Trump campaign takes aim at ad that quotes Trump

The Trump re-election campaign is threatening television stations that run a new attack ad. The trouble is, all the ad does is quote the president.
Image: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Charlotte
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 2, 2020.Lucas Jackson / Reuters
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By Steve Benen

Priorities USA, a leading super PAC affiliated with Democratic politics, unveiled a new ad this week, hitting Donald Trump on his response to the coronavirus crisis. The ad is pretty straightforward: it features direct quotes from the president about the pandemic, as viewers see a chart showing the number of American coronavirus cases steadily climbing.

The super PAC has invested $6 million in the ad campaign, which began airing this week in several battleground states. As The Hill reported, however, Trump's campaign team hopes to change that.

President Trump's reelection campaign is threatening legal action against television stations in key battleground states if they continue airing an ad cut by the liberal super PAC Priorities USA alleging that the president called the coronavirus a "hoax."

A lawyer for the Trump campaign sent "cease and desist" letters to stations, warning that they should reject the 30-second commercial to "avoid costly and time consuming litigation."

It's not yet clear whether stations will be intimidated, though Priorities USA will likely defend the ad by arguing that it simply quotes the president. Team Trump's argument is that, in context, when the Republican used the word "hoax" at a campaign rally, he wasn't explicitly referring to the virus itself.

At a press briefing soon after the event, when a reporter asked him whether he regrets throwing around careless and provocative rhetoric, Trump insisted that what he sees as a "hoax" is the idea that his administration has failed to properly respond to the public-health crisis. "[W]e've done such a good job," he said, adding, "[T]he 'hoax' was used with respect to Democrats and what they were saying. It was a hoax, what they were saying."

Part of the problem, of course, is that the idea that the White House has done a "good job" in its response to the crisis is impossible to take seriously.

The other part of the problem is that the Trump campaign's efforts to denounce the Priorities USA ad appears to have generated more interest in the commercial the president's team didn't want people to see. As of this morning, the spot has been viewed online over 6.5 million times.

It would appear, in other words, that the Streisand Effect kicked in.