On Monday, less than 48 hours after 22 people were killed in what is believed to be an anti-Latino domestic terror attack in El Paso, Texas, Donald Trump’s re-election campaign launched a new batch of Facebook ads referencing the grieving border city.
“¡Únete ya!” (“Join now!) the video ad declared, before displaying footage of two smiling fans holding a sign with the slogan, “LATINOS FOR TRUMP/FUND THE WALL TOUR 2019/EL PASO, TX.”
The Trump campaign has launched 66 similar Facebook ads seeking support from Latinos since Monday, of which half were targeted primarily at voters in Texas, according to a Guardian analysis of Facebook’s political ad archive.
The ads were launched amid growing scrutiny and condemnation of Trump’s anti-immigrant and white nationalist rhetoric, which was echoed in the “manifesto” believed to have been written by the alleged El Paso killer. Trump’s re-election campaign has run 2,199 Facebook ads referring to immigration along the US-Mexico border as an “invasion”, the same word used in the manifesto to describe the presence of Latinos in Texas, a state that was part of Mexico until 1836.
The ads were also launched just before US immigration officials raided several food processing plants across Mississippi, arresting about 680 predominantly Latino people in the largest workplace raid in a decade. The Wednesday raids separated dozens of children from their parents; kids as young as toddlers were taken to shelters or left to be cared for by neighbors or relatives.
“Following the tragedies in El Paso and Dayton, all Facebook advertising was paused by the campaign,” said Erin Perrine, the Trump campaign’s deputy communications director, by email. “No new ads were launched on Monday. Some were turned back on, including one from the El Paso rally earlier this year. The ad does not talk about El Paso, it did not run in El Paso or any of the surrounding DMAs [designated market area]. The only notice of El Paso is a Latino rally goer with his own homemade sign for 2 seconds of the video. These ads first launched as part of our Latinos for Trump coalition rollout.”
Perrine did not immediately respond to questions seeking clarification on the advertising “pause”. Hundreds of Trump campaign ads were live on Monday.
The Trump campaign ads launched since the El Paso attack are a small subset of the 1,786 “Latinos for Trump” Facebook ads that Trump’s re-election team has run since Vice-President Mike Pence launched “Latinos for Trump” at an event in Florida in June. The campaign has spent between $300 and $178,014 on the ads, and they have been viewed between 106,000 and 2,191,214 times. (Facebook reports spending and performance of ads as a range.)
They are a mix of English and Spanish, and are almost entirely devoid of references to policies. Most feature upbeat music, photos of supporters who appear to be Latino, and simple slogans: “¡APOYA AL PRESIDENTE TRUMP!” or “¡VAMOS!” (in English, “Support President Trump!” or “Let’s go!”).
The one exception is a cache of 78 ads that were launched in June and featured a video of Trump promising “freedom” for Venezuela. The ads included a Spanish language caption claiming that approval for Trump has increased 14% among Latinos, and linked to a copy of a Wall Street Journal article explaining that Trump’s strategy for appealing to Latino voters includes casting Democrats as socialists “in the hopes of appealing to voters – like Venezuelans – with ties to countries that have leftist governments”.
The 1,786 “Latinos for Trump” ads are an even smaller subset of the 101,692 different Facebook ads Trump’s re-election campaign has run this year.
Trump’s Facebook spending is just one indicator of his political strategy, but it’s an important one: Trump appointed the architect of his 2016 digital advertising campaign, Brad Parscale, to run his entire 2020 re-election effort. Since January, he has spent $9.2m on Facebook ads – more than that spent by the top four Democratic candidates (Kristen Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren) combined.
In general, the most common political topic for Trump’s campaign ads is immigration, according to an analysis by Bully Pulpit Interactive. Ads referencing Trump’s anti-immigration policies have accounted for 21.9% of Trump’s spending since 23 March. The next most common topics are “fake news”, the economy and socialism. He has spent just $767.99 on ads about healthcare since 23 March, and none on childcare, housing, the minimum wage or climate change.
Even assuming the maximum possible cost of the “Latinos for Trump” campaign, the expenditure would account for just 1.9% of Trump’s Facebook budget this year. Still, Latinos are the only demographic group besides women that Trump is targeting by name in ads. Campaigns addressed at African Americans, Asian Americans, LGBT Americans, and other constituency groups are a common feature of political campaigns.
Trump’s hostility toward immigrants from Latin America has been blatant and pronounced since he launched his campaign in 2015 with a speech calling migrants from Mexico “rapists”. He accused an American federal judge of having a “conflict of interest” that prevented him from presiding over a fraud case involving Trump’s “university” because the judge had Mexican heritage. In May, he appeared to condone a supporter’s comment at one of his rallies that the way to stop migrants is to “shoot them”, laughing at the remark and pointing in the direction of the speaker.