By J.D. Durkin
To understand the relationship between Trump 2016 and big social media, consider this important sentence that Brad Parscale said during his 60 Minutes interview in October 2017:
"I think Donald Trump won, but I think Facebook was the method. It was the highway in which his car drove on.”
Parscale is the grizzly bearded 2016 Trump campaign digital guru — now working as the official campaign manager for the president’s 2020 reelection bid — who largely powered the Trump train’s engines to the White House through a strategically and well-informed harnessing of social media. While the field spent on traditional TV ad spending and undervalued the targeted ad placement abilities of the emerging social media companies, Parscale seized; and all evidence suggests the effort to re-elect Donald Trump is even more fierce than the last.
Tara McGowan is the founder and CEO of ACRONYM, a liberal group tracking the campaign spending for candidates on Facebook and Google. McGowan warns that the left is at risk of being dangerously outspent — and therefore perhaps out-messaged — by the POTUS incumbent.
“Trump’s really running a general election campaign, and he’s running that campaign online. Whereas Democrats are still using more traditional methods of outreach,” McGown told Cheddar.
Channeling social media to empower political campaigns is not an entirely new; many people call Barack Obama our first social media president, a candidate who could fit into the byte-sized clickable world of easily-shared sound. But no one seems to have figured out the game quite like Parscale to the benefit of the MAGA message — and it’s something that should worry the ever-growing field of 2020 Democrats.
A May 21st story from the New York Times puts it into stark perspective for Democrats:
So far this year, Mr. Trump has spent about $5 million on Facebook advertising. Early in the year, Mr. Trump’s Facebook spending exceeded that of all of the Democratic candidates put together, though Democrats’ collective spending eventually surpassed Mr. Trump’s total.
The problem for the Democratic field, says McGowan, is that they’re still playing the game by the rules that were set long ago. “Years and years ago you used to get your information from a trusted messenger in the evening news on television, “ she says. “And that’s really where the model for campaign advertising started … So, the Trump campaign is very smartly reaching people where they are, and Facebook is where a lot of people get their news now.”
But for all the high-spending, avoiding over-complication and keeping it simple may still win the day in the digital space. Parscale revealed in that 60 Minutes interview how to best convey that your candidate will fix something like infrastructure.
"Voters in the Rust Belt that cared about their roads being rebuilt, their highways, their bridges,” said Parscale. “They felt like the world was crumbling. So I started making ads that would show a bridge crumbling."