This whole affair provides a glimpse into the tactics that Trump and his campaign will use to evade accountability for his catastrophic handling of the coronavirus crisis. It’s also particularly rich, given the disinformation and propaganda Trump and his allies have already employed against likely opponent Joe Biden.
The Priorities USA ad shows numerous examples of Trump downplaying the crisis, even as the number of cases mounts in a graph on the screen:
Josh Schwerin, a Priorities USA spokesman, confirms to me that the ad is still running in dozens of places throughout Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida, and that numerous stations have said they’ll keep running it.
The Trump campaign is highlighting a particular moment in the ad: The one that features Trump saying, “this is their new hoax.”
The campaign wrote a cease-and-desist letter to stations, arguing that the ad “stitched together fragments from multiple speeches” to “maliciously imply” Trump called the coronavirus a “hoax.”
That’s a reference to remarks Trump made at a February rally. The Trump campaign says he was not calling coronavirus a hoax but rather was applying that word to “the Democrat’s falsification of his record in an attempt to discredit his presidency.”
In those rally remarks, Trump did start off by claiming: “Now the Democrats are politicizing coronavirus.” After that, he referenced the “impeachment hoax” and said Democrats have “tried everything,” adding:
And this is their new hoax. But you know we did something that’s been pretty amazing. We have 15 people in this massive country and because of the fact that we went early, we went early, we could have had a lot more than that.
It’s true that Trump was referring to Democrats’ claims about his handling of coronavirus. But so what?
The Priorities USA ad doesn’t say otherwise. It is plainly obvious from the presentation — from the graph that shows long periods of time passing — that Trump’s comments are being presented as disparate and separate ones.
Indeed, that’s the whole point. The ad seeks to demonstrate that over many weeks, Trump continued to minimize the crisis even as the number of cases soared. The ad even has dates along the bottom that clearly signify these comments are occurring at different times. The spot would be far less effective if Trump’s remarks weren’t meant to be understood that way.
The Trump campaign has pointed out that fact checkers have denounced a separate ad by Biden that also uses the “hoax” quote. But the Biden ad does make it look like Trump was calling the coronavirus a hoax, in a way that the Priorities spot just doesn’t.
One might argue the Priorities ad doesn’t need to juxtapose “coronavirus” with the “hoax” quote, and that this risks creating a misleading impression. But that’s at best a close call, and even if you believe that, it still isn’t close to a “take down the ad” offense.
Indeed, compare that to the disinformation from Trump and his allies. Trump spent months using official acts to strong-arm the president of Ukraine into helping make a narrative about Biden corruption appear true, even though that narrative is entirely fabricated.
Separately, a major pro-Trump super PAC took 25-year-old audio of Barack Obama and manipulated it to make it sound as if Obama were criticizing Biden. The differences here are almost comically enormous.
The most important point, though, is that the Trump campaign doesn’t want the Priorities ad to run because it tells the truth.
What the Trump campaign really doesn’t want the public to be exposed to is all of this audio of him minimizing the crisis over and over again even as it grew more and more grave.
The one “hoax” quote isn’t what they’re worried about. It’s the broader record. And that will become worse for them as cases and casualties mount and as we slide into economic disaster.
Indeed, the key tell here is that the Trump campaign can’t contest all those other quotes. Because all of this happened. It’s all there in Trump’s own words. That’s why the Trump campaign is so adamantly opposed to seeing this ad air.
Ironically, the full “hoax” quote the Trump campaign itself cites actually confirms the truth of the ad’s message. In that quote, Trump referred to “15 cases” while hailing his own “amazing” performance. We’re now at over 75,000 cases in the United States, and over 1,000 deaths.
A prediction: You will soon see screams of media “bias” and a “double standard” if and when stations do rightly refuse to run rank disinformation from Trump, while declining to take down ads attacking Trump that are true, or at least don’t rise to anywhere near the disinformation Trump employs.
That’s how the Trump campaign will bully the media into laundering its propaganda by placing it on a plane of equivalence with conventional political rhetoric from Democrats. It’s also how the Trump camp will bully the media into staining true Democratic criticism of Trump by treating it as somehow on a par with his lies.
You heard it here first.