GOP front-runner Donald Trump may have already outspent his Republican rivals in attack ads without actually spending a dime.
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That’s the word from party insiders on both sides of various campaigns, who have been estimating how much of the Donald’s various social media stunts, combined with television appearances and print media citations, would actually cost if they were paid-for attack ads.
The estimate: the Donald produces at least $25 million in free ad time whenever he goes on the offensive, these people say.
Trump’s ability to gin-up free ad time has been one of most difficult obstacles faced by candidates in the crowded GOP field still in the early stages of the presidential nominating process, virtually paralyzing the campaigns of establishment front-runners, like Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Various campaigns had been discussing the broader use of attack ads to quell the Trump insurgency. The real estate mogul and former reality TV star continues his lead in all the national polling in the race to become the Republican 2016 presidential nominee. Bush has so far released one attack ad spending $600,000 on a spot that ran earlier in the month in New Hampshire, which didn’t mention Trump by name, and another that shows Trump espousing liberal policies over the years.
But those attacks have backfired, GOP operatives concede, and Trump’s poll numbers have remained relatively steady. In fact, Trump’s GOP rivals have more recently dialed back on these efforts as they began calculating estimates of how much free ad time Trump generates when he goes on the attack against various candidates through television appearances and through his widely watched Twitter account, which has more than 4.3 million followers.
In fact, Trump’s power to create what’s known inside the campaigns as “free media” worth $25 million nearly equals all the money spent on political ads by his GOP rivals both through their political action committee and their campaigns so far in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Bush, himself, has spent nearly $5.5 million on political ads, according to the research firm SMG Delta.
On paper, Trump has spent no money on ads, SMG says, but that doesn’t take into account the advertising value Trump has been generating just by opening his mouth, and using his Twitter account, GOP operatives say.
“Right now, they (the campaigns) don’t want to antagonize Trump because when he fights back he gets so much play on television and on Twitter that the campaigns estimate its $25 million in free ad time,” said one Bush campaign adviser who asked not to be quoted by name.
A spokeswoman for the Bush campaign declined comment on the estimate for Trump’s free ad time, but added in an email: “How have we been ‘fearful’ of attacking Donald Trump? Serious question. All coverage appoints to the opposite.” Press officials for Rubio didn’t have a comment. A spokeswoman for Trump declined comment.
What makes Trump’s ability to generate free media so daunting is the breadth of the media coverage he generates when he goes on the attack. The $25 million number, estimated by operatives inside the various GOP campaigns, takes into account the days of redundant television and print media coverage both on a national and state level when Trump begins attacking his opponents.
Veteran Democratic campaign consultant Hank Sheinkopf says the $25 million may be “a huge understatement,” and that “the value may potentially be more. He’s in every story in every major market.” Trump “is his own media so it’s likely a lot more than $25 million,” Sheinkopf adds.
One GOP operative connected with the Bush campaign tells FOX Business that the establishment candidates still hold out hope that Trump’s sometimes reckless campaigning, where he has viciously attacked rival candidates with name calling and even members of the media will lead to a “self-implosion” that in turn will lead to a decline in the polls.
At least so far, that hasn’t happened and Trump remains the decided GOP front runner according to most of the recent voter surveys. “If that (self-implosion) doesn't work they are going after his business career (in attack ads) and it will be very ugly,” the GOP operative added.
Sheinkopf says the GOP establishment shouldn’t wait too long to go on the attack. “They are hoping (Trump) will disappear,” Sheinkopf said, “but when you have this much media penetration he’s not going away. Whether he’s the nominee or not it makes no sense to not fire back.”