Why Is Trump’s Campaign Buying Ads in Markets He Has No Chance of Winning?

His staff appears more interested in impressing the president than gaining support for his reelection.

According to Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng of the Daily Beast, the Trump campaign is in the process of spending $400,000 for a month’s worth of political advertising in the D.C. metro area. This is interesting because Trump lost to Clinton in the District by more than 88 points, in Maryland by 25 points, and knowledgable prognosticators don’t consider Virginia a realistic state for him. Clinton won it by five, and it has been trending hard against the Republicans throughout Trump’s first term in office.

One of that stated rationales for the ad-buy is that it will ease the minds of nervous Republican lawmakers and operatives.

The Trump campaign said the ad buys were an attempt to reinvigorate and reassure the president’s supporters in the nation’s capital. “We want members of Congress and our DC-based surrogates to see the ads so they know our strong arguments for President Trump and against Joe Biden,” wrote Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s communications director, in an email on Monday.

This might actually be an honest explanation, but it isn’t a sane one. The sophisticated political folks in the capital region know which states are competitive and which are not, and their main reaction to seeing Trump campaign ads on their televisions will be that it’s an irresponsible waste of money. It will not boost their confidence in the condition of the president’s reelection effort.

As for communicating their “strong arguments” for Trump against Biden, there are much cheaper ways to distribute talking points, like email or Zoom.  In fact, Mr. Murtaugh’s explanation is so insane that no one seems to be taking it at face value. Instead, people are inclined to believe there’s a different motive:

But two knowledgeable sources—one a Trump campaign adviser, the other an individual close to the president—said the D.C.-area ads had another purpose as well: to put the president himself at ease.

At first, this doesn’t seem like it makes any more sense. Why would the president be put at ease by a decision to spend money in a pointless and moronic way? But the idea is that the president will actually see these ads run while he is watching television. Most of them have been placed on Fox News and I guess he doesn’t skip the ads when he watches things on delay. Maybe he spends so much of his time watching cable news that they figure he’ll see the ads run live. In any case, the ads are intended for Trump. They’re spending nearly half a million dollars of campaign cash to reach one voter.

Why would anyone sign off on this? Why would anyone see it as necessary? Why would no one fear the wrath of a president who is witnessing the misallocation of his campaign funds?

In recent weeks, Trump has grown visibly distraught at his prospects for re-election, with recent polling showing his standing in the race declining dramatically…

…With Trump stuck in that milieu of anxiety, his re-election team is hoping that the ads may put him at ease that his formidable political machine is hard at work defending him and attacking his enemies. Trump is a voracious consumer of cable news, and—the thinking goes—is likely to see the spots pop up between segments of his favorite shows.

In other words, his re-election team thinks the president is a fragile child who will see these ads as an indication that his campaign is working hard and punching back rather than as an inexplicable expenditure of precious resources.

This isn’t the only effort being made to reassure the president. After CNN released a poll showing Biden up 55-41 nationally, the campaign announced that it was hiring McLaughlin & Associates to conduct surveys of the race. It’s not a reputable outfit. FiveThirtyEight ranks them near the bottom of their pollster ratings. They also own one of the most embarrassing polls in the history of the art:

When [John] McLaughlin served as pollster for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, he released a poll saying Cantor would beat college professor Dave Brat by 34 points. Two weeks later, Cantor lost to Brat by 12 points.

It’s probably wrong to think the president is so unsophisticated about polls that he thinks McLaughlin will provide better accuracy than CNN, but there’s definitely a part of him that buys into the idea that the pollsters are part of a greater conspiracy to see him defeated in November. That’s actually how McLaughlin sold Trump on his services, as you can see below in the letter attached to the president’s tweet.

McLaughlin argued that pollsters are deliberately under-sampling registered Republicans as part of “an intentional strategy to suppress” partisan enthusiasm for Trump’s reelection. The argument about sampling is baseless, but the idea that polls can be used to shape a narrative that affects base morale is precisely why McLaughlin was hired.

McLaughlin’s job is to juice the numbers in Trump’s favor, but only partly to impact the media narrative and deceive the public. This is also intended to deceive Trump and buck up his morale. Trump is aware that this whole venture is a fraud, but he’s fully capable of forgetting that he hired this guy to lie and turn around and gain real comfort from his results.

Any way you twist it, you cannot grasp what is happening in American politics or the decisions that are being made on the campaign without understanding that Trump is insane and that everyone around him knows he is insane.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com