With less than two weeks left until Election Day, Donald Trump’s aggressive campaign schedule for those final days is leaving veteran GOP strategists mystified.
Rather than focusing their efforts on must-win battleground states, Trump and his running mate Mike Pence have crisscrossed the country in a frantic last-minute dash that this week include a rally in Colorado, where Hillary Clinton has a sizable lead, and a stop for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Republican nominee’s Washington, D.C. hotel.
“With limited time and limited resources, you can’t try to do everything,” GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak told TPM. “You have to make difficult strategic decisions and I just don’t see them doing that. I see them deploying time and resources based on his instincts, not based on data.”
Mackowiak sees the Trump campaign’s haphazard approach, which he said may bean effort to “preserve a couple of different paths to 270,” as woefully misguided. The Potomac Strategy Group founder said the Republican nominee should be spending every day until Nov. 8 in must-win states like Ohio, Florida and North Carolina.
“You get pressure,” Mackowiak acknowledged. “You have pressure from Republicans in other states who say, ‘No you can win,’ down-ballot candidates saying, ‘Come, we need you,’ people you’ve met along the way. At the end of the day though this is all about winning 270 electoral votes. It’s not about feelings and instincts and what states you like.”
Trump has defiantly brushed away questions about the strategy behind his campaign schedule in the run-up to Election Day. In a terse interview with CNN Wednesday after he attended the grand opening of the Trump International Hotel in D.C., he said it was “very important” to him to support the work of his children.
“For you to ask me that question is actually very insulting because Hillary Clinton does one stop and then she goes home and sleeps, and yet you’ll ask me that question,” Trump snapped at CNN’s Dana Bash. “I think it’s a very rude question, to be honest with you, and what I do, I want to back my children.”
Trailing in the polls, the real estate mogul first announced last week that he planned to accelerate his campaign schedule in the race’s final days in order to take the case directly to voters. His team has promoted this jam-packed itinerary as proof that he is a tireless, spirited politician.
Trump has “the most active campaign schedule of the two candidates by far,” campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told NBC’s “Today Show.”
Veteran campaign strategists still aren’t buying it.
“Do I see the strategy behind it? No,” Republican pollster Ed Goeas told TPM.
“It’s hard to understand,” he continued. “They’re not in a position to expand the map; they’re in a position to protect what they have. Certainly Colorado is not in that mix.”
According to Goeas, Trump’s insistence that his huge rally crowds point to an Election Day victory despite what the polls may say is not borne out by history.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “I remember [Walter] Mondale having 50,000 people show up to his rally on election eve and he lost 49 states the next day. Rallies don’t mean anything.”
While Trump and Pence are clocking plenty of campaign events in battleground states, including Trump’s four-rally blitz through Ohio on Thursday, every hour is precious in the countdown to Election Day and strategists see every trip outside must-win states as a waste of time.
“Never seen a campaign like this where the majority of time, energy, money had nothing to do with winning & all about personal agendas,” Stuart Stevens, a strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and vocal Trump critic, commented on Twitter.
Never seen a campaign like this where the majority of time, energy, money had nothing to do with winning & all about personal agendas. https://t.co/hmcfMAqzoR
— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) October 23, 2016
The Republican National Committee seems content to let Trump’s team go where they please in these final days of the race. In a Friday interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” RNC spokesman Sean Spicer accused the press of “trying to nitpick where he goes.”
“Hillary Clinton was at an Adele concert the other night,” Spicer said, repeating a line that Trump and his team have deployed several times this week when asked about his schedule.
According to Spicer, Clinton is actually the one “on defense,” given that her and Trump’s poll numbers are within the margin of error in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, which President Barack Obama won in both 2008 and 2012.
Mackowiak said that campaigns that feel they’re in the lead typically slow down their schedules to prepare for Election Day and avoid making unwanted news.
“In the last two to three weeks, you hopefully have a united party behind you, you’re focused on the states you absolutely have to win, you want to demonstrate momentum, and you want to close strong,” he said. “I hate to admit it but I feel like that’s kind of where Hillary is right now.”