Arguing that the “mainstream media lies,” President Trump unveiled a new ad over the weekend aimed at promoting his first 100 days in office.
There’s a great deal of fact-checking and context that could be added to that spot. Given that Trump aims to spend a reported $1.5 million to run the ad nationwide, there will be time enough to flesh out what he claims and what is objectively the case.
Instead of focusing on that, let’s now focus on something else: the remarkable fact that a sitting president is beginning to run television ads to promote his reelection bid 174 days after he won the first time.
Yes, this is a campaign ad. The fundraising effort will benefit “Donald Trump for President,” Trump’s campaign vehicle. The 2016 campaign is never far from Trump’s mind, given how often he talks about its outcome and how often he excoriates his former opponent. But the 2020 campaign is also surprisingly near.
Data from the Federal Election Commission makes clear that spending by presidential campaign committees isn’t unusual in the months after a president first wins election. From November 2008 through March 2009, Barack Obama reported spending about $5.6 million. Over the same period from 2016 into 2017, Trump reported spending about $6.9 million.
The difference is that much of Obama’s spending was leftover from the 2008 race. Looking only at spending identified as relating to the upcoming primary — that is, 2020 — Trump reported spending about $5.1 million. None of Obama’s spending was identified as relating to 2012.
It’s possible that Obama’s campaign identified ongoing expenses (such as legal bills) as being related to the 2008 general election instead of the 2012 primary. But it’s clear that Trump’s spending on his upcoming race in ways that don’t equate to how Obama spent campaign money. Trump has spent some money on the campaign-style events — or, apparently, actual campaign events — that he has held since winning election. (The graph below includes only event consulting and staging costs.) He also has spent a good deal of money on online advertising and consulting.
Note that this spending is before the $1.5 million Trump’s campaign effort reportedly seeks for the “100 Days” ad. It also doesn’t include the costs of Trump’s most recent rally, held on the 100-day mark itself in Pennsylvania.
The first time Trump reported spending on the 2020 primary? A Delta Air Lines ticket from Nov. 24, 2016.
In other words, one could argue that there have been only 16 days since June 16, 2015 — when he first announced — on which Trump wasn’t actively running for president.
Why run the “100 Days” ad? The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel has a theory that probably will prove to be true.
Weigel’s conclusion is a joke, but the idea that Trump’s unpopularity is powering the drive to campaign is probably on the mark. A number of polls have found that Trump is viewed less favorably than any other modern president at the 100-day mark of his presidency. Trump, whose pre-politics career was based on marketing himself, isn’t wasting any time in doing some self-promotion for 2020.
Trump’s predecessor was repeatedly criticized for frequently making campaign-style appearances and for his relentless fundraising schedule. Among those who criticized Obama for campaigning was, of course, Trump, whose old tweets of complaint about Obama have proven to be a reliable predictor of what he himself might do.
Note that Trump is criticizing Obama for campaigning in 2011, a year before the election. Imagine what he’d have said if Obama were running campaign ads in May 2009.