Jeb and his aligned Right to Rise super PAC have dropped $28.9 million on TV ads to Trump's $217,000 on a flight of radio ads. That spending chasm is almost the inverse of where each man stands in the race -- with Trump alone at the top and Jeb mired in the murky middle.
I'm not sure what number is more remarkable: Jeb's or Trump's.
That Jeb has spent nearly $30 million on ads trying to move his numbers in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and watched as those numbers either stayed where they were or, in some cases, dropped is absolutely eye-popping. It's also yet another data point that suggests Jeb's massive fundraising edge may mean far less than we at first assumed due, in large part, to the fact that Republican voters are just not buying what he is selling.
But, I actually think the fact that Trump has spent just over $200,000 on paid media is even more amazing -- and speaks to Trump's true political gift: Getting lots and lots of free publicity.
Trump has repeatedly insisted he will spend whatever it takes out of his multibillion-dollar personal fortune to win the Republican nomination. But, as of October, Trump had only put $2 million of his own cash into his campaign largely, by his own admission, because he is getting so much free media attention. "I’ve gotten so much free advertising, it’s like nothing I’d have expected,” he told the New York Times in September. “When you look at cable television, a lot of the programs are 100 percent Trump, so why would you need more Trump during the commercial breaks?”
For those who believe that the media is to blame for Trump, his remarkably low spending on TV ads coupled with his remarkably high standing in the polls will be a key piece of evidence to make that case. I would argue -- as I have before -- that simply blaming the media for Trump's rise underestimates both Trump and the Republican primary voter. Sure, Trump's celebrity meant that when he announced his candidacy he got lots and lots of attention. But, what explains not just his surge to the front of the field but also the durability of his lead over his rivals?
At this point, Trump is being covered for what he is -- the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. You don't have to like him or his policies to grasp that he gets the most coverage because he's (way) ahead.
One person who absolutely understands his relationship with the media and voters is Donald Trump. No one in this field -- and maybe ever -- has gotten such a high return on his investment as The Donald.