This isn’t as bracing and shocking as Donald Trump’s flirtation’s with fascistic politics, explicit racism and sundry nonsense. But it could end up being a very, very big deal. It is conventional wisdom – and in that rare case probably accurate – that both national campaigns need to raise on the order of $1 billion for the fall campaign. But now Donald Trump is saying he doesn’t think he will need anywhere near that much.
Some people think that Trump may not need the money because he’s such a master of getting free publicity and air-time, what professionals call “earned media”. That’s what Trump thinks. He just told Bloomberg: “There’s no reason to raise that. I just don’t think I need nearly as much money as other people need because I get so much publicity. I get so many invitations to be on television. I get so many interviews, if I want them.” I don’t think that’s true. There’s a lot more to a campaign than television time. And as I’ve tried to argue in other contexts, getting on TV doesn’t necessarily help you if you’re acting like a jackass. In any case, not all campaign spending goes to 30 second ads. A huge amount of money goes to mobilization and voter turnout efforts. (Remember how Trump almost lost the nomination because he had virtually no organization and almost had the thing stolen from him at the state conventions?)
But let’s assume it is true for Trump.
Well, there’s more than just Trump.
On both sides of the aisle, virtually every other campaign in the country gets swept along in the tide of spending coordinated between the presidential campaign and the candidate’s party: voter registration, mobilization, election day turnout, TV ad saturation. Most campaigns which aren’t in very safe districts or uncontested races rely heavily on that spending as a supplement to their own.
If it’s not there, or there in a dramatically reduced amount, that could have a big impact on congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative elections. Politico for instance says that Trump and the RNC may struggle to raise even $300 million.
What’s the problem? There seem to be three main issues. First is that Trump is starting very, very late. At this point in the cycle Romney had been raising big big dollars for months, with that billion dollar figure as the goal. If Trump got up to Romney’s clip today he’d still fall massively short. Second is that the donor class really, really doesn’t like Trump (temperamentally, ideologically, etc) and questions why they should open their wallets for another billionaire.
Here Trump probably wishes he could admit that he’s only worth a few hundred million. But whatever … For all sorts of reasons, the donors aren’t terribly inclined to give. And third, Trump doesn’t seem either eager to ask for the money or temperamentally capable of doing so.
In typical Trumpian fashion he resolves this by saying and probably believing that he doesn’t need the money in the first place.
That’s not how this works. The billion dollar figure isn’t whipped up out of whole cloth. And it’s not just for ads. Absent a GOP wave election, which seems all but unimaginable, this could hurt congressional Republicans quite a bit.