As Donald Trump’s horrific handling of the coronavirus dominates the media landscape, Republican candidates are doing their level best in their campaign ads to entirely erase Trump from voters’ minds.
During the primary season, Republicans featured Trump in 42% of their ads, according to Wall Street Journal reporting informed by Kantar/CMAG. But in the general election, Trump has snuck into just 4% of GOP ads—almost like Republican candidates are ghosting him in the general.
Pennsylvania Republican candidate Jim Bognet, for instance, wrapped up his primary race with an ad featuring him on a football field telling voters that “President Trump fights for us, but he needs teammates.” Now Bognet tells the Journal: “I’d rather tell people things they don’t know about Matt Cartwright’s policies and record and introduce myself to voters”—without Trump dragging him down was the unspoken part of that sentence.
In Georgia, incumbent Sen. David Perdue only mentions Trump in mailers and digital ads targeted at diehard Republican voters, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC). “With U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s re-election chances teetering on a knife’s edge, the Republican is talking more about himself as a ‘bipartisan problem solver’ — and less about his reputation as one of President Donald Trump’s most loyal allies,” AJC writes.
Tellingly, at this point in 2018 Trump got more mentions in GOP ads than he does now when he’s actually running for reelection.
Democratic candidates are also focusing their advertising attention on the issues rather than on Trump. Among both Democrats and Republicans overall, Trump has made an appearance in just 6% of more than 771,000 general election broadcast ads. In 2012 when Barack Obama was the presidential incumbent, congressional candidates had featured him in closer to 20% of their ads by this point in the election cycle.
Ken Goldstein, a University of San Francisco professor who has studied political ads for about three decades, called Trump’s absence the “ultimate tell.”
“There’s a realization that in a general election, very few people don’t have their minds made up about Trump,” Goldstein concluded. “For Democrats, there is nothing they can do to fuel Trump anger, and for Republicans, there is nothing they can do to mitigate it.”
Yep. No escape for Republican candidates other than trying to gaslight voters.