Some of the ads accused the freshman lawmakers of making “pro-terrorist remarks,” which they have not done, and pressed supporters to join Trump’s “official impeachment defense fund,” which he has also promoted in fundraising appeals sent by email and text message. The “squad” refers to Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), none of whom was mentioned by name.
In total, the Trump campaign and its backers spent between $346,700 and $1,430,182 on more than 2,000 ads for its Facebook page from Monday to midday Friday, according to data analyzed by Laura Edelson, a researcher at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. She obtained the data through Facebook’s public ad archive, which reports all of its data in ranges, not precise figures. Those ads had been viewed between 13.3 million and 25.3 million times, the NYU analysis found.
On Tuesday and Wednesday alone, the campaign shelled out about $500,000 on Facebook ads, according to figures tallied by ACRONYM, a digital outfit focused on liberal causes. On Wednesday alone it spent about $350,000, an amount it typically spends in a week.
The online offensive offered a window into Trump’s bare-knuckle approach to the coming impeachment battles, as he took the showdown to his favored terrain: the Internet. Already, campaign officials say they have filled their coffers with contributions: Eric Trump, the president’s second son and the executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said Thursday that the campaign had raised $8.5 million in the previous 24 hours.
The Facebook ads, which traffic in claims found to be false by The Washington Post Fact Checker, also provided a new test for the technology giant after it reaffirmed this week it would exempt speech by politicians from fact checking. That exemption, company executives said, also applies to ads, though sponsored posts are required to meet community standards that proscribe threats as well as “content aimed at deliberately deceiving people to gain an unfair advantage or deprive another of money, property, or legal right.”
On Friday, Facebook said none of the ads violated its policies, including those that prohibit dehumanizing speech, though the company did not detail its reasoning. A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
As Trump flooded social media with impeachment-related advertising, would-be challengers competing for the Democratic nomination moved gingerly on the platforms. While it appeared that every one of the hundreds of ads placed by Trump’s campaign since Tuesday used the word “impeachment,” not a single ad placed by Joe Biden, the former vice president, used the word. Biden said this week he would favor impeachment proceedings if the White House tried to thwart congressional oversight activities.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala D. Harris of California, both of whom had previously called for the president’s impeachment, each ran ads on the topic but far fewer than the general fundraising appeals they released that made no mention of the president.
In ads targeting mainly women, Warren asked users to sign a petition calling for impeachment proceedings to begin. Harris asked users, mainly in California, to sign a card thanking Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the speaker of the House, “for showing the leadership the White House lacks by beginning an impeachment inquiry.”
Biden, who became the subject of a July conversation between Trump and the president of Ukraine, placed new ads condemning the president for soliciting help from a foreign leader to smear him. But Biden stopped short of mentioning impeachment.
In addition to the individual candidates, the national party committees produced dueling advertising on the topic, with the Democratic National Committee asking users to donate to show their support for an impeachment inquiry and the Republican National Committee asking users to “stand against impeachment.” The GOP’s ads appeared to target in particular a swath of states in the Midwest, as well as New York, Pennsylvania and Maine.
The RNC said Friday it would join the Trump campaign in spending a total of $10 million across television and digital platforms assailing Democrats for beginning an impeachment inquiry. The campaign will spend $8 million, while the party will kick in another $2 million.
For months, Facebook spending on impeachment has been dominated by Tom Steyer, the investor turned impeachment activist, and his super PAC, Need to Impeach. Warren has been next in line, spending about $34,000 on the issue between Aug. 31 and Sept. 21, according to data compiled by Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic communications agency.