WASHINGTON, DC – President Donald Trump's campaign delivered a brushback pitch during the final game of the World Series with an in-your-face national TV ad more than a year before the 2020 election.
The swaggering TV spot, complete with an image of Trump presiding over the weekend raid that killed the Islamic State's leader, underscores the Republican incumbent's financial advantage over the Democrats vying to replace him.
"He's no Mr. Nice Guy," the ad says of Trump, offering the president as a leader who hunts terrorists and get things done while the Democrats waste time on impeachment.
The 30-second ad, an updated version of an earlier commercial, includes a montage about Trump's record on the economy and immigration, then highlights the raid in Syria that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
"Their caliphate destroyed. Their terrorist leader dead," a narrator intones. "But the Democrats would rather focus on impeachment and phony investigations, ignoring the real issues. But that's not stopping Donald Trump. He's no Mr. Nice Guy, but sometimes it takes a Donald Trump to change Washington."
It is highly unusual for a presidential incumbent to make a national ad buy so far out from the election and offers a stark contrast to Trump's possible Democratic foes. They've purchased TV and radio ads but have stuck to the early voting states so far. And they have spent comparatively modestly so far.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren ran a $27,000 ad during an Iowa-State-Oklahoma State football game last weekend. Sen. Bernie Sanders spent $1.3 million on spots that ran across Iowa this month, while former Vice President Joe Biden and others have made similar buys in the past. Billionaire California businessman Tom Steyer is a lone outlier. A late entry to the race, he has spent at least $20 million on TV as he's tried to boost his name ID and polling to cut through a crowded field.
But none has been as high-profile as the Trump ad, which cost $250,000 to run nationally during a highly watched event, according to Advertising Analytics, which tracks such spending.
Whether it was an effective use of money is another question. Strategists say less expensive advertising in states where the election will be won or lost would have been a smarter investment.
Mike Murphy, an anti-Trump GOP strategist, said the ad was slickly produced but ultimately a public relations stunt — and an expensive one, at that.
"One ad never changes anything," said Murphy, who was a senior adviser to John McCain during his 2008 presidential run. "The president is bouncing off the walls, impeachment is going poorly ... and so they desperately needed to feed the candidate something to make it look like they're doing something about it."
The Trump campaign was not subtle in its intent to flex its financial muscle. Brad Parscale, the campaign manager, tweeted the ad with the hashtag WeAreComing. The full ad buy, which the campaign said was seven figures, will keep it on the air beyond the game in which the Washington Nationals captured their first World Series title on Wednesday.
"We are 12 months out from Election Day and we are on offense," said Tim Murtagh, the campaign's communications director. "President Trump continues to rack up victories on behalf of the American people, while Democrats do nothing but try to tear him down. It won't work and he will be reelected."
For months, the Trump campaign has boasted of its fundraising supremacy. This year alone, Trump and the Republican National Committee have jointly raised over $300 million for his reelection, with $156 million stockpiled in the bank. On the Democratic side, the cash situation is bleaker. Many donors remain on the sidelines, the Democratic National Committee is $7 million in debt and the party is girding for a prolonged nomination fight that's likely to drain the candidates of resources.
More than 23 million people watched the decisive game of the World Series that took place the night before Democrats held their first formal vote of the impeachment inquiry. With Trump's presidency under threat, the ad was meant, according to campaign officials, to help define the stakes of the upcoming election. It sets up Trump as a president who is willing to ruffle feathers to keep his promises against Democrats who are still trying to undo the results of the 2016 election.
It is also just the latest example of the Trump campaign getting out early. The president, who filed for reelection on his Inauguration Day, seems to be in a perpetual state of campaigning, keeping an aggressive schedule of rallies to help both fellow Republicans and his own reelection bid. He will make appearances for local candidates in Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana in coming days.
The campaign is also an aggressive digital advertiser, outflanking Democrats on Facebook, with $13.7 million spent this year on reelection messaging. Although Democrats combined have spent more on the social media platform, much of their advertising is geared toward the minutia of the primary — not defeating Trump. Campaign officials also said Thursday that the RNC and the Trump campaign have political staff on the ground in 18 states.
Democratic strategist Guy Cecil, who leads the party's largest outside spending group, said Trump's ad should serve as a reminder to donors that Trump has a major fundraising advantage. That edge will allow him to play heavily in battleground states while targeting Democrats enmeshed in a battle for the party's nomination.
"I don't think a single ad, over a year out from the election, is going to make any difference," said Cecil, who is the chairman of Priorities USA. "But the reality is they have the money to do it."
Cecil said the themes of the ad, which portray Trump as both victim and victor, offer a glimpse of his campaign strategy, which largely ignores moderates while trying to mobilize base supporters who aren't always reliable voters.
"It's a window inside the campaign and their strategy for approaching this election, which is built on anger and grievance," Cecil said. "It's a reflection of the fact that the president's campaign has a lot of money in the bank, and they are seeing a significant decline in their favorability rating."
Lemire reported from New York.
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