It’s become commonplace in political circles to bash Donald Trump for running a bad general-election campaign since he secured the GOP nomination seven weeks ago today. But that misses the point. Donald Trump is not running a bad campaign. He is barely running any sort of campaign at all — at least not by any definition that any political person would recognize.
Take Trump’s fundraising. He collected $3.1 million in the month of May and ended the month with $1.3 million in the bank. Trump's campaign released a statement Tuesday insisting that “the campaign’s fundraising has been incredible and we continue to see a tremendous outpouring of support for Mr. Trump and money to the Republican Party,” but little evidence is available to suggest that’s accurate.
After all, if Trump could not raise any significant money in the month when he became the presumptive nominee, why would June, when he has been beset by questions about his readiness to be the GOP nominee, be better?
Or staffing: Trump jettisoned his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, on Monday. He still has no communications director.
Put aside those senior positions, and things look even worse. As of the end of May, Trump had 69 people on staff. Hillary Clinton had 683 people on staff. Here's what that looks like visually:
The staff numbers in key swing states are as daunting for Trump and Republicans. This is from a piece headlined “Hillary Clinton is off to a faster start than Donald Trump is in Ohio — and it isn’t even close” by Henry Gomez in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Democrats say they now have 150 full-time employees on the ground in Ohio. It’s a mix of Ohio Democratic Party and Democratic National Committee staff. In the weeks since Clinton locked up the nomination, all factions appear to be working harmoniously toward her election and toward the election of Ted Strickland, who is challenging Republican Sen. Rob Portman. ...
The Republican National Committee has more than 50 paid employees on the ground in the state — less than what was expected by this point. And Trump is still relying on the same in-state personnel that guided him to a loss against [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich in the state’s March primary.
Trump is nowhere in the TV-ad fight either. He is currently spending $0 on TV ads in swing states. Clinton is spending $23 million.
On the fundraising, staffing and ad fronts then, what Trump is doing bears little resemblance to a modern presidential campaign or, really, a modern Senate or House campaign.
Compare what Clinton’s campaign is doing today with what Trump has spent almost the past two months doing. In anticipation of an address aimed at Trump’s economic policies, the Clinton team briefed a series of state and national reporters on what will be in the speech. Surrogates fanned out to preview the speech and will serve as supporting voices once she finishes it. She tweeted out a video this morning taking on Trump’s claim that he is a very good businessman.
Trump's gotten rich driving companies into the ground. What will he do to the U.S. economy?
Oh wait—we know:https://t.co/MOPrGekYtZ
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 21, 2016
Trump does none of that. (And I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that he will have no strategic plan on how to effectively rebut Clinton's speech.) What does he do? He travels the country, giving speeches — often wildly at variance with one another in their message. He calls in to TV news shows. He tweets. And, according to his campaign finance report covering contributions and expenditures in May, he builds a virtuous financial circle for himself and his companies.
Recipients of payments from Trump campaign with “Trump” in name, through May 31. Doesn’t include Mar-a-Lago/planes. pic.twitter.com/JF6skaWYGF
— Derek Willis (@derekwillis) June 21, 2016
That’s not a campaign. It’s a vanity effort designed to pump up the Trump brand rather than, you know, win.
Now, it’s important to note that Trump didn’t do much differently in the primary season — and he won that race over 16 other candidates. It’s possible that Trump has simply eliminated the need for a campaign, as it has been defined, or that his persona, his celebrity and his social media presence are enough to make up for his massive fundraising, staffing and ad deficits to Clinton.
After what Trump did in the primary contests, I think it would be dumb to eliminate the possibility that the real estate mogul has found a way to make a better mousetrap. That said, it’s virtually impossible to give him anything other than a failing grade on virtually every metric we have used to assess campaigns. Actually, the most accurate grade for Trump may actually be “N/A” because he’s simply nowhere, in campaign terms.