He is currently in first place nationally and in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries. He's in second -- behind Ted Cruz -- in Iowa's caucuses.
That's an absolutely remarkable return on investment that no other candidate comes close to matching. Take, for instance, Jeb Bush, who Trump makes fun of in his second tweet. Bush has spent $14.5 million from his campaign committee account and his Right to Rise super PAC has dropped more than $50 million as of earlier this month. Bush is in mid- to low single digits nationally as well as in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
How has Trump done it? By using his celebrity to dominate news cycles. Today provides just the latest example of Trump's unique ability to commandeer the narrative of the day. He appeared on the "Today" show this morning -- by phone, natch -- and went on the attack against Bill and Hillary Clinton. "You look at whether it's Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones or many of them," Trump told Savannah Guthrie. "That certainly will be fair game. Certainly if they play the woman's card with respect to me, that will be fair game."
Those comments will, almost certainly, drive the cable news cycle for the day -- particularly during the week between Christmas and New Year's where any crumb of news will be treated like a massive feast by the media.
The resultant news coverage will keep Trump's name and face in front of people for the day. The storyline may not be perfect for him -- although attacking the Clintons is a pretty good one if you want to win over Republicans -- but that's almost beside the point. The real point is that most people don't pay all that close attention to what a candidate says or does on a given day. They are busy returning Christmas gifts, eating and complaining about their relatives. All they see is Donald Trump on TV.
And, that cycle, which Trump is able to re-create with ease thanks to his willingness to spend his day calling into cable shows (and the shows' willingness to allow him to do so), provides the billionaire with the sort of publicity that money, literally, can't buy. Why spend money on TV ads when you are all over TV without paying a dime? It's impossible to estimate how much free media Trump has received since he started his campaign in June, but $100 million feels more like a floor than a ceiling.
Now Trump is promising a major ad blitz in early states to solidify his support there. That's not a bad idea since once people start listening to what the coverage of him actually says, his numbers could dip. Pushing his own message out via a series of 30-second spots makes some sense this close to an actual vote.
You can say many things about Donald Trump. And the vast majority of them would likely be negative. But one thing you have to give him is that he is running a remarkably efficient campaign from a fiscal perspective. (One counter: If Trump hasn't invested heavily in voter ID and turnout operations in early states -- and there are conflicting reports on that -- then the money he hasn't spent could come back to bite him.)
In terms of polling bang for his buck, however, Trump is in a class all his own. Just like he says.