By Richard Lee
I’ll admit it: Donald Trump’s first quarter Super Bowl ad took me by surprise.
No talk of fake news, hoaxes or witch-hunts. No shots of cheering Trump supporters at a MAGA rally.
Instead the ad featured Alice Johnson emotionally expressing thanks to the president for commuting the life sentence she received in 1996 for her role in a drug trafficking operation.
Social media was quickly populated with comments pro and con, offering conflicting opinions about the topic in context of Trump’s record on civil justice reform.
I won’t wade into that debate, but I will weigh in on the strategy of the ad since I’ve been involved in numerous political campaigns during my career
Many years ago when I was a junior staffer in the New Jersey General Assembly, one of the longtime Assembly members shared his re-election strategy with a group of freshmen lawmakers.
Although he represented a strong Democratic district that virtually assured his election every two years, he began every election season by campaigning with his strongest supporters.
“Make sure your base is strong,” I recall him saying. “Then try for some new voters.”
That conversation from years ago came to mind as I watched Trump’s first quarter Super Bowl ad. For three years, he has been charging up and strengthening his base with actions, words and tweets that resonate with his most ardent supporters. His base is not going anywhere. With their votes already in the bank, he can start picking up support from more moderate voters by appealing to issues that resonate with them.
The Super Bowl was the perfect place for Trump to start. When he speaks at a rallies in red states, he is preaching to the choir. When the Super Bowl is on, about 100 million people with divergent political ideologies are watching.
The math is simple.
Richard Lee is executive director of the Jandoli Institute and an associate professor in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University.