MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump is giving some of the most divisive proposals of his campaign a starring role in his first major television ad, as the unsettled race for the party’s nomination swirls around security concerns.
With the opening 2016 primary contest four weeks away, the billionaire businessman is spotlighting his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States – temporarily and with exceptions, he says – and to build a wall along the southern border. Trump’s campaign says he plans to spend $2 million a week on the ad, set to begin airing Tuesday across the first two states to cast votes in the GOP nominating contest. Iowa hosts the nation’s kickoff presidential caucuses on Feb. 1 and New Hampshire follows with the opening primary election on Feb. 9. The real estate magnate, who leads the Republican field nationally, is fighting for a good showing in the leadoff states against several rivals, particularly Sen. Ted Cruz.
Trump’s proposal on Muslims has been condemned by Republicans and Democrats as un-American and counterproductive, yet the hard-line approach to immigration has fueled his popularity among the overwhelmingly white GOP primary electorate.
The new ad features dark images of the San Bernardino shooters, who were Muslims, and body bags followed by images of people apparently streaming freely across a border.
“The politicians can pretend it’s something else. But Donald Trump calls it radical Islamic terrorism. That’s why he’s calling for a temporary shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until we can figure out what’s going on,” a narrator says.
Trump, the ad continues, will “quickly cut the head off ISIS and take their oil. And he’ll stop illegal immigrants by building a wall on our southern border that Mexico will pay for.”
The Trump campaign acknowledged in a statement on Monday that the images of border security were of Morocco.
“The use of this footage was intentional and selected to demonstrate the severe impact of an open border and the very real threat Americans face if we do not immediately build a wall and stop illegal immigration,” the statement read.
The ad, posted on Trump’s website Monday, is a departure from the typical introductory campaign spot, which often features a candidate introducing himself voters or sharing her life story.
But Trump already is well-known to voters. He was the star of the popular “The Apprentice,” his name is plastered on high-rise and hotel buildings across the country and he has dominated news coverage over the last six months.
“We’re not the typical campaign,” Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said of the ad. Instead, he said, Trump chose to focus on the issue that has been the centerpiece of his campaign: illegal immigration and its impact.
“These are the issues that Mr. Trump has brought to the forefront of the discussion,” said Lewandowski. “He’s talked about this from the day he launched his campaign.”
Republican pollster Frank Luntz, at times a Trump critic, predicted the new ad would help Trump among the slice of Republican voters who participate in early voting contests.
“This may not be a majority position in the country,” Luntz said of the Muslim ban. “It may not even be a majority position within the Republican Party, but among those who will vote in the caucuses and the primaries it is a popular position, and he will benefit from it.”
An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in December found that 6 in 10 Americans think a ban on Muslims entering the United States is the wrong thing to do. Among only Republicans, however, 6 in 10 say they would support such a policy.
The ad represents the billionaire businessman’s first foray into television advertising after spending much of 2015 dominating polls without spending significant resources – at least compared to his rivals. His campaign spent about $300,000 on radio commercials, mostly in Iowa, over three weeks in November, advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG shows.
GOP officials have warned that Trump’s rhetoric on immigration could make it virtually impossible for him to win next fall’s general election, when nonwhite voters play a larger role than in the lower-turnout nominating contests that play out across the country during the first half of the year.
“He’s doubling down on the angry white man vote,” Republican strategist Katie Packer said of Trump’s new ad. “And guess what? Republicans already win that vote really handily.”
The advertising campaign comes as voters begin paying closer attention to the 2016 presidential contest following the holiday season.
While Trump had previously said he was worried about over-saturating the airwaves, he also expressed concerns about potentially hurting his campaign by not investing in ad buys.
“I am very proud of this ad, I don’t know if I need it, but I don’t want to take any chances. Because if I win, we are going to make America great again,” he said in a statement Monday.
—Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Julie Bykowicz and news survey specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report.