MEMO: Priorities USA Spent Smart as Trump Lit Money on Fire

September 09, 2020

TO: Interested Parties

FROM: Priorities USA

DATE: September 9, 2020

SUBJECT: Priorities USA Spent Smart as Trump Lit Money on Fire 


After years of beating their chests and telling anyone who would listen about their “unstoppable juggernaut” of an operation, it appears that the Trump campaign is actually a mirror image of their candidate: weak, incompetent, and not quite as rich as they’d like everyone to believe.

As the New York Times reported on Monday, Donald Trump’s re-election effort is facing a cash crunch as the race enters the final stretch. Of the $1.1 billion raised by the campaign and Republican National Committee so far this cycle, more than $800 million has already gone right back out the door. Rather than being flush with cash to flood the airwaves with ads, his campaign has instead gone dark in key swing states and set off alarm bells among Republicans about the state of their standard-bearer’s finances.

The strategy seems designed less to win an election and more to prove that reporting on 30,000-foot spending numbers rather than what that money is being spent on is an ineffective way to cover a campaign. The Trump team chose to blow their resources on wasteful expenditures, like vanity ads during the Super Bowl, a bunch of aerial banners, and of course, more than $1 million in D.C. ad buys to make the president feel good about himself while he spends his days watching television instead of doing his job.

None of those things will help Trump reach the battleground state voters who will decide this election in the next 55 days. 

Meanwhile, Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee have the resources they need to compete for every vote. The Biden campaign has been able to amass the impressive war chest they have today because of extensive investments by Priorities USA and other outside allies — allowing his team to save money while ensuring Trump’s early spending did not go unanswered. Between April and June, Priorities closed the gap between Biden and Trump’s paid media spending in the core battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Priorities USA started filling that gap long before we even had a nominee. Since July 2019, we’ve been making strategic investments to lay the groundwork for Democrats to seize this pivotal moment. That included a massive digital investment, with Priorities single-handedly outspending Trump online in key states for an entire year. Rather than getting distracted by shiny objects like the Trump campaign did, we’ve been laser-focused on one goal: getting the Democratic nominee to 270 electoral votes come November.

That mission has taken on many forms, all of which helped to shift the dynamics of the race onto more favorable ground for Democrats and prepared us to be in the strong position we find ourselves today. For example:

Countering Trump’s early spending

To ensure Trump didn’t have the airwaves to himself to communicate his message in the early days of the cycle, Priorities ran a sustained digital ad campaign in key states beginning in July 2019, which called the president out for working for Wall Street and CEOs of big corporations instead of everyday Americans. Within this campaign, we built a model to identify voters who are likely to be particularly responsive to Trump’s messaging, allowing us to specifically target these voters with our own messaging as a counter-balance and mute any major effect of his ad spending. An in-field experiment showed that this campaign lowered Trump’s net-approval rating in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by 3.5 points. 

Defining Trump’s failed coronavirus response

With the Democratic primary rightfully occupying so much of the party’s attention in early 2020, Priorities saw it as our job to fill the gap in paid media until a nominee was chosen and could build a campaign with the capability to take Trump on head-to-head. This role became even more critical when the Trump campaign started its first big spending push as Trump’s numbers peaked in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. To push back, Priorities USA Action launched a robust TV and digital ad campaign across battleground states countering the Trump narrative and highlighting Trump’s failed leadership in the fight to stop the coronavirus. During this time, Priorities was one of the only organizations spending at scale on TV and digital in these crucial states, and certainly the largest on the Democratic side. After spending more than $15 million on pandemic-related ads from April to July, our battleground state polling showed Trump’s approval rating on his handling of the crisis had dropped from 4 points above water to 15 points underwater during that time. Meanwhile, an in-field experiment revealed that our ads decreased Trump’s net-approval rating by 2.5 points and created at least 125,000 new Biden supporters in these crucial swing states.

These are just a couple of the many smart, strategic investments that Priorities and our partners have made over the last two years to prepare for this moment. Because of these wise choices, we are more ready than ever to run through the tape and do our part to help make Joe Biden the next President of the United States — all while Donald Trump and his merry band of senseless spendthrifts fight amongst themselves and figure out how to keep the lights on.