“By the way, what ever happened to Hunter? Where the hell is he?!” Trump asked the arena, referring to former Vice President Joe Biden’s eldest son, amid the controversy that launched an impeachment inquiry into the president and his dealings with Ukraine. “Hey fellas, I have an idea for a new T-shirt.”
Minutes later, the suggestion became a $25 reality. Before the event was over, the campaign website had a “LIMITED edition” piece of merchandise “while supplies last!” featuring the presidential query: “WHERE’S HUNTER?”
But the goal wasn’t just to sell thousands of inflammatory t-shirts. More valuable than any dollars brought in, according to aides, is the voter data associated with each item the campaign sells.
For months, the Trump campaign has been capitalizing on controversial events to attract and study donors, many of whom had never given to the 2020 team before. Critics have mocked the gimmicky sales but the campaign may be getting the last laugh.
“President Trump is a master of branding and marketing and his campaign is an extension of that. We try to reflect the President’s ability to cut through political correctness and seize on the news cycle,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said.
When plastic straw bans started to spread across the country, campaign manager Brad Parscale saw an opportunity to monetize.
“Liberal paper straws don’t work. STAND WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP and buy your pack of recyclable straws today,” an advertisement read. So far, the $15 packs of the Trump-branded straws have raised nearly $1 million for the campaign, making them the best-sellers of this kind of viral marketing machine.
That’s more than 60,000 orders, 40 percent of which were placed by new donors, according to a senior campaign official, meaning access to new voters and all sorts of information about them.
In September, after a hurricane map was altered with a black Sharpie to include Alabama, the Trump campaign decided to sell its own kind of thick black markers. For $15, supporters would get 5 fine-tip pens to “set the record straight!” for themselves, featuring — of course — the president’s gold autograph. Those haven’t sold as well as the straws, netting around $50,000, but it helped the campaign crystallize its strategy for converting outrage into retail information.
Last week, after Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said those with concern over political influence in the president’s foreign policy should “get over it,” the campaign seized on the phrasing and designed t-shirts with Trump’s signature hairdo over the letter “o.”
Buy the official Trump marker, which is different than every other marker on the market, because this one has the special ability to drive @CNN and the rest of the fake news crazy! #KeepMarkersGreathttps://t.co/eakgICM0LR
All of those examples show the lengths to which the campaign has cashed in on the culture war.
They have also been extremely beneficial for the data operation, according to a senior campaign official, who said the information gleaned from the thousands of transactions is invaluable.
Though the total amounts from these sales is a tiny fraction of the $125 million brought in by the president’s whole re-election effort last quarter, the one-two punch of effective political messaging and data collection also helps the campaign identify potential groups and demographics to better target between now and Election Day.
Obtaining phone numbers, emails and physical addresses in this volume, with this ease, is essentially gold for any presidential campaign.
Capitalizing on the “smartest dumb ideas” is also a way to identify the most loyal supporters and then seek out others who may share their key characteristics or online habits, said one digital marketing expert who asked not to be identified because they are consulting with political campaigns.
This strategy is a huge part of Parscale’s larger approach to collecting and using data. And it's a clear sign that the campaign is more focused on dominating in the digital arena than even four years ago.
Harvesting this kind of information demonstrates there is a “math to the madness” of these quick-turnaround items, according to the marketing expert.
The tchotchkes are easy and cheap to produce (all “Made in the USA”), while delivering nuanced insight into thousands of the president’s most ardent supporters, who would be critical to a potential second term victory.
The campaign can also cross-reference the information they gather from voter scores at the Republican National Committee and try to identify how many times they’ve voted in the past, for whom, and how.
Before he was elected, the president considered himself a master marketer. Perhaps the best example of this skill set is the now-iconic, signature red “Make America Great Again” hat. To date, the Trump campaign says it has sold more than a million of them, for a grand total of $25 million.
And beyond the viral, news cycle-driven merchandise, the campaign also has consistently targeted the president’s political opponents in its apparel and accessories available for sale on the website.
Just this week, the campaign unveiled special Halloween-themed items that feature House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Rep. Jerry Nadler. D-N.Y., as witches, with a superhero-type Trump flying through the air over Washington D.C. The image is a play on the movie poster for “Hocus Pocus,” with the Trump team playfully labeling the line: “HOAXUS POCUS — Stop the Witch-Hunt!”
