LOS ANGELES – If there was any doubt that billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg’s colossal ad campaign was getting to President Donald Trump, it vanished on Sunday.
Poking fun at the stature of the former New York City mayor, who is 5 feet, 8 inches, Trump stated falsely that the Democratic White House hopeful wants party leaders to let him stand on a box should he qualify for a presidential debate.
“It’s OK, there’s nothing wrong — you can be short,” Trump told Fox News anchor Sean Hannity in a pre-Super Bowl interview. “Why should he get a box to stand on? Does that mean everyone else gets a box?”
Bloomberg responded at a campaign stop in East Los Angeles, saying the president “lies about everything.”
“I stand twice as tall as he does on the stage — the stage that matters,” Bloomberg said. “I think Donald Trump knows that I can beat him, and that’s why he comes back with those kinds of comments.”
In just two months, Bloomberg has run more than double the number of television ads that Trump aired in his entire 2016 campaign, according to the nonpartisan Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political advertising. Many of the spots attack Trump.
Bloomberg, whose estimated $60 billion fortune makes him one of the richest people in the world, is far outspending all of his Democratic rivals, surpassing $300 million, according to Advertising Analytics. He is skipping the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, plowing his money instead into California, Texas and more than a dozen other states with contests still more than a month away.
Both Bloomberg and Trump featured black women in their Super Bowl ads at a time when both are facing major challenges in building support among African Americans. It cost their campaigns more than $10 million apiece to reach the giant audience for the NFL championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Bloomberg’s 60-second spot features Calandrian Kemp, a Texas mother whose son George was shot to death. She mourns her loss and says the gun lobby has good reason to fear Bloomberg, whose long fight for gun control is a central plank of his campaign.
Trump ran two 30-second ads. One featured Alice Johnson, who was released from a prison in Alabama under a law Trump signed that eased mandatory sentencing for nonviolent crimes. Her case was championed by reality TV star Kim Kardashian West. Trump’s other Super Bowl ad said America was “stronger, safer and more prosperous than ever before.”
On Saturday, Trump tweeted that “Mini Mike Bloomberg” was wasting his money on advertising, then went on to make his false allegation about the box.
After Trump repeated the falsehood in the Hannity interview that aired Sunday, Bloomberg spokeswoman Julie Wood said the president was “a pathological liar who lies about everything: his fake hair, his obesity and his spray-on tan.”
Bloomberg’s efforts to rattle Trump — one of his recent TV ads shows the president looking out of shape while playing golf — risk backfiring.
Trump’s nicknames and insults often diminished his rivals in 2016, and their responses largely failed, most notably when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio attacked Trump for his “small hands” and “spray tan.” In the interview on Sunday, Trump ran through his negative branding for potential Democratic rivals — former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“I have little nicknames for all of them,” Trump said.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Bloomberg supporter who had breakfast with the candidate on Sunday at Teresitas Restaurant in East Los Angeles, said he did not expect an enduring “tit for tat.”
“I think Mike is getting into Trump’s head, not the other way around,” Villaraigosa said. “I think he’s gotten into his head because he knows he’s got a lot more resources to make the investments that Democrats are going to need to win this election.”