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ATTACK MEMES

This is Donald Trump’s bizarre digital strategy for “voter suppression”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak to a campaign rally, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Kinston, N.C
AP?Evan Vucci
Are you ready for his dank memes?
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Trump campaign officials say they will spend the remainder of the presidential race working to crush the spirits of Hillary Clinton’s supporters.

The GOP nominee’s campaign team invited two reporters from Bloomberg News into their digital operation, for a story that reads as a prelude for a post-election Trump media enterprise focused on turning his most intense supporters into paying subscribers.

But their plan for the next two weeks was overshadowed by an unusual admission.

“We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” one official told Bloomberg. He described efforts to disillusion and distract three demographic groups that are key to Hillary Clinton’s voting coalition: white liberals, young women, and African Americans.

Use of the term “voter suppression” shocked many observers, since it is typically used to refer to efforts to illegally prevent people from voting by intimidation or other nefarious means. The language was particularly jarring because of Trump’s recent obsession with false theories of voter fraud. He has called on his supporters to “monitor” the polls in ways that have election observers fearing violence.

The strategy also surprised those who expected that any last-minute expenditures would go into turning out Trump’s own supporters to boost the Republican party overall.

The so-called voter suppression plan is to spread internet memes on Facebook that highlight Clinton’s various transgressions against targeted voters, drawing on her career and the hacked documents provided to Wikileaks by the Russian government. Most of this ground has been well trod over the last eighteen months, whether references to Clinton’s use of the term “super-predator” in the 1990s (she’s apologized), her husband’s sexual improprieties, or her family foundation’s connections to corporate interests.

Trump operatives say they are convinced that delivering these messages to voters on Facebook will dissuade them from voting. Whether the message actually works, or will be seen as a condescending effort at manipulation that actually increases turnout, remains to be seen.

How big is the effort? Bloomberg reports that the campaign is spending “$70 million a month, much of it to cultivate a universe of millions of fervent Trump supporters, many of them reached through Facebook.”

Trump’s top executive, Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon, has said that he wouldn’t have come aboard if the campaign hadn’t committed to its Facebook-focused digital operation.

But financial disclosures show the campaign only spent $70 million in one month, in September. And the largest single expenditure in that month was on TV ads ($23 million), which was more than the $20 million it put into online advertising.

It also spent more money on hats and t-shirts ($3.6 million) than it did on polling ($1.7 million). The campaign also spent far more on air travel ($6 million) than it did on payroll ($857,000) or field consulting ($858,000).

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