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There’s no hiding the message of the first television ad of his presidential campaign, which begins with a shot of President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before quickly moving to images of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters.
“The politicians can pretend it’s something else,” a male voiceover says, “but Donald Trump calls it radical Islamic terrorism — that’s why he’s calling for a temporary shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until we can figure out what’s going on.”
The ad — entitled “Great Again” — then repeats a line from one of Trump’s previously released radio ads, vowing he will “cut the head off ISIS and take their oil.”
And it reiterates Trump’s first campaign promise: to “stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border that Mexico will pay for.”
At the end, a refrain from a Trump stump speech is played: “We will make America great again!”
Trump told the Washington Post that the ads are intended to highlight how the United States has become “a dumping ground.”
“It’s got to stop,“ Trump said. “We’ve got to get smart fast — or else we won’t have a country.”
Image: Donald J. Trump for President
The 30-second spot — which will begin airing in Iowa and New Hampshire on Tuesday — is part of a major ad blitz to bolster Trump’s chances in the early primary states. The real estate mogul says he plans to spend at least $2 million per week on the ad campaign, including $1.1 million for TV spots in Iowa and nearly $1 million in New Hampshire.
In doing so, he’s joining his top-spending GOP rivals. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for instance, has spent more than $40 million in advertising on television and radio, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG.
The Trump campaign, by contrast, spent a scant $300,000 on a series of radio ads that ran in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in November — and spent nothing on TV.
It hasn’t needed to. Up until now, Trump has enjoyed free publicity, dominating each news cycle with his controversial comments about, well, pretty much everything. Between May 1 and Dec. 15, Trump appeared on Fox News for a total of 22 hours and 46 minutes, according to Media Matters — more than twice the airtime of any other candidate.
But last week, the Republican frontrunner said he doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.
“I don’t think I need to spend anything. And I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve spent the least and achieved the best result,” Trump told reporters aboard his private jet before a campaign rally in Iowa. “I feel I should spend. And, honestly, I don’t want to take any chances.”
Trump said the initial wave of television ads would not be negative in tone, but warned: “If somebody attacks me, I will attack them very much and very hard in terms of ads.”
The initial wave of reviews, meanwhile, is very negative.
The Atlantic’s David Graham writes that the new Trump ad “is basically a greatest-hits package of the Trump campaign: Radical Islamic terrorism! Ban Muslim immigrants! Cut the head of ISIS! Take their oil! Stop illegal immigration! Make Mexico pay!”
“Donald Trump has unveiled a riveting new television ad that perfectly sums up Trumpism in all its xenophobic glory,” Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post. “Make America great by keeping the darkies out.”
And Quartz’s Tim Fernholz wonders if Trump’s abrupt shift in strategy means he’s afraid he might lose:
A front-running candidate suddenly changes his strategy to double-down on negative TV ads a month before [sic] Iowa the Iowa caucuses: There was a time when this would have been a clear sign of desperation. A front-running candidate typically deploys positive advertising to bring their voters to the polls and burnish their image; candidates that are lagging behind have more incentive to harp on fear and negativity, in an effort to shrink voter turnout and tear down the front-runner.
Trump, of course, isn’t just any candidate, and this isn’t a typical presidential primary, so it’s no surprise that his ad didn’t come out of the traditional political playbook. But consider the uphill battle he faces in Iowa, where he lags behind Senator Ted Cruz, due largely to the prevalence of evangelical Christian voters. If you look at his ad blitz in that light, it suggests a much more pessimistic outlook from the man who promises to Make America Great Again.