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46d ago / 6:55 PM UTC
Steyer's TV ad spending in 2020 race reaches $30 million
WASHINGTON — Wealthy Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer has now spent nearly $30 million in TV and radio advertisements, according to ad-spending data as of Oct. 28 from Advertising Analytics.
Steyer’s spending over the airwaves is seven times greater than the second-biggest advertiser in the presidential race (President Trump’s re-election campaign) and 15 times greater than his nearest Democratic rival (South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg).
Almost all of Steyer’s spending has been targeted in the early nominating states – $7.1 million in Iowa, $7 million in New Hampshire, $5 million in Nevada and $6.3 million in South Carolina – as the Democratic National Committee has used early-state and national polls to set the qualifications for upcoming debates.
So far, Steyer is one of nine Democrats who have qualified for the next debate, on Nov. 20 in Georgia.
The top overall advertisers, as of Oct. 28
Steyer: $29.7 million
Trump: $4.0 million
Buttigieg: $2.0 million
Sanders: $1.7 million
The top spenders in Iowa
Steyer: $7.1 million
Buttigieg: $2.0 million
Sanders: $1.7 million
The top spenders in New Hampshire
Steyer: $7.0 million
The top spenders in Nevada
Steyer: $5.0 million
The top spenders in South Carolina
Steyer: $6.3 million
SOURCE: Advertising Analytics
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Vaughn Hillyard, Alexandra Bacallao and Ryan Beals
46d ago / 5:31 PM UTC
Buttigieg and Castro open to conditioning Israel aid money to restricting settlement expansion
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former Housing Sec. Julián Castro and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Monday suggested an openness to using U.S. aid as leverage to press Israel to halt its settlement expansion in the West Bank.
The two were among a handful of Democratic presidential contenders who spoke at a conference hosted by the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street in Washington.
“We have a responsibility, and by the way we have mechanisms to do this, to ensure that U.S. taxpayer support to Israel does not get turned into U.S. taxpayer support for a move like annexation,” Buttigieg said from the stage, adding: “The problem of course with annexation is that it is incompatible with a two-state solution, and I believe ultimately moving in that direction represents moving away from peace.”
In an interview with NBC at the conference, Castro echoed Buttigieg, saying, “I would not take off the table the option of conditioning our aid on Israel not annexing the West Bank.”
Castro, however, said his focus would be to first work with the new Democratic presidential administration in 2021 to “get this [U.S.-Israel] relationship back on track and to work toward a two-state solution and stop any kind of effort to unilaterally annex the West Bank.”
The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development also criticized the leading role that Jared Kushner, the White House senior adviser and son-in-law of President Trump, is playing in Middle East peace talks.
“I wish, though, that this president were more serious and that he would send somebody over there that actually has a track record and experience of being able to help achieve stability and peace,” Castro told NBC, adding that the White House’s peace negotiating “doesn't seem serious.”
America has been a stalwart ally of Israel, sending the country vital military and economic aid. Some U.S. politicians have bristled at Israel's decision to build settlements in the West Bank, arguing the construction in areas that go beyond the nation's initial borders could hamper peace negotiations in the region. But defenders of those settlements believe Israel is well within its rights to build on land Israel now controls after wars in the region.
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have previously suggested the conditioning of aid money should be on the table.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke to the group on Sunday, and Sanders and Sen. Michael Bennet will speak on Monday afternoon.
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47d ago / 2:59 PM UTC
Jeffries: Proof of Trump wrongdoing 'hiding in plain sight'
WASHINGTON — New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a member of House Democratic leadership, wouldn't commit to a timeline on impeaching President Trump, arguing Sunday that the House will "continue to proceed in a serious and solemn fashion to undertake our Constitutional responsibility."
During an interview on Sunday's "Meet the Press," Jeffries said that it's up to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to decide when to turn "transition from the accumulation of information" to "the public presentation" of the House Democrats' charge to impeach Trump.
"Speaker Pelosi, who by the way, is doing a phenomenal job, has made clear that we are going to continue to proceed in a serious and solemn fashion to undertake our constitutional responsibility," he said.
