Does Trump Understand How Campaigns Work?

Take it as snark if you want to, but I mean it to be a serious question. Does he understand what game he’s playing? I’m going to start with an excerpt from Josh Marshall to set this up:

On both sides of the aisle, virtually every other campaign in the country gets swept along in the tide of spending coordinated between the presidential campaign and the candidate’s party: voter registration, mobilization, election day turnout, TV ad saturation. Most campaigns which aren’t in very safe districts or uncontested races rely heavily on that spending as a supplement to their own. If it’s not there, or there in a dramatically reduced amount, that could have a big impact on congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative elections. 

Trump has shown that you can win a primary in an incredibly crowded field without spending big bucks, and I’ll admit to being a bit surprised by that. I don’t want to over-interpret a single election – nothing good comes from drawing conclusions when you’ve got n=1 – so we’ll have to wait another few cycles before we can figure out what that means. But I’m with Josh here….let’s give Trump the benefit of the doubt and say it’s true. Does that mean the Trump campaign wont need to raise mountains of cash for the general election? No, it does not, and for precisely the reasons Josh gives above.

Trump’s premise seems to be that the party exists to serve the candidate, and therefore to serve him, but that’s just not how this game works. And it doesn’t matter if you think it should be or could be different, because right now it isn’t. Literally no one – and I do mean no one – within the Republican Party was planning for the model that Trump is insisting he will pursue. The national and state parties, as well as candidates up and down the line, have all assumed that there would be a tidal wave of cash for them to ride that would be raised by the presidential candidate and his campaign. And even if Trump someho changed his mind and decided to start raising money, it’s way WAY too late to raise anything close to what Romney needed to stay competitive. Because he’s starting so late, he’d have to raise money at an impossible rate. Because the donors hate him – they don’t want their names on FEC reports that would associate them with him! – they aren’t willing to give. Because Trump isn’t nearly as wealthy as he claims, he can’t kickstart the fundraising with his own cash. And because he seems to loathe the idea of asking anyone for anything, it’s hard to image he’d do it well even if he deemed it necessary. Here’s a small part of the NYT’s take, but these details has been confirmed by numerous other organizations:

And on Friday evening, Mr. Trump is to attend a fund-raiser in Richmond, Va., though the invitation that went out just over a week before the event did not specify where it would be held. It also did not have host names, tiers of donors or even a request for a specific dollar amount — all basics of most political fund-raisers.

Mr. Trump has complicated matters by resisting efforts to engage in routine telephone calls to donors and to make gentle requests of people to write checks. Some donors who have been approached have given tepid responses, worried about their names showing up in a public campaign-finance filing.
Some aides have also grumbled privately about a trip Mr. Trump has planned for the end of the month to Scotland and Ireland, to tour his golf courses. Three aides, speaking anonymously to discuss internal frustrations, said they worried that the trip would distract him from his campaign.

Things are so bad that party regulars are now warning that he might raise less than 1/3 of the expected amount, just $300 million of the expected $1 billion, a number Clinton and her campaign will have no problem hitting. And let’s put this in perceptive: imagine that a business was planning on having $1 billion to spend over the next six months, only to suddenly be told by its CFO that they have to cut spending back to $300 million. Literally dno one would think this was a positive development, that this would be easy for the organization to accommodate. But that’s precisely what Trump is going here!

On top of all that, Trump hasn’t started building a proper campaign staff. He’s got one communications person and two pollsters, one of whom was explicitly hired to poll the state of New York, a state Trump won’t win even if the zombie apocalypse comes in early November. 

And so I have to ask: does he even understand the game he is playing? Does he even understand how party politics works?

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