Trump campaign hits pause on TV ad spending for 'review' of messaging strategy

The move comes after the demotion of campaign manager Brad Parscale and polls showing the president trailing Biden.

President President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally for Senate candidate, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., at Freedom Hall in Johnson City, Tennessee on Oct. 1, 2018.Sean Rayford / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's campaign has virtually disappeared from the airwaves as it undertakes "a review and fine-tuning of the campaign's strategy" as an official put it after the replacement of campaign manager Brad Parscale.

With less than 100 days until Election Day, the Trump campaign spent virtually nothing on television or radio ads on Wednesday and Thursday, according to data from Advertising Analytics. And it has effectively nothing booked through August.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden's campaign has spent $3.9 million over those two days and has another almost $6 million booked through the end of August.

When asked about the lack of spending, a Trump campaign official pointed to the decision earlier this month to demote Parscale and elevate deputy campaign manager Bill Stepien to fill that role.

"With the leadership change in the campaign, there's understandably a review and fine-tuning of the campaign's strategy. We’ll be back on the air shortly, even more forcefully exposing Joe Biden as a puppet of the radical left-wing," the official told NBC News.

As part of a broader strategy to shift the public's focus from coronavirus to fears over crime and anarchy, the campaign has so far put most of its money behind a spot that attacks Biden over Democratic calls to "defund the police." Advertising Analytics data shows the campaign has spent almost $17 million to run the spot on broadcast and national cable since the beginning of July.

The spot imagines a police department slashed by budget cuts that asks victims of serious violent crimes to leave a message and hear back from officers in five days.

But the spot says that Biden's "supporters are fighting to defund police departments." Biden himself has said he doesn't support blanket cuts to departments, but agrees with activists calling to reallocate police funding toward other public programs and to condition at least some federal funding on reforms.

Even before the pause, there were signs that the Trump campaign was shifting its advertising strategy amid the president's lag in recent polls.

After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a week running ads in Michigan through June and half of July, the campaign dropped that to just $78,000 for the week of July 14 and to less than $10,000 the week of July 21.

Recent polling from Fox News and CNN have found Trump trailing Biden by margins of 9 points and 12 points among registered voters in Michigan in recent days.

The campaign also had made other ad spending changes in the weeks before this pause, ramping up spending in Iowa, Georgia, Florida and Ohio since the middle of June.

While the Trump campaign has been off the airwaves, its allies haven't gone dark. America First Action, the campaign's top aligned super PAC, spent $1 million over the past two days, while Restoration PAC, another super PAC, has spent $360,000.

And the campaign still has the $146.6 million in general-election television and radio spending booked from Labor Day through Election Day.

But America First Action has been getting heavily outspent by other Democratic PACs in recent months, causing growing anxiety among Republicans. Democratic super PACs have spent almost four times as much on television and radio as America First, and the trend is set to continue, according to ad spending figures through the end of last week.