Lib­eral ac­tivists trip, stum­ble far be­hind Trump in dig­i­tal ad race

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY RYAN LOVELACE

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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