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The Koch Network’s Anti-Trump Ads Are Atrocious
The Republican megadonors don’t seem to have any idea of who they actually need to reach to move the needle in the primary.
THERE ARE CERTAIN ADVANTAGES that Republican-aligned anti-Trump forces should have this year that weren’t available to them in 2016.
For instance: There is an entire primary campaign’s worth of data and experience that can be leveraged to understand what types of tactics don’t work against Trump. Also: Trump has gone from an outsider with a malleable political identity to a former president with an actual record that can be dissected.
These advantages don’t guarantee success. It’s possible, even likely, that the GOP has become a personality cult/lifestyle brand and that there is no path to disentangle a plurality of the flock from their leader.
But, at the very least, this experience should ensure that people with unlimited resources and highly paid consultants pursue strategies that have the possibility of working, rather than lighting millions of dollars on fire executing attacks that have a proven record of failure.
Enter the Charles Koch network.
This teaser titillated me a bit. People going to war with Trump is good! And then I watched the ads. Take a look for yourself.
Jesus, take the wheel. You call that war?!
There are several blindingly obvious problems with these wartime spots that render them completely ineffective and possibly even counterproductive.
Within one second of seeing these ads, you can tell they are done by a professional political consultant. They have the look, sound, and feel of a slick campaign ad. If the ad had a scent, you’d call it Karl Clove.
These types of ads are well worn because they work in certain types of races—particularly for lower offices where voters are learning about the candidates.
But that’s not the kind of campaign we’re in! When you are dealing with the second most famous person of the last century (congrats, Hitler!) people tune out boilerplate garbage like this. And for Trump voters who do register it, being exposed to an ad that smells like the Old Guard GOP attacking their avatar only makes them want to come to Trump’s defense.
One thing we learned in all our data research for RVAT was that the worst thing you could do in trying to reach a GOP voter was give them a message that felt like it was a lecture from DC elites. These ads exude that vibe.
Trump can’t win, you say? Well here’s the problem with that.
Republican voters already heard that argument from self-proclaimed political experts and rejected it. You know why I’m sure that this doesn’t work? I am one of the dumbasses who tried it already!
We ran these same ads about Trump being unelectable in 2016. It didn’t move the needle. And when Trump won, his voters gleefully rubbed our predictions about Trump’s impending defeat in our faces. In fact, I am featured in several video mashups on the MAGA web where they mock the political experts they owned.
Now you might think this calculus has changed since 2016, what with Trump losing the 2020 election and all. But 70 percent of GOP voters think he was the rightful winner in 2020 and not even his top opponents will argue otherwise! Plus that same 70 percent think Joe Biden is riddled with dementia and will barely be able to speak, let alone campaign. So why would they be worried about Trump’s electoral chances?
Even if you did think this was a fruitful topic for Trump challengers—electability is an issue that will be litigated endlessly both in the free media that primary voters consume and by the candidates’ themselves. So adding a boring, cookie-cutter ad on top of that does nothing to move the needle.
Not only is the macro message in the ad wrong, the micro details are also terrible. The first ad starts by talking about how Donald Trump did good things! So anyone who clicks off after 3 seconds got a pro-Donald Trump ad, not an attack ad.
Why would they do that? This is a Super PAC!! They don’t need to pussyfoot around and worry that being too mean to Trump will boomerang back on their candidate. They don’t have a candidate.
For a comparison: look at how Trump’s Super PAC treats DeSantis.
The Kochs are bringing pillows to a machete fight.
The people the Kochs are trying to reach with this ad are not sufficient to win a primary against Donald Trump, and the fact that they leaked the ad to a news outlet for college-educated moderates basically proves the point.
There is not a plurality of GOP primary voters who are susceptible to arguments from authority about electability. The people who are open to that message make up what should be DeSantis’s (or another challenger’s) base. It doesn’t take a mathlete to see that if only 30 percent of the electorate is open to your message that Trump is a loser, there is a limit on your PAC’s aspirations.
The audience that needs to be reached are the Trump-aligned voters who might be willing to move off their candidate. A DeSantis super PAC strategist recently said he thinks it’s the most conservative voters who are the swing group in this primary fight. That is partially right. The other swing group is soft MAGA voters who like Trump but aren’t in the cult, hate the political establishment, aren’t consistently ideological, and want someone who they can count on to own their cultural enemies.
DeSantis has a path with both of those groups. But the Koch ads don’t target either of them.
LOOK, I HATE TO PILE ON people who are ostensibly trying to help save democracy. Maybe this is just the most limp portion of a broader program they have planned. But my concern is that this is the best they got.
So, here’s my advice for rich, elderly Republican types who have a billion dollars to burn and want to do their part to ensure they don’t live out their golden years in a Trump autocracy.
Either: (A) Man up and do what is required to try to beat him in a primary; (B) Use your resources to help Joe Biden, who has a proven strategy for beating Trump; or (C) Give the money to help poor kids who don’t have enough to eat.
Option A might be uncomfortable. It will require running ads that other rich guys at the St. Barth’s FBO don’t like. Because here’s the thing—the people in your elite bubble are not the target audience; Republican primary voters with very different sensibilities are.
If the GOP moneymen don’t come to terms with reality—or can’t stomach the type of campaign that is needed to reach MAGA voters—then all they are doing is participating in a cash transfer to wealthy campaign consultants whose ads are at best worthless and at worst actively helping burnish Trump’s brand as an outsider the political establishment hates.