"We are going to follow the facts, we are gonna apply the law, we’re gonna be guided by the Constitution, we’re gonna present the truth to the American people no matter where that leads because nobody is above the law."
Jeffries went on to argue that evidence of the president's "wrongdoing" is "hiding in plain sight."
He said the recently released White House memorandum summarizing a summer call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy proves that "Donald Trump pressured a foreign government to target an American citizenship for political gain." And he said that a whistleblower complaint against the president has been "validated" by witnesses that have testified as part of the House's impeachment inquiry.
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49d ago / 8:13 PM UTC
Sanders' longtime trip director no longer with presidential campaign
WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders’ longtime trip director and de-facto body man William Pierce is no longer with the Vermont Senator's 2020 presidential effort — and hasn't been for several weeks now — the Sanders campaign confirms to NBC News.
In his position, Pierce was responsible for handling logistics and day-of scheduling behind the scenes and also served as a body man of sorts for Sanders, regularly seen working at tasks like making sure the podium was up to Sanders’ specifications at events and controlling crowds around him during rope lines, “selfie” lines, parades and even at airports.
Pierce has been with the campaign since January of 2019, even before the official launch in February. He previously worked for a number of other political organizations including Draft Biden 2016, Obama for America and Sanders’ 2016 run. Pierce left the Sanders campaign in September.
According to Pierce’s publicly available social media profiles, he is now an account executive with iConstituent, a Washington D.C.-based constituent communications software company.
National Advance staffers David Maddox and Jesse Cornett have been filling Pierce’s role in recent weeks.
When contacted by NBC News, Pierce would not comment on the record for this story and Sanders' campaign provided no further comment.
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Ali Vitali and Amanda Golden
49d ago / 5:52 PM UTC
Klobuchar proposes plan to reduce college costs, not make it free
WASHINGTON — Senator Amy Klobuchar is setting up another contrast between herself and her fellow 2020 aspirants, this time on student loan debt and post-secondary education.
In a plan out Friday the Minnesota senator released a plan calling for tuition-free community college, expanded apprenticeship programs, and doubling federal grants to “reduce the burden of student loans.” That approach juxtaposes sharply with others in the race, specifically Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who advocate for universal and near-universal (respectively) student loan debt forgiveness and free college.
Klobuchar is still riding momentum from last week’s debate where she mounted several forceful challenges to Warren and Sanders’ progressive positions; something she will continue doing, both on the trail and on the November debate stage for which she just qualified.
The Klobuchar campaign tells NBC News that the plan’s overall price tag is “about $500 billion.” It will be paid for by raising capital gains and dividends rates for those in the top two income tax brackets, limiting the amount of cap gains deferrals, and a 30 percent minimum tax for people making over $1 million (otherwise known as the "Buffett Rule").
Here are some key provisions to the proposal:
Tuition-free community college for one and two-year degrees, technical certifications and industry-recognized credentials. To do so, the federal government would match every $1 invested by states for students with $3. States will also be required to maintain spending on higher education and limit the rate of tuition increases if they want to access this federal funding.
Expand Pell Grants by doubling the max Pell Grant (which don’t have to be repaid) to $12,000/year and expanding it to families making up to $100,000/year.
Allow borrowers to refinance their student loans to lower rates and overhaul the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to require lenders to give better information about eligibility and progress toward forgiveness to borrowers.
Create a Worker Training Tax Credit, benefiting businesses who invest in worker training.
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49d ago / 12:34 PM UTC
Cummings funeral marks first Biden-Obama public appearance of 2020 but the former president remains a campaign fixture
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has made Barack Obama a fixture of his campaign, even without the former president’s endorsement and presence on the campaign trail. On Friday, the public will see the two former running mates together for the first time since Biden launched his 2020 campaign, as they gather for the funeral services for Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
The former president and vice president were both invited by Cummings’ family to attend the services in Baltimore, where Obama will deliver one of the eulogies, at the request of the late Democrat’s widow.
The two were last seen in public together at two other funerals — for former President George H. W. Bush in December 2018, and for the late Sen. John McCain four months earlier.
