2020 ad war
September 4, 2020

The Trump campaign is running an ad in Minnesota that seeks to portray Democrat Joe Biden as in thrall to "lawless" protesters while arguing President Trump will "protect" the state and bring "jobs, not mobs." The "jobs" line is illustrated by a photo of Vice President Mike Pence visiting a steel mill in St. Paul in March 2019. A year later, the Brazilian company that owns the mill, Gerdau Ameristeel, told workers it would shift to finishing steel, not melting or rolling it, leading to 222 layoffs in the 300-strong workforce, David Weigel reports at The Washington Post.

Pence had visited the St. Paul steel mill to promote the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, which was signed in January 2020. "Gerdau is an example of how American steel is back," Pence said during his 2019 visit. "We are going to level the playing field, and Americans are going to win like never before." Dave Hallas, 41, immediately recognized the photo in the new ad, because he had been one of the mill workers at the event. "The tag line is jobs," Hallas wrote on Facebook. "My mill that has been operating for over 55 years is now closed and it was not COVID-related. Failed promises." Peter Weber

June 29, 2020

A clandestine unit of Russia's GRU military intelligence agency paid cash bounties to Afghan militants linked to the Taliban for killing U.S. and allied troops in the country, The New York Times reported Friday, adding that Trump was briefed on the Russian operation in March. The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Associated Press confirmed the classified intelligence assessment on Saturday, and the Post and the Times reported Sunday that U.S. officials believe the bounties resulted in U.S. service members being killed.

The White House reportedly considered several responses but has taken no action — in fact, Trump has since invited Russia back into the G-7 and announced a drawdown of U.S. forces in Germany, both actions welcome in Moscow. The White House said Trump was not briefed on the intelligence assessment — which raised questions of its own — and Trump elaborated in tweet Sunday night, claiming "intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me" or Vice President Mike Pence.

Among those who do not believe Trump has refrained from acting because he was kept in the dark is the anti-Trump Republican group the Lincoln Project, which churned out another brutal ad on Saturday. "When Trump tells you he stands by the troops, he's right — just not our troops," the ad concludes.

The fact that the Russian bounty operation was reported in all major national newspapers "doesn't mean it's certainly true," David Frum noted. "But it does mean that very credible people in U.S. intelligence service are angry and alarmed. Angry and alarmed enough to provide evidence to three leading media sources." It's possible, he conceded, that Trump and other officials "are telling a version of the truth — that the information was withheld from Trump by briefers who have learned not to upset him" with negative intelligence on Russia. Peter Weber

May 27, 2020

You can read about various ways President Trump has failed to live up to the COVID-19 challenge in thoughtful articles by doctors, historians, conservative journalists, and dozens of other op-eds and analyses, but the Lincoln Project is betting that Trump and an American flag made up of body bags convey the gist of that story quicker and more effectively. The group, formed by prominent anti-Trump conservatives and Republicans, released such an ad on Tuesday night.

The tagline and title of the ad — "100,000 dead Americans. One wrong president" — is a little premature, perhaps. According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. had only 98,929 official COVID-19 deaths as of Wednesday morning, out of 1.68 million cases, though both numbers are likely undercounts. No other country has reported more than 392,000 COVID-19 cases or 38,000 deaths. Peter Weber

May 12, 2020

President Trump's Rose Garden coronavirus-testing celebration may have ended on an angry note but it started with grandiloquence. "In every generation, through every challenge and hardship and danger, America has risen to the task," Trump said. "We have met the moment and we have prevailed." He was making a case that testing was at a sufficient level to reopen the economy, even as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 rose above 80,000.

Off-camera, "some of Trump's advisers described the president as glum and shell-shocked by his declining popularity," The Washington Post reported over the weekend. "In private conversations, he has struggled to process how his fortunes suddenly changed from believing he was on a glide path to re-election to realizing that he is losing to the likely Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, in virtually every poll, including his own campaign's internal surveys. ... More than anything, three advisers said, Trump is focused on how to turn the economy around and reopen the country, seeing a nascent recovery as key to getting re-elected and his handling of the economy as one of his only strengths in the polls over Joe Biden."

Biden's campaign released an ad Monday night pummeling Trump on all these points, and also rebutting the Trump campaign's efforts to attack Biden on China. The long ad, "Timeline," curates some key moments from Trump's handling of the new coronavirus.

"April turns into May," the narrator intones over dramatic strings. "The virus doesn't disappear. There is no miracle. The cases mount, the death toll grows, more than 33 million Americans lose their jobs to the pandemic. Unemployment reaches Great Depression–era levels. Donald Trump doesn't understand. We have an economic crisis because we have a public health crisis. And we have a public health crisis because he refused to act. Donald Trump didn't build a great economy. His failure to lead destroyed one." Watch below. Peter Weber

February 10, 2020

Michael Bloomberg's latest presidential campaign ad features footage of several former presidents and the current occupant of the Oval Office, but it does not show the man paying for the ad. Bloomberg's new "Bring Presidential Back" spot compares some of President Trump's more vulgar moments to soaring speeches from John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

To be fair, soaring rhetoric isn't really Trump's thing, and it isn't Bloomberg's strong suit, either. But Trump likes to pantomime being "presidential" as stiff and boring, and Bloomberg's ad reminds viewers that past presidents could thrill with their words while elevating the dignity of the office. In another ad released over the weekend, Bloomberg takes aim at what Trump believes to be his strongest card, the economy. Again, Bloomberg only makes a brief cameo at the end.

It's unusual for a presidential candidate, especially in a primary race, to make ads that don't feature the candidate — but there's very little that's conventional about Bloomberg's run. He has already spent $310.4 million on digital and TV advertising this year, more than the $115.3 million spent by all the other Democrats combined, Axios reports, and he also outspent all the other candidates combined in the last quarter, plus both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee.

"Bloomberg is betting that enough exposure — through a $300m+ ad campaign and a non-traditional run that looks past the early four states — will make him competitive in Super Tuesday, and make all Democrats stronger in the general election," Axios explains. "He's blowing through cash to create a parallel (or bigger) unofficial, uncoordinated party infrastructure in case the DNC can't help the eventual Democratic nominee enough in states that should be competitive with Trump." Peter Weber

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