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Zuckerberg’s power to hurt Trump

In this split picture, Mark Zuckerberg and Donald Trump are on either side.
Photos: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images, Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Top Republicans are privately worried about a new threat to President Trump’s campaign: the possibility of Facebook pulling a Twitter and banning political ads. 

Why it matters: Facebook says it won't, but future regulatory pressure could change that. If Facebook were to ban — or even limit — ads, it could upend Trump’s fundraising and re-election plan, GOP officials tell Axios.

  • Trump relies heavily — much more so than Democrats — on targeted Facebook ads to shape views and raise money.

Red flag: Kara Swisher, of Recode, the super plugged-in tech writer, predicted on CNBC's "Squawk Box" that Mark Zuckerberg will ultimately buckle on allowing demonstrably false political adds on Facebook: "He's going to change his mind — 100% ... [H]e's done it before."

  • Twitter this week announced a ban on political and advocacy ads. ("Platforms give pols a free pass to lie," by Scott Rosenberg)
  • Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale ridiculed the decision ("yet another attempt by the left to silence Trump and conservatives"), signaling the wicked backlash that would hit Zuckerberg.

Why it would hurt Trump: His campaign has mastered the art of using Facebook’s precision-targeting of people to raise money, stir opposition to impeachment, move voters and even sell Trump shirts and hats.

  • The Trump campaign often uses highly emotional appeals to get clicks and engagement, which provides valuable data on would-be voters and small-dollar donors.

Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told Axios: "We’ve always known that President Trump was too successful online and that Democrats would one day seek to wipe him off the Internet."

  • "That’s why we’ve invested so heavily in building up our data to allow us to communicate with millions of voters away from any third-party platforms like Facebook."
  • "Democrats demanding internet platforms shut down political advertising will guarantee Trump’s victory in 2020. They’re idiots."

By the numbers: The Trump campaign has spent $15.7 million dollars on Facebook ads this year, according to data from progressive advertising firm Bully Pulpit Interactive.

  • The next closest Democratic spender is billionaire Tom Steyer, who has so far spent less than half of that.
  • Those numbers don't include millions of dollars of additional Facebook ad spending from outside groups. The conservative non-profit Judicial Watch, for example, has spent $2.5 million on issue ads since the beginning of the year.

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