Mike Murphy is a Republican consultant who hosts the new podcast “Radio Free GOP.”
Here’s a pitch for a new reality TV show. Political neophytes run for office; then, when the harsh reality of running a serious national campaign thoroughly punctures their cocky naiveté, they are fired. Donald Trump is already starring in the pilot.
Forget, for a moment, all of Trump’s epic character flaws. A new question has seized the campaign: Can the self-proclaimed world-class business wizard actually manage anything? His campaign’s spiral into collapse proves he cannot. Let us count the ways:
Basic targeting. Presidential campaigns come down to a handful of swing states and a relatively small group of persuadable swing voters who ultimately decide the election. That’s why campaigns invest so much money in paid advertising and on-the-ground organizing in those key states. Trump has done neither. Instead he is careening around the country in his beloved jet, chasing elusive high-dollar donor support in Republican base states. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is gleefully beating his brains out in swing states with harsh but effective negative advertising — none of which is being answered and rebutted by the Trump campaign as his polling numbers tank.
Fundraising. Even if Trump wanted to rebut those Clinton attack ads, he lacks the money to fire back. Recent Federal Election Commission numbers show the Trump campaign with a ludicrously low $1.3 million cash on hand. The money maven is totally broke, which means his voter contact effort has gone silent. If Trump did put up millions in advertising to push back on Clinton, his campaign would have to join several earlier Trump enterprises in declaring bankruptcy. Meanwhile, what relatively little money the braggadocious billionaire has invested in his campaign has mostly been structured as a loan from, you guessed it, Trump. So despite his endless promises during the primary, Trump is showing no actual interest in self-funding his effort. Instead he’s hoping donors pay him back for the cost of bouncing around in his garish airplane. It’s no surprise that so few donors are falling for this suckers’ ploy.
Message. Trump’s pitchfork rhetoric played well in the GOP primary; winning him about 44 percent of the voters. But the voters he needs most now — college-educated white women and Hispanics — are giving Trump record unfavorable ratings in recent polls. It’s almost as though he is trying to offend them. Well, it’s working.
Ground war. Person-to-person campaigning is effective, but it doesn’t happen without a well-run ground organization heavily linked to the metrics provided by modern digital marketing technology. Trump is doing none of this. He seems to think holding rallies with voters who already support him is the campaign activity that counts. That’s not strategy; it’s egomania.
What is Trump’s biggest failure? He lacks any real strategy. Trump appears to totally miss the fundamental fact that the general-election electorate is much larger and demographically very different from the small electorate he captured in the Republican primaries. Here is a fact Mr. Trump would be well advised to consider: The total number of Republican primary voters this year, more than half of whom voted for somebody other than Trump, is significantly smaller than the number of minority voters that will vote this November. Put another way, Trump is likely to lose minority voters alone by roughly twice the total number of people who voted for him in the GOP primaries.
So as the Trump campaign moves into full meltdown, Republicans are seeing a presumptive nominee on a mission of political suicide. Nobody in the party wants a nominee with the Secret Service code name “Certain Train-wreck.” The question is: Can anything be done about it? The answer is yes. If Trump rolls into the convention broke and with a terrible deficit in the polls, the delegates may indeed act. Under convention rules, they have the power to do so. GOP conventions are party affairs empowered to pick the best candidate to win the general election. If Trump’s incompetence doesn’t change, he may well get fired in Cleveland.
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