Aug 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump campaign spends big on criminal justice online ads

Data: Bully Pulpit Interactive; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data: Bully Pulpit Interactive; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

In an effort to lure voters around issues like race relations, the Trump campaign has poured big money into Facebook ads about criminal justice reform.

Why it matters: It's a huge departure from his months-long campaign strategy of targeting hard-line supporters with ads discussing topics like the "fake news" media and immigration.

  • Now, the campaign is pushing more aggressively to address newer issues that experts think voters will consider more seriously in November.

The big picture: Top Republicans think that the election will hinge on four key issues — the economy, the coronavirus pandemic, China and race.

  • Polling suggests that the president's campaign fails miserably on race relations.

By the numbers: Prior to George Floyd's death, the Trump campaign spent less than $50,000 on Facebook ads addressing criminal justice.

  • Since two days after Floyd's death on May 25th, the campaign has poured nearly $6 million into Facebook ads about criminal justice, according to data from Bully Pulpit Interactive.
  • While spending on "fake news" has remained consistent, in the past two months the Trump campaign's investment in ads addressing criminal justice reform have surpassed "fake news" as a top policy issue in ad messaging.

Yes, but: The Trump campaign is also investing heavily in ads opposing defunding the police, which typically mention "law and order" and the "radical left," a topic that appeals to many Republicans and their concerns that the protests over police brutality will dismantle law enforcement.

  • Overall, the Trump campaign has spent roughly $45 million on Facebook ads since late May, while the Biden campaign has spent around $24 million.

Between the lines: Trump views helping Black Americans as a separate issue from police brutality. While he says he supports Black lives, he also argues vehemently against defunding the police and has criticized the "Black Lives Matter" movement as a "symbol of hate."

  • Instead, in response to widespread criticism over his handling of the Floyd protests, Trump and his reelection campaign hit back by promoting his work on criminal justice reform and touting that unemployment among African Americans has dropped since he took office.
  • His campaign has continued that approach in the months since the outcry over Floyd's death, and plans to emphasize this messaging during the Republican National Convention this week — including with a speech from Alice Marie Johnson, whose prison sentence Trump commuted.

The other side: The Trump campaign declined to comment. Jamal Brown, national press secretary for the Biden campaign, told Axios that "no amount of gaslighting or false ads about Joe Biden's record can help explain away Trump's racism."

  • "Joe Biden and Kamala Harris offer a better path forward to a safer, more equitable future, and we will spend every day between now and election day making that contrast known."

View the ads.

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