Former President Donald Trump has emerged as the mainstay of campaign ads in the 2022 Republican primaries, with candidates battling over who is most allied with Mr. Trump and his America First agenda.
From Alabama to Ohio to Pennsylvania, Republican candidates already have shelled out at least $2.2 million on Trump-inspired ads, according to a tally from Advertising Analytics, a nonpartisan ad tracker.
“Trump, true to form, branded his own name. People immediately think things like ‘fighter,’ ‘anti-establishment,’ and ‘make America great,’” said Brett Doster, a GOP strategist. “Even if Republican candidates don’t agree with him on every issue, owning the brand communicates their values and level of testosterone.”
“Conversely, disowning the brand is risky if not fatal,” he said.
Indeed, anti-Trump ads are rare. Viewers are more likely to get a double dose of Mr. Trump from candidates running for the same office, particularly in red states and red congressional districts where Mr. Trump’s star power is unmatched.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey recently aired a campaign ad featuring an image of her talking with Mr. Trump on an airport tarmac and in which she says she stood with “Trump to ensure no election here can ever be stolen.”
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Not to be outdone, her rival, Lynda “Lindy” Blanchard, a major Trump donor, introduced herself to voters as a Trump-like figure, describing herself as a businesswoman and outsider.
The ad flashes a photograph of her with Mr. Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence. The narrator says Mrs. Blanchard will “fight for President Trump’s [border] wall,” and says, “President Trump named her the ambassador to Slovenia.”
The ad closed out with: “Driven by faith, trusted by President Trump, conservative outsider Lindy Blanchard for governor.”
Ms. Blanchard test-drove a similar Trump-infused message during her short-lived bid for the U.S. Senate this year, telling viewers: “Let’s send a loud and clear MAGA message to the swamp to stop the spread of socialism.”
Mr. Trump’s tenure ended chaotically with his loss of the White House in 2020. Republicans also lost control of the U.S. Senate, and House lawmakers voted to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol with his stolen election claims.
Mr. Trump has since waged an unprecedented campaign to discredit the results, sustaining his standing as the most polarizing figure in recent U.S. political history.
His dominance of the primary ad wars demonstrates that he remains the de facto leader of the Republican Party with an unwavering base of grassroots support.
And Mr. Trump isn’t letting go of the party, declaring Saturday at a “Save America” rally in Arizona that he will stage a “comeback the likes of which nobody has ever seen.”
An Economist/YouGov poll this month found his favorability rating is underwater with adult citizens, including independents.
But 81% of Republicans give him glowing reviews, including 57% who say they have a “very favorable” view of him.
Looking to tap into that sentiment, Republicans seeking Trump’s adulation have gotten creative.
Some have even aired ads in Mr. Trump’s backyards.
Businessman Jim Lamon, a candidate for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in Arizona, last year ran a spot on cable television in New Jersey, where Mr. Trump was summering at his golf club in Bedminster.
Nevada gubernatorial candidate Michele Fiore aired an ad in Florida touting her support for Mr. Trump.
“You better believe I was attacked for it,” Ms. Fiore says in the spot after stepping out of a black Ford F-150 with a gun holstered to her hip. “We need outsiders, fighters, not the same old boring, moderate, compromise blue blazer politicians,” she says, before tipping over a television showing footage of Sen. Mitt Romney.
Mr. Romney, Utah Republican, has been a vocal critic of Mr. Trump.
The race to be the Trumpiest has been intense in the GOP nomination race for the Senate in Ohio.
Mike Gibbons, a candidate for the GOP Senate nomination in Ohio, aired an ad attacking rival J.D. Vance for not being on board with Mr. Trump.
“Vance called President Trump an ‘idiot,’ and ‘reprehensible,’ the narrator says in the 30-second spot, which also features old footage of Mr. Vance saying “I’m a ‘never-Trump’ guy. I never liked him.”
Mr. Gibbons says Mr. Vance is not “on our team.”
“President Trump made America safer, stronger and more prosperous than ever before,” he says. “I approve this message because President Trump fought for you, I will do the same.”
It isn’t all rah-rah Trump.
Daniel McCarthy, a former GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, released a digital ad promising to donate $1 million to the charity of Mr. Trump’s choice if he debates him for 30 minutes at his rally Saturday in Florence, Arizona.
“The world is waking up to your massive grift,” Mr. McCarthy says in the video. “Trump, you failed America. You are the most deceptive president in American history.”
Mr. McCarthy then tosses a red Make America Great hat onto the ground and burns it with a flamethrower before running it over in his double cab truck.
Mr. McCarthy lost the 2020 GOP primary with 25% of the vote to Sen. Martha McSally’s 75%.