GOP insiders: C'mon, Trump's not really going to run third-party

If there’s anything we’ve learned from the last two presidential election cycles, it’s to always trust the judgment of GOP insiders.

President Trump’s going to invite each of these guys up onstage at his inaugural ball and berate them publicly for being losers.

Having considered these factors, Republicans appear widely to have decided it best to not take Trump’s threat seriously. Underpinning this conclusion is a sense among Republicans that Trump, while certainly wealthy enough to fund a third-party bid, would not ultimately have the stomach for such a herculean undertaking. Even if ballot access and funding were not at issue, the campaign would almost surely be a losing one.

“I don’t think he wants to spend half a billion dollars or more nor deal with the logistics to run a serious outsider independent campaign,” said one strategist for a competing Republican campaign. “So the only reason he is contemplating it is either (as an) empty threat, or he is a stalking horse for Hillary.”

Republican donor Fred Malek echoed to the Associated Press recently, “He’s a businessman who will look at his potential for winning and decide it will be a poor return on his investment.”…

“Don’t placate, hammer him,” [Koch Industries director of communications Steven] Lombardo tweeted. “A damaged Trump is far less likely to run as Indie.”

The one part of that that rings true is the idea that Trump would be reluctant to blow big money on an effort which, realistically, can only lead to him being a spoiler. The WSJ noted just yesterday that he’s been surprisingly frugal so far on campaign basics like advertising despite being the only billionaire in the race. It’s hard to blame him for that: Why should he pay for an ad when he can dial up Fox News or CNN on a whim and instantly commandeer the next half-hour of airtime? He’s the king of earned media. If cable news loses interest, he can always dip into the Trump vault later to pay for attack ads. The problem is, though, it’s not just ads he’s skimping on right now:

Each week, he requires a budget for the next week from campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who has groused to others about Mr. Trump’s attempts to spend less money, said several people who have spoken with Mr. Lewandowski…

The Republican presidential front-runner has bragged from the stump that he doesn’t employ pollsters. He also resisted a push by Roger Stone, who left the campaign on Saturday, to buy paid TV time and bankroll a program to ensure that Mr. Trump’s name appears on primary ballots in states where doing so involves a substantial investment, people familiar with the matter said…

Mr. Trump also has been reluctant to tap his personal network of rich friends and associates to back his political efforts, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

Why would he risk missing the ballot in some states when he’s got money to burn to ensure that he makes it? One theory is that this is all a lark, that he doesn’t intend on hanging around the race long enough to actually face the voters. But that can’t be right; the guy’s ahead of the field and up by 20 points in some polls. If this thing started off as a joke, Trumpmania should have ensured by now that he realizes it isn’t any longer. Another theory is … actually, I can’t think of one. I can understand why he might refuse to buy ads on principle, knowing that he’s larger than life and can get big media players to willingly hand over their own mics to him for free, but I can’t understand why he’d play chicken with ballot access. And if he’s slack about ballot access in the primary, how slack would he be about ballot access as a third-party independent candidate? Roger Stone told Bloomberg TV this week that there are something like 15 to 20 states where the major parties can effectively boot a candidate from the ballot with the stroke of a pen. Trump will need to be prepared for that legal battle. Is there any evidence that he is?

Anyway. Paint me a picture in which it makes sense for him go third-party. Obviously, he’ll only go that route if his support within the GOP deteriorates; if it doesn’t, he’ll stick with trying to win the Republican nomination. So let’s say Trump fades to 10 percent or so of the Republican vote by December and suddenly he’s forced to choose between sticking with the party and facing long odds in Iowa and New Hampshire or dropping out to avoid them and becoming an independent. At that point, as an indie, he’s nothing more than a spoiler; if he can hold the 10 percent of the Republican vote he had in the primaries through the general election (which is unlikely) plus, let’s say, five percent of Democrats who refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton, he’s looking at something like seven percent of the vote nationally. How much is he willing to spend on a single-digit third-party campaign? How many hundreds of millions of dollars more is he willing to spend to get to double digits knowing that he’ll still fall far behind Hillary and the Republican nominee? Maybe he’d be willing to spend a bit if he thought it could land him onstage at the presidential debates, but then that would contradict his approach to the race thus far: Donald Trump, the Donald Trump, doesn’t need to pay anyone for a microphone. The only way I can see him enjoying a third-party campaign is if he kept it lean and mean and made it explicitly a protest phenomenon. Imagine one or two major events each month followed by lots of cable appearances attacking Hillary and the GOP nominee as two sides of the same bought-and-paid-for ruling-class coin. Imagine if he decided not to bother with ballot access at all and made his campaign slogan, “Write in Trump.” Everyone knows him, everyone knows how to spell his name, so anyone who’s intent on voting for him wouldn’t need to see that name pre-printed on a ballot. They could provide it themselves. That might be good enough for five percent of the vote if he promotes his candidacy right, which might in turn be enough to sink the GOP nominee in a close election. And it could all be done for less than $100 million in paid media probably. If his fortunes in the GOP decline, why isn’t that the next best option?

Here’s Roger Stone on the ruling class pissing its pants.