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This Week, Trump Stumps As Clinton Airs Ads

Donald Trump feeds off the energy his supporters bring to his rallies.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
Donald Trump feeds off the energy his supporters bring to his rallies.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are going to be all over America's TVs this week, but in very different ways.

Clinton has one day of campaigning on her schedule, plus an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Trump, meanwhile, has four big rallies planned. And if the rest of the campaign has been any template, Trump's many speeches will get many minutes of airtime.

But then, Clinton will be all over the commercial breaks. She just made a new $80 million ad buy. That will put her well over Trump's total; last week, NBC News reported Clinton's — and pro-Clinton groups' — total ad buys came to just over $100 million. In comparison, Trump ads at the time totaled around $12 million.

The week is a sign of where the campaigns' strategies are at this point: Trump is trying to dig himself out of a sizable polling hole, and he's stumping furiously to get that done. Clinton, meanwhile, is letting Trump dominate the news cycle, while keeping her communication with the public neatly packaged and monitored.

Clinton's message is in large part Trump's words

The latest Clinton ad follows a pattern she already established: using Trump's own words against him. Titled "Just One," the ad casts Donald Trump as too mercurial to be trusted with national security issues.

It calls to mind another, widely circulated ad — the one of children watching Trump's more outrageous moments on television. And the campaign took a related tack with a video that is simply a string of Republican commentators and politicians criticizing Trump's failure to release his tax returns.

The clear message of these ads is that Clinton doesn't need to editorialize to attack Trump; he does it himself (as do his fellow Republicans).

Moreover, it's notable that Clinton is mostly getting her message out this week via TV ads. Hers is a tightly controlled message operation — this, after all, is the candidate who has not done a press conference in more than 260 days. And while both Trump and the news media have criticized her heavily for it, it's been a safe strategy thus far: Clinton still has a comfortable lead over Trump in most polls.

With her lack of press conferences, big ad buys and scheduled interviews, Clinton has a much more tailored and packaged message, and her ads seem to try to contrast that with Trump, who has created enough sound bites for multiple Clinton attack ads.

Trump sticks with speeches

Trump has released one round of ads in four battleground states: an ad that contrasts what a Clinton America would look like (i.e., scary) versus a Trump America (i.e., secure and prosperous).

That ad has been panned as being more of a primary spot than one for a general election. There's a sense that it preaches to the choir — that by trumpeting his message of getting tough on immigrants and terrorists, he's trying to sell himself to people who are already sold on him.

But then, he will have the opportunity to get his message out four times this week, meaning anyone with a television tuned to a cable news channel at those times has a good shot at catching his speeches. Not only is that free media, but it's also the kind of media Trump enjoys — he feeds off those crowds — and that his supporters like: unfiltered and "authentic"-seeming.

With only one round of ad buys, it's unclear whether Trump is changing how he gets his message out. However, the content of those messages could be shifting soon. He has delivered his recent speeches using a teleprompter — unremarkable for any other politician, but a method that reduces the number of inflammatory asides. In addition, he signaled last weekend that he might soften his hard-line position on immigration, a move that might bring more establishment Republicans into the fold.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.

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