Since the launch of the campaign, their families joined together this summer to celebrate the graduations of Obama’s younger daughter and Biden’s granddaughter, who became friends at the same elite Washington high school.
But the two have continued to speak and met privately often between then, according to aides for both men. At a fundraiser last week, Biden told the audience that he sees Obama “a lot.”
He mentions Obama on the trail even more. Just Tuesday, at events in Pennsylvania and Iowa, the former president’s name came up often, both in a policy context and to highlight their eight-year partnership in the White House. In Scranton he joked about Obama’s constant descriptions of his local roots as if he “crawled out of a coal mine,” and talked about how they “fought like hell” to pass the Affordable Care Act. In Iowa later he referred to the assignments Obama gave him as vice president, like developing policy to boost the middle class and on post-secondary education.
The former president has continued an active post-presidency, but done his best to stay out of the 2020 presidential primary and largely avoided commenting on politics generally.
The day Biden announced his candidacy in April, a spokesperson issued a statement noting that Obama “has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made,” and noting that they remained close. While short of an endorsement, it was the only statement Obama’s office issued about a 2020 contender; Biden later told reporters he asked the president not to endorse him.
“Whoever wins this nomination should win it on their own merits,” he said.
Within days, though, Biden’s campaign released a video that replayed Obama’s own words as he awarded his vice president the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Biden campaign informally consults with Obama advisers to ensure that their use of the president’s likeness and words does not cross beyond what they deem to be appropriate.
Also in attendance at the Cummings funeral Friday will be the last Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and former President Bill Clinton, who will join Obama in speaking. The New York Times reported this week that Clinton has told people privately she would join the 2020 race if she thought she could win, but remained skeptical of there being an opening
Biden downplayed the concern among some Democrats about his candidacy to reporters Wednesday. “Sure I speak to Secretary Clinton, but I haven't spoken to her about this. I have no reason to,” he said.
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Shaquille Brewster and Gary Grumbach
50d ago / 8:12 PM UTC
Sanders wins backing of prominent Iowa Democrat
DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is making his first swing through the Hawkeye state since suffering a heart attack earlier this month, and he’s going to be joined by some local political star power.
Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker is set to endorse Sanders at the Vermont senator’s rally in Iowa City, Iowa Friday night, NBC News has learned.
Walker, the 31-year-old Cedar Rapids native, is the first African American to hold a position on the Linn County Board of Supervisors. Prior to serving in local government, Walker worked for several political campaigns at the congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential levels.
Sanders campaign aides tell NBC News they view this as a “big get.” Walker was listed on the Des Moines Register’s “50 Most-wanted Democrats” this cycle, along with names that include J.D. Scholten, running for Iowa’s 4th congressional district in the US House, and Sanders 2016 campaign staffer Pete D’Alessandro.
The Sanders campaign promises Walker is more than just an endorsement on paper- He will also be Sanders’ first Iowa co-chair, hitting the trail on behalf of the campaign across the Hawkeye state.
“Now is not the time for incrementalism or for candidates wishing to capitalize on disaffected Republicans by repackaging the same failed policy programs of yesteryear,” Walker will tell supporters in Iowa City according to prepared remarks obtained by NBC News. “We cannot afford more piecemeal proposals that will be watered down even more during the legislative process, barely moving the needle in the end. We need to reimagine America’s promise, and we only get there with a bold vision.”
Walker is set to appear alongside Sanders at Friday’s “End Corporate Greed” press conference in Newton, and rally in Iowa City.
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Amanda Golden and Priscilla Thompson
50d ago / 10:00 AM UTC
Buttigieg releases women's health and economic empowerment plan
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Pete Buttigieg Thursday unveiled a new set of policy proposals to address issues involving women’s health and economic empowerment centering on several key areas of improvement including:
Gender pay and wealth equity
Women’s health and choice
Securing power and influence
Building safe inclusive communities for women and families
“Women’s freedom can’t depend on Washington,” the plan says. “It can only come from systematically building women’s power in our economy, our political system, and in every part of our society.”
The South Bend, Indiana mayor says he will commit to nominating a cabinet and judiciary that is at least half women as well as prioritizing diversity in all presidential appointments across federal agencies, commissions and boards. He also calls for reinstating the White House Council on Women and Girls.
