President Trump is furious that Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry. His reelection team couldn’t be happier.
“It’s a total boon,” said Roy Bailey, the campaign’s national finance co-chairman. “Money is flying in.”
Trump‘s sudden rise to political power was fueled by a potent mix of outrage and victimization. The impeachment inquiry thus is the ultimate grievance since it threatens his grip on the White House — and the hopes of his hardcore supporters.
So while Trump has spewed incendiary tweets in the week since the inquiry formally began, his campaign moved behind the scenes to raise millions of dollars, stoke supporters’ anger and discredit the Democrats’ investigation with a barrage of counter-messaging.
The effort appears to be working. The campaign says it raised $8.5 million in the first 48 hours. That helped fuel a combined $125-million haul for the campaign and the Republican National Committee during the three-month fundraising quarter that ended Monday, according to an RNC official.
A Trump campaign official said 50,000 new small-dollar donors quickly signed up after the impeachment inquiry announcement, expanding a valuable network that can be tapped again and again for dollars and volunteer efforts.
Officials appealed for support in text messages, emails and a flood of paid Facebook, Google and other social media ads, all arguing that Trump faces an existential threat from the entrenched Washington establishment he blames for his woes.
“They are trying to stop ME because I am fighting for YOU!” reads one of the Facebook ads.
The ad, and scores like it, link to a 30-second video that levels unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct by Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, and assert Democrats and the “lapdog media” are still bitter that Trump won the last election and “want to steal this one.”
The Trump campaign said it planned to spend $8 million to put the video online and on TV, and the Republican National Committee will spend $2 million more for ads that largely target House Democrats over impeachment.
So far, the Trump team has spent the most on Facebook, where the campaign has long held an advantage over Democrats in reaching its most ardent supporters.
During the 2016 race, the Trump campaign used Facebook’s technology to test thousands of variations of a single ad to determine which words and images prompted the most people to donate or volunteer.
Trump spent $2.1 million on Facebook and $500,000 on Google and YouTube last week, the most in any week in at least a year, according to ACRONYM, a progressive nonprofit that has tracked Trump’s digital spending since October 2018.
The previous spending record was in January, when the Trump campaign spent nearly $1.6 million on digital ads during the partial government shutdown that Trump approved in a losing battle to force Congress to appropriate money for his long-promised border wall.
The impeachment investigation is centered on whether Trump abused his oath of office when he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to find damaging material on Biden while withholding congressionally approved military aid intended to help Ukraine battle Russian-backed insurgents.
Trump’s campaign believes the 2020 election will depend on getting his core supporters to vote, not persuading the diminishing number of swing voters. In their view, the impeachment appeals support that strategy.
“In the old days, the traditional point of view on this stuff was, ‘Why would you talk about something that’s a negative to you, that’s an existential threat?’” said Patrick Ruffini, a Republican strategist not affiliated with the Trump campaign.
But for Trump’s base, the “panic style of messaging” works better than “things are great,” he said.
No Democratic challenger comes close to Trump’s spending on Facebook, and the emphasis on impeachment differs widely among the candidates.
Pete Buttigieg spent the most among Democrats on Facebook since the inquiry began, putting up $425,000 in ads last week. While he supports the impeachment probe, his ads do not mention the inquiry, Ukraine or Trump.
Most instead promote a contest for donors to attend the Democratic candidates’ debate on Oct. 15 in Columbus, Ohio, and to meet “Pete in person.”
“We didn’t think it was appropriate to fundraise off a national crisis,” said Buttigieg spokesman Chris Meagher.
Former hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer, the second-place Democratic spender on Facebook in the last week, has built his entire campaign around impeachment. At least so far, it’s not a winning issue for him since he remains near the bottom of most polls.
Biden, the candidate most directly affected by Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, spent just over $100,000 on Facebook last week. None of his ads say “impeachment,” but he has accused Trump and his personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, of trying “to smear Joe Biden and his family with debunked conspiracies.”
“Did Donald Trump break the law?” asks one Biden ad, without offering an answer. His ads frequently show close-up pictures of Trump scowling, his lips pursed as if he has eaten a particularly sour lemon. Biden’s fundraising emails similarly paint Biden as a Trump target, and as the Democrat most feared by Trump.
Biden’s campaign said he raised the most money in one week since the early weeks of the campaign, but officials declined to provide figures to back that up.
Times staff writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.