Perhaps one of the first signs that something was fishy about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was the victory speech he used to promote his steaks, wines, and water bottles.
But now, as we inch closer to the general election, more is being exposed about how the presumptive Republican nominee for president is running his “campaign,” including the revelation of the vast cash disparity between Trump and Hillary Clinton, who had a $42 million to $1.29 million edge in cash-on-hand at the beginning of June.
That fundraising report begged the question: Is Trump genuinely in this to win it, or is he just enjoying his elevated national platform to reap the benefits of free PR? After all, NBC News spoke to anonymous aides in the Trump campaign who called the team “dysfunctional”: Trump lacks any communications team or rapid response team, and he has one of the smallest staffs of any major party nominee in decades.
Trump has acted defensively in response to talk about his small staff (especially after he — or his kids — fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski), pumping out tweets saying things like “small is good, flexible, save money and number one!”
Trump hasn’t produced many campaign ads, either, instead relying on the “free media” that handed him the Republican nomination. An ad tracking firm, Kantar Media/CMAG, reported that Trump has allocated no money for advertising between now and election day, while Clinton and her allies have allocated $117 million. Even if Trump believes his social media presence makes up for his lack of traditional media, he is still only reaching a limited demographic base — voters who follow politics on the web.
Trump’s new zeal for fundraising hasn’t made up much ground, either. His divisive nature, blatantly hateful rhetoric, and unprofessional name-calling routine has split the Republican Party, providing no incentive for GOP elites to wholeheartedly stand behind such an unelectable candidate. And considering his lack of any broad fundraising infrastructure, Trump probably won’t start seeing money flow into his campaign via small donations, as was Bernie Sanders’ model throughout his campaign, anytime soon.
Even if Trump feels that ad campaigns are unnecessary, one would expect him to work on his ground game: “Get out the vote” efforts, or GOTV, are considered the cornerstone of modern presidential campaigns. Barack Obama’s technological mastery of this game won him the presidency in 2008.
Hillary Clinton started mobilizing her staff in key swing states as early as April, but Trump has been content with holding events in states that he expects to vote Republican in the general election, such as Texas. Trump’s campaign says it only has about 30 paid staffers on the ground around the country, and only now have they finally started to plant staffers in some swing states.
If Trump’s definition of “appealing to voters” is sending a racist, sexist basketball coach like Bobby Knight up to the stage to talk about the good ol’ days, then Trump will face difficulties in appealing to anyone other than his existing supporters. Historical voting patterns indicate that Trump will have problems securing enough voters in bigger cities or swing states, where elections are won and lost.
In the event that Trump loses the election, it is hard to believe that this entire process could actually be deemed a success for his personal brand. While many people knew of Trump’s shady history before this election, the vast majority of Americans only knew him from The Apprentice, or perhaps from his playboy days in New York’s gossip columns.
What will be the legacy of this election for Donald Trump? He will be remembered now for his Trump University wealth seminar scam; for his racially-segregated apartment buildings; for his nativist Muslim Ban and racist campaign against undocumented Americans; for his mocking of a disabled reporter; for his systematic targeting of Megyn Kelly, Judge Gonzalo Curiel, President Barack Obama, and countless others.
For Trump, it seems, any PR is good PR — until it’s all exposed.
Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts to his supporters at the start of his campaign rally in Greensboro, North Carolina on June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake