It’s hard not to fixate on Donald Trump’s string of galactic unforced errors on the campaign trail. But there’s a whole different story playing out on the campaign mechanics front – and one that has Republicans rightly worried. According to this new story out from AP, the Trump campaign estimates that it currently has a nationwide field staff of 30 people. 30. This in a country with 50 states.
Trump is largely outsourcing what’s typically called a campaign’s ground game, which includes the labor-intensive jobs of identifying and contacting potential supporters. Ed Brookover, recently tapped to serve as the Trump’s liaison to the RNC, says the campaign is making progress on adding its own staff in key states.
The campaign estimates it currently has about 30 paid staff on the ground across the country.
“There are some holes,” Brookover said. “There are fewer holes than there were.”
It is difficult to overstate just how many crazy notions are embedded in this package. No presidential campaign can really outsource its field operation to the party. That just means that the party has to build a whole additional field staff in addition to the one its already building (set aside not being able to control its strategy, quality of work etc.) That’s not possible, or at least not possible to do well. The way this works in the modern campaign is that the presidential campaign has its field operation, the party has an additional field operation and they are coordinated together and in some ways integrated together in the fall for maximal impact.
The party, necessarily has more focus on all the other races besides the presidential. The presidential campaign mainly focuses on itself. But they work together (in the bounds of certain restrictions on coordination). And at the end of the day, every solid Republican voter who gets brought to the polls helps everyone up and down the ticket. Down ticket races are heavily, heavily dependent on these two massive field operations; they get pulled along with the wave of turnout these and other campaign committees coordinate.
Trump seems to have decided he’s just not going to have one. Maybe he’ll decide that’s ridiculous and he wants to build on after all. But you can’t just build a campaign operation overnight. And Trump is way, way behind.
Just to calibrate expectations, it’s not like no Republicans will vote just because there’s a weak field operation. The great majority of people vote because they vote. But starting from what seems like a cold start in June both building a field operation and raising money for the general election is a big thing and not a good big thing. It will have a substantial impact beyond the presidential contest itself. And that is assuming Trump gets into gear now and starts building. But that assumption itself seems highly, highly questionable.