Trump ad blitz follows killing of Iranian general

Nick Corasaniti, The New York Times

Posted at Jan 08 2020 12:10 PM

President Donald Trump speaks at King Jesus International Ministry in Miami, Fla., Jan. 3, 2020. On Thursday, Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the powerful Iranian military commander. By Monday, the Trump campaign was running ads on Facebook touting the general’s death. Eric Thayer, The New York Times

On Thursday, President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the powerful Iranian military commander. By Monday, the Trump campaign was running ads on Facebook touting the general’s death.

“Thanks to the swift actions of our commander in chief, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani is no longer a threat to the United States, or to the world,” several of the Trump ads read. Some featured pictures of a beaming Trump from one of his campaign rallies; others showed a stoic, finger-waving president, also in front of supporters.

The ads asked voters to take the “Official Trump Military Survey,” directing users to Trump’s reelection campaign website.

All told, the Trump campaign has run nearly 800 distinct Facebook ads about the killing of Soleimani, according to Acronym, a progressive digital strategy group. Political campaigns often run many digital ads with similar versions of a message, and Trump’s campaign is among the most prolific advertisers on Facebook, often running hundreds of ads with subtle differences.

It is not yet known how much the campaign has spent on the ads because Facebook’s public ad database does not immediately report such figures. But Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm, said the Trump campaign had spent at least $8,000 on the ads so far.

The advertising campaign is running as tensions between the United States and Iran ramp up. Iran’s supreme leader is vowing retribution against the United States, the Pentagon is at odds with Trump over threatening Iranian cultural sites, and some Democrats have suggested that the president may have ordered the strike to take attention away from the looming Senate impeachment trial.
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

These types of ads, known as acquisition ads, are intended to help campaigns gather more information about internet users with the goal of turning them into online donors.

Most of the Trump campaign’s Soleimani ads work the same way.

First, potential voters are shown the ad. Clicking on it brings them to a brief survey on the Trump campaign’s website, which asks questions like, “Do you believe America has the greatest military in the world?” The survey also asks for a name, email address and phone number, which the campaign can then add to its database of potential donors.

Users who submit the survey are also prompted to donate right away, with a message that says, “President Trump is keeping AMERICA SAFE! Now it’s time to step up and stand behind him.” Donation buttons ranging from $42 to $2,800 appear below the text.

Though online surveys are an exceptionally common form of political advertising and fundraising, the use of Soleimani’s death in the advertisements is likely to draw criticism from Democrats.

Other presidents have run advertisements during reelection campaigns that have tried to capitalize on major military events — and have also been accused of trying to politicize them.
During President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, his team produced a digital video about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The video praised Obama’s decision making and asked, “Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?”

Joe Biden, who was vice president at the time, said that Obama’s reelection slogan should be, “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.”

And last year, Trump ran hundreds of Facebook ads about the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group. Those ads began running a day after the news of his killing was made public.

“President Trump has brought the #1 terrorist leader to justice. He is KEEPING AMERICA SAFE,” one ad said. Others cited “the fierce leadership of our commander in chief.”

They also directed users to surveys on the campaign website.