Liberal advocacy groups are forming new digital advertising campaigns to catch up to President Trump’s online advantage, but the Republican Party says its team is “lapping the field with our digital efforts.”
The leftist activists acknowledge that they are losing the digital war, but they disagree about how to fight back. Some are focused on spending tens of millions of dollars on digital ads in key voting states, but others argue for focusing more on organic grassroots growth on social platforms.
Acronym, a liberal nonprofit, and an affiliated political action committee named Pacronym, announced this week that it would spend $75 million on a “Four Is Enough” campaign to block Mr. Trump from winning four more years in the White House.
“The general election has already begun, and Donald Trump is out-raising and out-spending Democrats online,” the Pacronym website says. “While the Democratic candidates for president are focused on winning a competitive primary, Donald Trump is reaching voters in swing states day in and day out. Meanwhile, outside groups on the left have failed to match his digital investment at scale.”
Acronym is eyeing a handful of states as key battlegrounds where it wants to play: Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. On its website, Pacronym said the campaign is primarily aimed at reaching voters online and on mobile devices using such platforms as Facebook and YouTube.
The group is led by founder Tara McGowan, a digital strategist who has worked with Priorities USA Action, Obama for America and CBS’s “60 Minutes.” The group counts as an adviser David Plouffe, who managed Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Mr. Plouffe told The New York Times that if the left does not gain ground online in key battleground states before May or June, then “our nominee will never have time to catch up.”
Twitter’s announcement last week that it was planning to eliminate political advertising from its platform appears to be reshaping the nature of campaigns’ approach to digital politics.
The Trump campaign labeled Twitter’s political ad ban a “dumb decision” that Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement was tantamount to “another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated program ever known.”
Mr. Trump uses Twitter to attack his political opponents and boost his supporters, but his campaign is not nearly as reliant on Twitter ads as are some of his Democratic opponents.
Presidential candidates Sen. Kamala D. Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden look to have spent the most on Twitter political ads in the 2020 race.
Since June 2018, Ms. Harris spent $1.1 million on political ads on Twitter, Ms. Warren spent more than $900,000 and Mr. Biden spent more than $600,000. No other Democratic candidate shelled out more than $400,000, according to a Forbes analysis. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, spent less than $7,000 in the same time frame, per Forbes.
Ms. Warren’s campaign has recognized the digital divide and the need to engage supporters online and on social media. Ms. Warren has made a “selfie line,” where she pauses for photos with supporters gathered at campaign stops, a regular fixture on the campaign trail.
Now, her supporters are making plans to do battle online on her behalf. Misha Leybovich, a startup entrepreneur and former McKinsey & Co. consultant, rolled out “Warren’s Meme Team” this week. A meme, as Mr. Leybovich defines it, is a “unit of culture” that people share and adapt with their own personal touch.
In an eight-page Google document posted online, Mr. Leybovich spelled out his plan to fight the political right’s “asymmetric advantage” on the social media battlegrounds.
“This election will be an all-out visual and messaging war on every digital channel,” Mr. Leybovich wrote. “The campaign’s own staff produces amazing work, but are outnumbered by distributed domestic and foreign trolls working overtime on social media on behalf of Trump. WMT is exactly the kind of new interdisciplinary grassroots collab capability we need to win this fight.”
Mr. Leybovich’s argument is that selfies are the new lawn signs, GIFs and memes are the new political bumper stickers, and digital videos and graphics are the new ads and candidate posters.
By rethinking political campaigning for the web, Warren’s Meme Team tweeted that its network of writers, artists and marketers plan to be “Saving the nation w/ selfies & memes.”
Republicans, however, remain optimistic that the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee are well-situated to compete online nationwide.
Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Joyce said the Trump campaign and other Republican campaigns gained more than 313,000 small-dollar donors in the past quarter and are “growing a digital army that simply cannot be matched.”
“President Trump succeeds on social media because he uses his accounts to provide authentic insights into his thinking,” Mr. Joyce said in a statement, “and the American people appreciate that he is directly communicating with them.”
As Mr. Trump’s opponents look for his secret recipe for social media success, he appears intent on keeping his opponents guessing.
After a horse named “Covfefe,” in honor of an apparent typo in one of Mr. Trump’s tweets, ran a race, the president responded Monday to a tweet saying that the horse’s name was the result of a “famous mistweet” by Mr. Trump.
“Great! But how do you know it was a “mistweet?” May be something with deep meaning!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
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