They are among the most searing, iconic images in a generation: streets flooded blocks deep with protesters marching, fists raised in solidarity. A cry for racial justice denied, stirred by the killing of George Floyd in police custody.
Unsurprisingly, the protests are quickly becoming political fodder in an election year marked by a president more apt to harness division than heal it.
On Facebook, the protests have been the center of an enormous advertising surge by Joe Biden’s campaign, which has poured more than $5.2 million into the platform in recent days, including $1.6 million on Thursday alone — more than triple President Trump’s single-day record, as our colleague Shane Goldmacher reported.
One Biden ad, backed by more than $900,000, proclaimed that Mr. Trump “fans the flames of white supremacy and hatred in our country.” It was set against a few different images, including a black-and-white photo of Mr. Trump striding past security officers in riot gear after they cleared peaceful protesters near the White House so he could have a photograph taken outside a church. Other images showed protesters with signs declaring “Black Lives Matter” just below the dome of the United States Capitol.
In total, Mr. Biden’s campaign has spent roughly $2 million on Facebook ads that mention Mr. Trump and white supremacy, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm. The ads are almost always accompanied by scenes from the protests around the country.
The Trump campaign is taking the opposite tack, spending about $120,000 on ads that denounce “riots.” The ads include unsubstantiated assertions that far-left activist groups are responsible for rioting in American cities.
“Dangerous MOBS of far-left groups are running through our streets and causing absolute mayhem,” reads one Trump ad on Facebook.
The campaign is spending about $40,000 to promote various iterations of the ad using that language, but none of them use any images from the protests. Instead, they use photographs of the president or big text saying “Stop Antifa,” a loose movement that has not been shown to be orchestrating violence or looting.
The messaging coming from the Biden and Trump campaigns has been mirrored by allies and down-ballot campaigns across Facebook. Liberal organizations like MoveOn have interspersed images of protesters and Mr. Floyd, while the re-election campaign of Senator Mitch McConnell attacked “looting, riots, and destruction” alongside a photograph of the senator speaking.
On television, the chaotic scene of protesters being gassed near the White House runs in the middle of a new ad from Priorities USA, one of the biggest Democratic super PACs, with a narrator proclaiming, “As Americans stand up for justice, Donald Trump divides and inflames.” The ad began airing on Monday and is being rotated into the group’s multimillion-dollar ad buy in battleground states.
The same scene was repeated in a new ad from the Lincoln Project, a super PAC supported by Republicans critical of Mr. Trump. That ad began airing over the weekend and includes a picture of Mr. Trump holding up a Bible outside St. John’s Church as a narrator calls the president a “coward.”
In the hotly contested Democratic Senate primary in Georgia — see the results from today’s voting here — Jon Ossoff, the former House candidate who was leading in the polls, went with a different visual approach and addressed the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. He spent $420,000 on an ad where he speaks to the camera for the entire 30 seconds, saying it’s the “worst kind of corruption” when “a young black man in Georgia is shot dead in the street, but police and prosecutors looked the other way.” There are no scenes of protests, or any other cutaway during the ad.
The protest movement may be only a few weeks old, but expect to see many more ads featuring the demonstrations, and the reaction to them, in the coming weeks and months.
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Ad of the week: Be Like Ike!
The visage of this well-known, two-term Republican president is fairly rare in modern political ads. But a new ad from the Lincoln Project, a super PAC run by Republicans critical of President Trump, seeks to use the staid leadership style of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower to undercut Mr. Trump’s management of the coronavirus outbreak and the mass protests against racial injustice.
Citing a speech Eisenhower had written while supreme Allied commander in World War II — a speech in case the invasion of Normandy was unsuccessful — the ad says great leaders “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
The message: The ad spends more than 40 seconds praising Eisenhower for taking responsibility in a crisis, ending with a quotation from the speech: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” The ad then cuts to Mr. Trump being asked about his administration’s disbanding of the White House’s pandemic team before the outbreak. The president offers a curt, “I didn’t do it.”
Using scenes of protests and a hospital bed to depict the new crises facing the country, the ad closes in on Mr. Trump saying, “No, I don’t take responsibility at all.”
The takeaway: Run by a group of former Republican political operatives, the Lincoln Project takes pains to never advocate on behalf of Joe Biden. Rather, in appeals seemingly targeted to other Republican voters, the group highlights Republican icons and ideals in an attempt to paint Mr. Trump as their opposite.
Here, the juxtaposition is stark, but whether it can erode support for Mr. Trump in a party where he is overwhelmingly popular remains to be seen.
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