Donald Trump may claim that Ted Cruz “stole” his Iowa caucuses win and that he failed to invest in boosting voter turnout, but data from political advertising tracker Kantar Media reveals the billionaire candidate could have also lost because he was pummeled on TV ahead of the vote.
Cruz attacked him. A political group poured $1 million into negative ads. Even Ben Carson tucked in a subtle jab.
During the 10-day period leading up to the Feb. 1 caucus, seven of every 10 broadcast TV ad spots that mentioned Trump in Iowa either attacked him or compared him negatively to another candidate, according to an Associated Press analysis.
In total, Republican candidates and super PACs ran at least 16 different television ads attacking Trump that aired nearly 2,500 times.
Trump faced a heavy onslaught of negative ads from Cruz's campaign and the Cruz-aligned super PAC Stand for Truth. Meanwhile, the Our Principles PAC bombarded Trump with more than $1.1 million in TV ads by largely using Trump's own words against him — including old interviews where he said he didn't like abortion but still considered himself pro-choice.
On the other hand, Trump aired one ad called "Clear Difference" about 1,000 times, and ad attacking Cruz for his stance on immigration. Trump's other ad — a positive spot featuring a campaign speech — aired fewer than 25 times.
"What we saw in Iowa, that was probably a failure of ground game and television," said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a non-partisan election newsletter run by the University of Virginia.
And while the real estate mogul has been stepping up his campaign ground game and events in New Hampshire, Trump appears to be giving other candidates the opportunity there — and in South Carolina, the following primary state — to make the same kind of political-advertising assault that ramped up in Iowa.
In an interview with the AP on Friday, Trump said he was learning as he goes along. He said he now knew to invest more in turnout and would defend himself robustly from future attacks — though he'll only spend money if it's actually needed.
"I've spent the least amount of money of any candidate, and I'm No. 1 in the polls," Trump said. "That's called good business skills."
With the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, Trump has spent about $3.6 million on TV and radio ads there. But Trump's spending trails his next-closest competitor: Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio has spent $4.8 million in New Hampshire, and has benefited from an additional $8.1 million in ads from the Rubio-aligned Conservative Solutions PAC.
Rubio has also spent heavily on ads in South Carolina, data show, where the Cruz-aligned Keep the Promise I PAC has been running ads attacking Trump.
Trump's $750,000 of broadcast advertising in South Carolina buys to date leaves him the eighth biggest spender among the candidates and conservative PACs. And with about two weeks until the third primary contest, Trump has only booked about $7,500 in future airtime — a small amount compared to the $2.2 million reserved by Rubio and the $1.1 million by Cruz-aligned Stand for Truth PAC.
Trump said he'd spend more if he felt that he needed to, calling his campaign "$45 million under budget" in an interview with the AP. But advertising hasn't been key to the race so far, he said.
"I see Bush spending $100 million," Trump said, "and I've spent practically nothing."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.