A group affiliated with President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has taken the highly aggressive step of launching a digital ad campaign targeting fellow Republicans over funding for a wall along the nation’s southern border.
The ads, run through Trump’s official Facebook page, are sponsored by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising account for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. The group’s mailing address is the same as the RNC’s Washington headquarters.
“I want to be able to show all Republican Senators a list of the many American voters that will NOT be happy if the wall isn’t built,” the ads read. “I need YOUR NAME on the list. Sign our Official Petition to the Senate now!”
It’s rare for a party leader to spend money on advertising targeting members of his or her own party. Trump and the RNC’s willingness to do so underscores the degree to which the president has assumed a political status detached from the party’s and personalized the issue of the wall. Dan Pfeiffer, a former top official in the Obama administration, said he could not imagine that they ever did the same to Democrats during President Obama’s eight years in office. Obama’s campaign arm, Organizing for Action, did target conservative Democrats for voting against gun control legislation though paid advertising does not appear to have been a component.
According to Facebook advertising data, the Trump group has run about 11,000 ads specifically calling out Senate Republicans. Most of the ads started running in October and November, but on Tuesday the campaign bought a new round of ads using the same language, though the amounts of each of those buys—less than $100 apiece—was small. Nonetheless, nearly 1,000 of the ads urging supporters to pressure Republican Senators remain active.
The PAC used Facebook’s powerful microtargeting tools to aim this week’s round of ad buys at men in particular. Two versions of the ad that ran this week targeted men exclusively. According to data provided by Facebook, men were four times more likely than women on average to see the ads purchased this week.
"As we approach a partial shutdown to fund the wall, we are hearing from supporters around the country about their passionate support for the President's fight to secure our border," a Trump campaign spokesman told the Daily Beast. "Through our Facebook ad, we want GOP Senators to appreciate the level of support that exists for border security funding so they ultimately stand with President Trump and not Chuck Schumer on this critical vote."
The ads are a component of a larger push that the president is making to ensure that border wall funding is included in a deal that must be reached before parts of the government shut down on Friday evening. An RNC official noted that those ads have been running for over a year and that calls to action on the wall are among our top performing ads.
Elsewhere, the president has targeted Democrats with text and email solicitations urging recipients to encourage those lawmakers to drop their opposition to the inclusion of $5 billion in wall funding. On Friday morning, his campaign sent a text message to supporters saying, explicitly, that “Dems refused to FUND THE WALL.”
As of two days ago, Trump himself had seemed willing to support a temporary government funding measure that didn’t include those funds. Told that he would support such a measure, the Senate passed a bill to fund the government through early February that did not include wall funding.
But Trump’s position changed on Thursday after he encountered heavy criticism from right-wing talk radio over his acquiescence. Since then, the president has said he would decline to sign any legislation that didn’t include the $5 billion in funds. And Republicans have, largely, gone along. A funding measure that included wall money was passed by House Republicans on a party line vote on Thursday afternoon. The Senate has not yet moved such a measure as of Friday afternoon.
A spokesman for Trump’s re-election campaign did not immediately return a request for comment. But Matt Schlapp, a top Trump surrogate, noted that the president likely felt compelled to run ads against Senate Republicans in part because some of his most vocal critics within the party served in that chamber.
“You realize in a lame duck there is still [Sen.] Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) and still Senate Republicans who don’t act very much like Republicans when it comes to Trump,” said Schlapp. “There is no question that in the senate, one dynamic is the disease of anti-Trumpism.”