Democrats are hoping millions of Americans tune in to their first primary debate Wednesday night. And President Trump isn’t going to watch quietly: His campaign has purchased some of the best real estate on the Internet to deliver his core 2020 message while an overcrowded field of Democrats fight for six minutes of TV time.
His re-election campaign has bought YouTube’s masthead — the advertisement spanning the top of the site’s homepage — in a high-priced bit of debate-day counter-programming. It currently features a dystopian video about immigration and urges visitors to text “BORDER” to the campaign.
“Drugs, terrorists, violent criminals and child traffickers trying to enter our country,” an ominous voice begins the ad. “But Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer care more about the radical left than keeping us safe. The consequences? Drug deaths. Violent murder. Gang violence.”
Trump himself appears later. “Liberals care more about illegal immigrants than they do about our own citizens,” he says. “It’s time to put America first.”
The president boasts a vaunted digital operation that has helped him raise piles of money early on. And Democratic strategists have warned that its constant barrage of ads on Facebook and Google have skillfully combined messaging around key issues like immigration while also building out the campaign’s massive trove of data on potential supporters and donors.
“It’s one of the loudest megaphones on the Internet, and he was able to snag that on a night that the spotlight is supposed to be on us”
Wednesday’s YouTube masthead may be the highest-profile instance of that to date. Daniel Scarvalone, senior director of research and data at Bully Pulpit Interactive, told VICE News that his Democratic-aligned strategy firm has spent between $500,000 and $1 million on such ad placements for clients. He estimated that Trump’s ad could reach twice as many people as Wednesday’s debate itself — if not more.
“It’s one of the loudest megaphones on the Internet, and he was able to snag that on a night that the spotlight is supposed to be on us,” Scarvalone said. “This is just another example of how Trump is running this national persuasion and mobilization strategy now, while Democrats are figuring out their nominee.”
The nativist immigration ad could be just one prong of the Trump campaign’s attempt to control the narrative around the pair of debates in Miami this week. YouTube’s masthead could feature separate messages later in the day, and the president has said that he’s also considering whether to live-tweet the contests to his 61 million followers.
The Trump campaign has thrown more than $10.7 million into Facebook and Google so far this year, according to the nonprofit digital organization Acronym, vastly outspending his rivals. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the biggest digital spender on the Democratic side, has so far put just $2.3 million into ads on those platforms.
Cover: In this March 28, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)