Part of Donald Trump's current effort to prove that he can win the general election just fine, thank you, is to downplay the fact that Hillary Clinton has far more staff than he does. As a general rule, more staff allows you to better contact voters, since it means more robust campaign operations in more places.

Trump, who's either trying to prove that he doesn't need to raise as much money as Clinton or trying to explain away worries that he can't, is trying to spin Clinton's numbers advantage as a negative. (See his tweet from the Infamous Twitter Fight of June 9: "How long did it take your staff of 823 people to think that up?") It is a negative, from the standpoint that it costs more money, and clearly Trump did OK with his smaller staff during the Republican primary. But as a general rule, the sort of rule Trump likes to ignore, a bigger staff allows for a more robust campaign.

Curious about how the three remaining candidates compared in terms of staffing over the course of the campaign, I pulled data from the FEC and tallied the number of people who were on payroll during each month. One thing you will learn if you do this is that campaigns are awfully sloppy about getting staffers's names right; in January, most of the Sanders staff was listed with their names flipped, like Sanders Bernard. But with a little clean-up, we get a very revealing look at the three efforts.


We see the Clinton push: steady, slow. A dip after the early contests, as temporary staff in early states were not retained. That's not uncommon, as you can see from the other two curves.

There's Trump, a little blip of just over 100 people in February. Clinton had twice as many people on payroll last April as Trump had at his peak.

But then there's Sanders, whose chart is perhaps the most interesting. He didn't have a slow ramp-up like Clinton because his campaign only surged once he unlocked his fundraising formula. In the months leading up to the voting, he added staff at a furious pace. After the early contests, he let a lot of staff go. Sanders's head count dropped twice as much between March and April as Trump ever had on staff in total during any month.

That, in a nutshell, is the three campaigns. The main question is the extent to which Trump's low-overhead strategy can survive until November -- assuming he eventually decides against outsourcing almost everything to the Republican party.

It's hard to believe it could. But, then, it's hard to believe that Trump's curve on the graph above was the sort of thing that could win any election at all.