Just three days after President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike in Baghdad that killed the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, his re-election campaign sent an email blast to millions of his supporters touting and fundraising off the military action.
“Soleimani was a monster responsible for THOUSANDS of American deaths, and the world is a better place without him in it,” the campaign email read, with a subject line that declared, “ANOTHER dead terrorist.”
The email links supporters to a survey which upon completion redirects immediately to a fundraising page with a suggested donation of $100.
Less than a full week following Trump’s military order to take out the top Iranian commander, the president’s campaign has worked swiftly to capitalize on and weave that move into a political advantage through fundraising, list building and attacks on 2020 Democratic rivals.
“Americans want to see their President acting decisively and defending the nation’s interests and that’s exactly what President Trump did," Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told ABC News when asked about the campaign's response to the military action. "The days of appeasing terrorists and the regimes that support them are over. Democrats and much of the media risk appearing as Iran apologists who look to blame America for responding to terrorist acts and plans."
The political framing of the U.S. airstrike that killed Soleimani didn’t start with last week’s email blast.
Not even 24 hours after the news broke that the president had ordered the attack, Trump touted the airstrike to thousands of his supporters at a campaign event in Miami launching his “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition.
“Last night, at my direction, the United States military executed a flawless strike that terminated the terrorist ring leader responsible for gravely wounding and murdering thousands and thousands of people and hundreds and hundreds at least of Americans,” Trump told evangelicals gathered at bilingual Miami megachurch Ministerio Internacional El Rey Jesús church for a campaign event last week.
Trump would go on to say Soleimani was “planning a very major attack and we got him,” which the president and the broader administration have reiterated. Democrats have raised questions about what evidence the administration has that an attack was "imminent," and so far the administration has refused to declassify that intelligence.
On Wednesday morning, in the aftermath of Iran launching missile strikes overnight targeting two bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are stationed, the president addressed the nation from the White House and appeared to try and de-escalate the crisis with Iran.
"I'm pleased to inform you the American people should be extremely grateful and happy," Trump said. "No Americans were harmed in last night's attack by the Iranian regime."
The president added the U.S. would impose "powerful" and "punishing" economic sanctions against Iran, but did not level any immediate threats of military action against the Iranian regime, despite saying he would retaliate if Iran attacked the U.S.
Less than an hour after the president gave his remarks to the nation, the Trump campaign sent out text messages to millions of supporters fundraising off the address on Iran targeting U.S. troops, blasting Solemani as “Terrorist-in-Chief.”
On Tuesday, the Trump campaign launched a Facebook ad blitz highlighting the airstrike
The ads boast of the president’s "swift actions" which led to "Iranian General Qassem Soleimani" no longer being a "threat to the United States, or to the world.” As with the campaign email blast, the ads do not directly ask for donations, but after completing a survey linked in the ads supporters are redirected to a fundraising page.
“President Trump is keeping AMERICA SAFE! Now it’s time to step up and stand behind him,” the donation page reads.
And while 2020 Democratic candidates work to frame the Trump-ordered airstrike to their own political advantage, the Trump campaign has also targeted them, including former Vice President Joe Biden in an email writing, “President Trump Is Cleaning Up Joe Biden’s Iran Mess,” calling the “Obama-Biden Iran deal” a “disaster.”
These fundraising and messaging tactics aren’t necessarily new for the Trump campaign. Previously the campaign turned a blistering impeachment inquiry, including days of wall-to-wall coverage of an, at times, damning impeachment hearing, into millions of campaign donations.
The team’s continued ability to swiftly respond to and spin news of the day has, in part, led the president to amassing a historic war chest at the start of the 2020 election year by raising over $460 million in 2019 with nearly $200 million on hand.
But while touting foreign policy on the campaign trail isn’t uncommon for a sitting president seeking reelection, the tone and expediency at which Trump and his campaign seizes on developments like Soleimani’s killing is what makes their strategy so unprecedented.
“Wringing some political advantage out of a foreign policy crisis is not all that unusual. Consider the Kennedy administration after the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example,” Andrew Bacevich, a professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University and the president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft told ABC News.
“It's just that as in so many other matters, Trump and his people do so with blatant crudeness,” he added.
Back in 2012, it was Republicans who called out former President Barack Obama over his re-election campaign marking the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death with an ad that questioned whether or not then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would have taken out the al-Qaida leader.
"It's now sad to see the Obama campaign seek to use an event that unified our country to once again divide us, in order to try to distract voters' attention from the failures of his administration," Romney's campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Sau, said at the time according to The Guardian.
As recently as late last year, Trump fundraised off the U.S. military carrying out an operation to kill ISIS leader and founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, touting it in Facebook ads and emails to supporters. The president continues to boast about the military action at campaign rallies across the country.
President Trump will head back on the campaign trail on Thursday in the aftermath of the escalating Iran crisis this week, ahead of a rally schedule that continues to heat up as primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are set to head to the polls in a few weeks.