Oct 21, 2019

Trump is maintaining his digital lead in the 2020 campaign

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

As the 2020 election inches closer, Republicans continue to enjoy the digital edge they seized in 2016.

Why it matters: Online ad spending offers President Trump an efficient way to target sympathetic voters with fundraising pitches and barrage them with inflammatory messages on issues ranging from immigration to impeachment.

  • It's especially cost-effective on Facebook, because there, the more an ad proves "engaging" — i.e., hot, attention-grabbing, clicky — the cheaper it is.
  • It's a system made for Trump's style.

The big picture: This conflict, as we've been reporting, is unfolding on platforms that have given politicians a nearly unlimited free pass to tell lies.

Driving the news: The New York Times reported on Sunday that Trump is using ads on digital platforms more aggressively and creatively than Democrats.

By the numbers: Trump's campaign was massively outspending Democrats online earlier this year, but many Democrats have recently opened the floodgates, too.

  • In the last 90 days, Facebook reports say, Trump's campaign has spent approximately $5.3 million on Facebook ads. That's less than the $5.7 million spent by one Democratic candidate, Tom Steyer.
  • Biden may have retreated from the digital field, at least for now, but his rivals have not.

Between the lines: What differentiates the parties is less dollar totals than tactics.

  • Trump's messages are effective at grabbing attention, and his team — led by a campaign manager, Brad Parscale, who was the Trump digital lead in 2016 — relentlessly experiments and tests messages.
  • As is the norm with incumbents, Trump can focus his message on Democratic rivals (and fighting impeachment) while his challengers are still competing to determine who will be the party's nominee.
  • Some Democrats have brought digital ad buying and strategy in-house to cut costs. That could make it harder for them to tap the kind of up-to-date thinking and savvy agencies can offer.
  • Both sides have invested in texting infrastructure. But so far, Republicans have the edge in using text messages for fundraising and messaging.

Yes, but: Democrats have the advantage in small-dollar online donations.

  • ActBlue, a payment processing system used by most of the major Democratic presidential candidates, has pioneered small-dollar donations and donation tracking since 2016.
  • WinRed, the Republicans' rival system, only launched in July.

Our thought bubble: It's hard to envision any candidate winning the 2020 race without a top-notch strategy for digital and social media.

What's next: CEO Mark Zuckerberg will talk about Facebook's role in the 2016 and 2020 elections on an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt this evening.

Go deeper

Protests for George Floyd continue for 10th day

Thousands of protesters march over the Brooklyn Bridge on June 4 in New York City. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

All four former Minneapolis police officers have been charged for George Floyd’s death and are in custody, including Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, who were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

The latest: Crowds gathered in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Thursday evening and in Atlanta, Georgia, despite the rain. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms joined demonstrators on Thursday. Demonstrators in Washington, D.C. dispersed following a thunderstorm and rain warning for the region.

Trump says he will campaign against Lisa Murkowski after her support for Mattis

Trump with Barr and Meadows outside St. John's Episcopal church in Washington, D.C. on June 1. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump tweeted on Thursday that he would endorse "any candidate" with a pulse who runs against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Driving the news: Murkowski said on Thursday that she supported former defense secretary James Mattis' condemnation of Trump over his response to protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing. She described Mattis' statement as "true, honest, necessary and overdue," Politico's Andrew Desiderio reports.

3 hours ago - World

The president vs. the Pentagon

Trump visits Mattis and the Pentagon in 2018. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty

Over the course of just a few hours, President Trump was rebuffed by the Secretary of Defense over his call for troops in the streets and accused by James Mattis, his former Pentagon chief, of trampling the Constitution for political gain.

Why it matters: Current and former leaders of the U.S. military are drawing a line over Trump's demand for a militarized response to the protests and unrest that have swept the country over the killing of George Floyd by police.