To close the wage gap, Buttigieg says he would implement a $15 minimum wage, require gender pay transparency and hold employers accountable for discrimination, as well as address factors that disproportionately target women of color and widen the racial wage gap.
The plan looks to expand gender diversity in “high priority,” sectors including computer science and construction by requiring all federally funded workforce programs to achieve target goals in women’s participation.
It prioritizes increasing the number of women-owned businesses, and invest in scaling successful businesses, including access to capital and mentorship for women entrepreneurs by over $50 billion. And it details steps to combat sexual assault and harassment in the work place.
The plan also calls for ending the trade off between career and family for women, including reducing the burden on unpaid family caregivers. It calls for caregivers to be considered eligible for Social Security, and says more details are to come in a forthcoming long-term care plan.
Buttigieg would invest $10 billion to end workplace sexual harassment and discrimination against women, including a proposal to empower workers to file formal complaints about sexual harassment and discrimination, and stop companies from hiding problems, as well as banning forced arbitration clauses that deny women their right to challenge workplace harassment and discrimination in court.
Buttigieg emphasizes the need for a “culture change” to occur around issues of sexual harassment and discrimination earlier in life. In order to achieve this a Buttigieg administration would work with states to educate students in public schools on consent and bystander intervention. In addition to reinforcing support for sexual violence prevention programs on college campuses.
In this plan, Buttigieg reiterates many of the polices he’s laid out in previous plans on criminal justice and healthcare aimed at addressing disparities in care and treatment.
Notably, on abortion rights, one of the most fiercely discussed issues in the 2020 election, Buttigieg says he would codify the right to abortion by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act, thereby preventing states from interfering in women’s access to abortions. At the ground level the candidate hopes to increase the number of clinicians who offer abortions and expand access to services by allowing them to provide remote medication abortion services.
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51d ago / 7:27 PM UTC
In battleground Wisconsin, support for impeachment lags behind national polls
WASHINGTON — A new Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin, arguably the most important state for the 2020 presidential race, is a reminder that the national poll results we’re seeing are a bit different than in the attitudes in top battleground states for 2020.
In the poll, 46 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin say there is enough cause for Congress to hold impeachment hearings on Trump, versus 49 percent who disagree. That 46 percent is lower than the majorities we’ve seen in most national polls supporting the impeachment inquiry.
New Marquette Law School Poll finds 46% of WI registered voters say there is enough cause for Congress to hold Trump impeachment hearings, 49% say no. #mulawpoll
The poll also finds 44 percent of Wisconsin supporting Trump’s impeachment/removal from office, versus 51 percent who oppose it.
Trump’s job rating in Wisconsin is 46 percent in the poll — slightly higher than his national average in the low 40s.
In hypothetical general-election matchups, Biden leads Trump by 6 points in the state, 50 percent to 44 percent. That’s compared with Bernie Sanders’ 2-point lead (48 percent to 46 percent), Elizabeth Warren’s 1-point lead (47 percent to 46 percent), and Pete Buttigieg’s 2-point deficit (43 percent-45 percent).
Most national polling shows all of these Democrats ahead of Trump by double digits or high-single digits.
The poll was conducted Oct. 13-17 of 799 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points.
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51d ago / 6:31 PM UTC
Castro releases "First Chance Plan" for criminal justice
Former Housing Sec. Julián Castro is out with his new criminal justice plan Wednesday, which he's billing as a "First Chance Plan" to give everyone an "effective first chance to succeed" instead of addressing recidivism after a person is already incarcerated.
Check out some highlights from the plan and read more at NBC Latino.
Close all for-profit prisons, reform civil asset forfeiture process, abolish the death penalty
Establish “First Chance Advisory Council” + “Second Chance Centers” for formerly incarcerated people to advise on needs to improve prison conditions & prevent incarceration, and provide resources & assistance to newly formerly incarcerated.
Stricter standards for juvenile incarceration & allow children up to the age of 21 to be tried through juvenile justice system
Invest in public defenders by re-opening & expanding Obama’s Office for Access to justice + ensure fair caseload limits and pay equality
Pass legislation “banning the box” on employment application forms
Return right to vote to formerly incarcerated people.