Now that President Obama has endorsed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders after an hour meeting with Obama somewhat coyly said he will do all in his power to make sure that Donald Trump is never president of the United States, things seem to be settling down somewhat on the Democratic side of the aisle. On the Republican side, things remain highly unsettled and Donald Trump was set to meet with major GOP donors today. Time will tell how that played out. Meanwhile, there is much GOP angst over the lack of any real Trump campaign organization. Throughout the primary Trump largely relied on free media coverage and rallies with little get out the vote or grass roots organization. Now, as Trump perhaps in some fantasy thinks he can win both California and New York, the concern in GOP circles is that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats will run circles around Trump. A piece in The Atlantic looks at the situation which I for one will equate to a huge loss come November. Here are highlights:
What is concerning for Trump backers and Republicans (the Venn diagram of overlap between those groups seems to be in perpetual flux) is that it [Trump's focus on New York and California] appears to be distracting from the rest of the crucial work of building a presidential campaign. For most intents and purposes, there appears to be no Trump campaign.
CNN has a blockbuster report Thursday digging into this. For example, Trump has no state-level campaign director in Ohio or Colorado, two top-shelf swing states. Across the map, Republican officials say they’re just waiting to hear on what to do from either Trump or the Republican National Committee, but so far they’re hearing very little. “I'll say that as far as building the infrastructure of a campaign, the RNC has been doing it for many years,” Trump said at a press conference in May.
As my colleague Molly Ball points out in an insightful tweet storm (not a contradiction in terms!), there’s some confusion, or at least opaque wording, in the CNN piece, revolving around the difference between having state-level organization and putting together a ground game. In 2012, Mitt Romney most certainly had state offices, but he also largely left ground game to the RNC.
“The Romney campaign doesn't do the ground game,” then-RNC Political Director Rick Wiley told Ball in 2012. “They have essentially ceded that responsibility to the RNC. They understand this is our role.” (You may recall Wiley as the guy Trump recently hired, then unceremoniously fired a few weeks later.)
Perhaps the Romney 2012 campaign isn’t an example that Republicans would want to emulate, but that’s different from suggesting that what Trump is doing is unprecedented. The RNC offers a degree of continuity that a presidential campaign can’t, and disagreements between state party committees and campaigns can make for tension, as the Democrats ably showed after the 2012 campaign. Moreover, the RNC has been focused on building its ground-game capacities since the post-2012 autopsy report. To be clear: None of this means that the RNC is especially great at building a ground game. It just means Trump isn’t crazy to cede the ground to it, especially given how weak his campaign was at things like voter turnout during the primaries.
Insofar as the lack of state organization goes, is this simply a symptom of a rookie campaign? Growing pains that began after Trump clinched the nomination? Not really. Back in April, with Trump’s campaign faltering, he laid off scads of staffers in early states, whereas Clinton has maintained her organization, laying groundwork for the general. Then in May, Politico reported on the increasing heartburn of state-level Republican operatives who’d been promised cavalry from the RNC and were getting increasingly anxious about the silence from Washington.
A related and intertwined problem is Trump’s lack of fundraising. Although he once said he’d raise $1 billion, his new fundraising team—mostly constituted by the RNC, of course—is working to depress expectations, saying there’s little chance he’ll raise that much. In fact, many members told The Wall Street Journal they haven’t even done any work yet. There’s a vicious cycle at work here, which is that as donors see the Trump campaign in chaos, they’re unwilling to fork over their hard-earned cash. Why back a candidate who’s rending the Republican Party apart, doesn’t follow conservative orthodoxy, and seems to have no idea what he’s doing with the money?
Trump, naturally, says he’s unperturbed. . . . “I just don’t think I need nearly as much money as other people need because I get so much publicity. I get so many invitations to be on television. I get so many interviews, if I want them.” In an interview with The New York Times, he cited social media as a replacement: “He noted that he is nearing the ability to reach 20 million people by himself through his personal Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, providing an alternative way to reach the public, even if it’s largely a one-way conversation.”
That seems to represent a basic misunderstanding of what campaigns do. It’s hard to imagine that Trump could replace media buys, from television to web advertising, through his simple star power and social media; using a single national portal for his message skips over the opportunity to hammer home locally important messages. And it leaves out all the other stuff that campaigns spend on, like going out and identifying prospective voters, winning them over, getting them to register, and then convincing them to vote. Let’s see a Twitter account do that!
[W]hat Trump is attempting to pull off here isn’t refining or improving best practices for what we know can win a campaign today. It’s throwing it all out the window. Since Trump is trying something so different, it’s hard to completely reject it as foolhardy. Maybe he can really pull this off. But by all of the known metrics, it makes no sense.
The flap over Trump’s racist attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel has kept the attention away from how little Trump is doing to build up state teams and raise money, and so has his focus on places like California and New York. But he doesn’t seem to be using the time he’s bought to build up anything resembling a real presidential campaign.
As a former Republican who opposed the racism, homophobia and celebration of ignorance that became increasingly accepted by the GOP from 2000 forward - I ultimately resigned in utter frustration - I hope Trump destroys the GOP. I truly believe it is beyond saving. The question is, what party will arise to replace it.