Super PACs Step In to Attack Trump’s Coronavirus Response

by admin

Nick Corasaniti

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Nick Corasaniti, back in the seat as your host on Tuesdays for our coverage of all things media and messaging.

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The presidential campaign has largely shifted to the recesses of public consciousness during the coronavirus outbreak. So, too, has political broadcast advertising: Since last Tuesday, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and President Trump haven’t aired a single ad on television.

It’s a difficult time for political campaigns to run paid messaging. Calls for unity to stop the pandemic are widespread, and candidates could be accused of politicizing a crisis if they put out attack ads.

But campaign rallies have been canceled, fund-raisers have been called off and in-person canvassing has been halted, all while Americans are spending more time indoors. With Mr. Trump on television constantly, Democratic strategists are worried that his unabated free airtime, even amid a crippling national crisis, gives him a messaging advantage.

In that vacuum, two Democratic groups have started multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns attacking Mr. Trump for his previous comments that played down the threat of the virus.

Priorities USA, one of the major Democratic super PACs, on Monday began a $6 million television and digital advertising campaign in four general election swing states — Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — with multiple ads either criticizing Mr. Trump or trumpeting the record of Mr. Biden.

In one particularly stark ad, a line tracing the exponential growth of coronavirus cases in the United States creeps across the screen, as Mr. Trump can be heard saying, “We have it totally under control” and “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” (Those quotations came from January and February; Mr. Trump has since tried to rewrite history by claiming he knew the virus would be a pandemic all along.)

The ad supporting Mr. Biden, which features the candidate proclaiming he would be “better prepared,” is the first such spot from Priorities USA, which had stayed neutral for most of the Democratic primary race but has since declared that it views Mr. Biden as the presumptive nominee.

Pacronym, a progressive super PAC, is in the middle of a $2.5 million digital ad campaign attacking Mr. Trump for his response to the coronavirus. That campaign began in mid-March and will run through the end of April, and the group said it planned to spend at least $5 million in total on digital ads by July.

The ads — which are running in Arizona as well as the same four states Priorities is targeting — are appearing on Facebook, YouTube, Hulu and other digital platforms, and feature a wide array of criticism.

The most recent one highlights criticism from Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host and frequent Trump booster, who has blamed “government incompetence” for a lack of preparedness for the pandemic in the United States.

“When voters consider who they want to be their next commander in chief, they’ll remember how the president’s chaotic administration, negligence and reckless behavior put our lives and economy at risk,” said Tara McGowan, Pacronym’s founder. “Pacronym will continue to make this case to voters online and reach them with facts about how this president is putting us all in harm’s way.”

Another Democratic super PAC, American Bridge, has started including coronavirus ads as part of an $850,000 digital ad campaign attacking Mr. Trump in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. On Facebook, where the group has spent nearly $86,000 in the past week, it is running multiple ads claiming Mr. Trump has “put American lives at risk” and calling out his past comments on the virus.

While it hasn’t put the same kind of money behind ads as Pacronym or Priorities USA, the Biden campaign has started to buy digital ads denouncing Mr. Trump and his approach to the outbreak.

In a Facebook ad shown to Wisconsin voters on Sunday, the Biden campaign ran a 90-second side-by-side comparison of Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden answering similar questions about the virus — choosing clips that showed Mr. Trump lashing out at reporters and Mr. Biden calmly delivering advice from the debate stage.

Mr. Trump, in his televised briefings and on Twitter, has repeatedly claimed that his administration has taken the virus seriously for months, pointing to his decision in late January to restrict travel from China, despite his many remarks minimizing the threat.

The Trump campaign, for its part, has been running a digital ad campaign from an almost parallel universe unaffected by the coronavirus, pitching a “gold card” for donors and selling campaign merchandise like “the EXCLUSIVE Trump Pence Keep America Great Dog Collar.”

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Sometimes, the best messaging is a blunt object rather than a sharp tool. Mayors across Italy, frustrated with those who won’t stay home during the crisis, have been growing more direct in their instructions to constituents, as you can see in this video. (It includes some expletives.)


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  • Updated March 24, 2020

    • How does coronavirus spread?

      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • Is there a vaccine yet?

      No. The first testing in humans of an experimental vaccine began in mid-March. Such rapid development of a potential vaccine is unprecedented, but even if it is proved safe and effective, it probably will not be available for 12 to18 months.

    • What makes this outbreak so different?

      Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How do I get tested?

      If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.

    • What if somebody in my family gets sick?

      If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      No. Unless you’re already infected, or caring for someone who is, a face mask is not recommended. And stockpiling them will make it harder for nurses and other workers to access the resources they need to help on the front lines.

    • Should I stock up on groceries?

      Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • Can I go to the park?

      Yes, but make sure you keep six feet of distance between you and people who don’t live in your home. Even if you just hang out in a park, rather than go for a jog or a walk, getting some fresh air, and hopefully sunshine, is a good idea.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.

    • What should I do with my 401(k)?

      Watching your balance go up and down can be scary. You may be wondering if you should decrease your contributions — don’t! If your employer matches any part of your contributions, make sure you’re at least saving as much as you can to get that “free money.”


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