of what’s presented as anti-police violence, while others feature elderly white people falling victims to home-invasion:
We should also note one such ad that featured imagery aiming to depict violent protesters is actually from Ukraine in 2014. 🤦🏻♂️ The Trump campaign continued this strategy on Google and YouTube, running dozens of video ads targeting swing-state voters with the same narratives:
It’s not just Trump. The same playbook that we’ve been warning about for months is playing out before our eyes. Here’s how it goes: Trump weaponizes the power of the federal government to take a political action, the right-wing media amplifies it, and his campaign makes it an issue by flooding the airwaves with more content. Rinse and repeat. Need more proof? Here are today’s front pages from Fox News and Breitbart:
Look, it’s clear in the polls, both internal and public, that Trump needs a narrative shift in this election if he’s going to have a shot at four more years. His campaign and their allies believe this nationalist ploy could be a good contender for that. All of this could be an attempt at some type of low-level Willie Horton effect to bring the suburbs back into his column, which he’s currently losing badly to Biden, but time will tell if Americans fall for it.
The scarier possibility? Trump doesn’t believe he can win this election fairly so is working on a way to use his federal powers to scare people from voting come November.
BEFORE YOU GO…
That’s it for FWIW this week! Before you go, we have one more ask of you. As the general election heats up, it’s more important than ever for our friends and colleagues to stay in the know on what’s happening with the campaign. If you’re one of the over 14,000 people who enjoy reading FWIW each week, give us a follow on Twitter, and help get out the word by forwarding this email to two friends who care about democracy + the money that influences it.