March 2, 2016: This story has been corrected and updated.
In the final two weeks before Super Tuesday, Republican super PACs coalesced, airing roughly 8,500 ads blasting GOP front-runner Donald Trump, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of new data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG.
The ad blitz, however, may be too little, too late. Trump’s Republican rivals have been slow to attack him and only recently have singled him out on the airwaves.
“I don’t think [Republicans] saw him as a true threat,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political advertising. “He breaks the mold of what we’ve seen in the past 50 years.”
Super Tuesday’s GOP nominating contests in 12 states came after a three-state winning streak for Trump. His streak continued when he won in seven states and added an expected 234 delegates to his grand total. Trump’s success heightens anxiety among the Republican establishment wing that once doubted his ascendance.
“People are starting to panic,” said Johanna Dunaway, a political science professor at Texas A&M University. “So now, you see the efforts to try to stop his path to nomination.”
This spending frenzy will likely persist, especially after the real estate mogul’s Super Tuesday haul.
Following last night’s results, Ridout said it’s too soon to say if the ads slowed Trump’s momentum, though he said he is noticing more criticism of Trump.
“In order to successfully take him down, you need a coherent counter narrative — a way to define him other than the way he’s defined himself,” Ridout said.
The week going into Super Tuesday, 64 percent of negative or so-called contrast ads were anti-Trump. Conservative Solutions PAC — a super PAC supporting Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — waged a $4.5 million anti-Trump campaign in just the past week, according to federal campaign finance filings.
Ahead of Super Tuesday, Conservative Solutions PAC saturated the TV airwaves, launched digital ads and even turned to the mobile messaging application Snapchat.
At a rally in Georgia on Saturday, attendees could use a Snapchat “geofilter”— location-based images that overlay photos or video — to don a virtual red cap similar to Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hat, which was instead emblazoned with the words “Stop the Con Artist.”