Donald Trump busts through so many norms of politics that it shouldn’t be surprising he is at it again this final full week of campaigning before the midterms – launching a 2018 ad for Republicans, paid for and produced by his own 2020 campaign.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tells CNN it is a $6 million ad buy on television and digital. The 60-second spot is focused on the booming economy, with flashbacks to the economic crisis that started 10 years ago, warning that it “could all go away if we don’t remember where we came from.”
The move is unprecedented, considering the President is not actually on the ballot November 6. But then again, so was formally filing for re-election on inauguration day January 20, 2017.
“What this ad shows is things are getting better. We need to continue to vote Republican and to continue to move forward with the president’s agenda,” Parscale told CNN in an interview.
“Sometimes success can bring complacency. We have to go remind them. We have to remind them that the economy is not just a given in the United States. It actually takes work,” he added.
It has echoes of Ronald Reagan’s famous 1984 “Morning In America” re-election ad, which Parscale says he watched and considered (quick to say he was eight years old when it came out) but notes it has, “a lot more emotional hook and utilizing modern technology, what we’ve learned about making TV commercials on the commercial side of business.”
It is in fact produced to be more Superbowl commercial than political ad – the same emotional approach used to sell Trump 2016.
“You have to make people feel things. I think that’s what commercials are, from a commercial for a car, a phone or anything that might be, they want to do it. The first iPhone was sold by how exciting it was to hold pictures of your family, not how great a phone it was,” recalls Parscale, who was in marketing long before politics.
He said the ad was developed over several months, which he argues they had the time and money to do with the Trump campaign up and running so early.
“Most political ads barely get a week or two. The way we did that is significant. That’s more of how you do it in the commercial world. You really plan a product launch. In 2020 we have Trump 2.0, another product launch. It’s the what are we going to do for four more years, and we have to be ready to sell that,” Parscale explained.
Trump 2020 has already raised over $100 million, which is causing some sore feelings among Republicans who are on the ballot now, and accuse team Trump of gobbling up campaigning money they could be raising for 2018.
“Yeah, well, I think that’s unfortunate,” Parscale said of the GOP grumbling, “I think we’re doing everything with that money we can to help them.”
“Almost every single thing I’ve done for ’18 has been completely focused on the midterms, like the unprecedented over $20 million we’re spending to do it. $300,000, $400,000 rallies. $700,000 rallies. I don’t think anyone in history has ever done that,” he added.
Parscale noted that the rallies are “becoming shows” where “fans walk out now and say ‘that was awesome.’”
The Trump rhetoric and violence
Part of the Trump show of course tends to be harsh rhetoric towards political opponents, and the media.
CNN footage from one of those rallies last year shows Cesar Sayoc lapping up the anti-CNN sentiment. Federal authorities say they have proof that Sayoc sent 14 mail bombs to critics of the President, including two of the president’s Democratic predecessors. Another package bomb forced the evacuation of CNN’s New York offices after it was discovered in the mailroom.
Does the President’s rhetoric bear any responsibility? When pressed, Parscale insisted the answer is no.
“Let me be very clear. I don’t think the President or myself in this campaign, we don’t condone violence in any way. I want to be very clear with that. Do I think there’s a fight against the media and the Democrats? Yes, but I think it’s one that’s done with our heart and our minds. I don’t believe that it’s ever something being done with the fist. I would never ever believe that or ever try to do anything or would ever condone violence against anyone in the media or anyone in this country. I don’t think this President does either,” Parscale responded.
It’s not only rallies. Trump’s campaign sends fundraising emails attacking the media, specifically CNN. Parscale apologized last week for the timing of one sent under the President’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump’s name, the day a pipe bomb was found at CNN. But he has no apologies for the content of the email, which said, “It’s time for us to give the media another wake up call for the American people.”
“Well, the wake up call is to show them 100,000 names that don’t like it. There’s a lot of different wake up calls. We should not always assume that everything is violent,” Parscale declared.
And what about people who have don’t have all of their mental faculties and take that kind of language as a green light for violence?
“Yeah, well, that’s unfortunate. There’s not much you can do about those kind of people,” said Parscale.
“I’ll tell you as one of the lead Trump people and the campaign manager of the army of Trump, that I would never want any single person to do anything violent against anyone. I don’t think that’s how you change the minds. I don’t think that’s how you change the country for the better,” he added.
When asked if, given last weeks events – a potentially deadly weapon sent to CNN – he will think differently about language in Trump campaign letterhead, the answer was, “I don’t think so.”
“Look, again, I think it’s unfortunate. This should never happen to anyone. To say that we’re not in a fight for what we believe is not true either,” he said.
But he did make a concession.
“I probably need to continue to do a better job to make sure that people that support this President, support our party, understand that that should never be done with violence. No one should get hurt over this.”
CNN’s Bridget Nolan contributed to this report.