If only the party had a nominee who hadn’t decided to take the month of May off from fundraising, maybe there’d be more cash floating around for hires right now.
But then, if the party had a nominee who had more than a skeleton campaign organization in the primaries, they wouldn’t need that money to staff up ASAP.
With early voting beginning in less than three months in some states, the review reveals that the national GOP has delivered only a fraction of the ground forces detailed in discussions with state leaders earlier in the year. And that is leaving anxious local officials waiting for reinforcements to keep pace with Democrat Hillary Clinton in the states that matter most in 2016.
To be sure, the national party actually has notched record levels of fundraising over the past few years and put together a much more robust ground game than it had in 2012. But officials acknowledge the real competition isn’t their past results or the chronically cash strapped Democratic Party. It’s Clinton and what GOP party chairman Priebus calls “that machine” of Clinton fundraising.
Some examples of Republican shortfalls: Ohio Republicans thought they were going to see 220 paid staffers by May; in reality there are about 50. Plans for Pennsylvania called for 190 paid staffers; there are about 60. Iowa’s planned ground force of 66 by May actually numbers between 25 and 30. In Colorado, recent staff departures have left about two dozen employees, far short of the 80 that were to have been in place.
Hillary and the Democrats have around double the number of staff the RNC has right now in Ohio. Even in states where the RNC is close to hitting its hiring target, like New Hampshire, there are asterisks: The goal of 30 full-time positions has been converted into 20 part-time positions, notes the AP, and even those aren’t filled yet. Now I wonder what’ll happen if Trump slips further behind Clinton in the polls and the outcome of the election seems like a foregone conclusion in late September. If the RNC continues building out its operations and then donors start giving up on the race and closing their checkbooks, might the party actually start laying off people before Election Day? They could always take on debt to keep the lights on, but how much debt would Reince be willing to incur to try to keep Trump afloat, especially if — as everyone expects — Trump starts whining on the trail that he’s been sabotaged by a lackluster RNC organizational effort?
Lately I’ve been thinking about how, despite his amazing achievement in winning the primaries with little more than a microphone, Trump could be doing much better than he is right now. He’s competitive with Hillary as is, trailing by just three in a new NBC national poll and by less than two and a half in the great white Republican whale of Pennsylvania, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be leading, maybe even comfortably against a candidate as terrible as Clinton. If he had behaved a bit more like a traditional politician in certain respects, especially organizationally, while maintaining his politically incorrect, protectionist Trumpy persona, I can imagine him ahead by five points. If he had spent a chunk of his fortune to build a formidable national ground game in the primaries; if he had finessed his “self-funding” message more and reached out early to the donor class; if he had gone a bit easier on attacking other Republicans, which made it harder for him to staff up; if he had showed basic message discipline in ignoring the “Mexican judge” and focusing on Hillary Clinton and outsourcing, there’s no way he wouldn’t be doing better than he is now. (Trump with a real organization might well have won Iowa and some of Cruz’s other states, wrapping up the nomination early.) Brendan Loy, a Democrat, put it this way recently:
If an unqualified, bumbling oaf who is transparently a pathological liar, bigot and idiot – but who speaks the language of a fascistic demagogue – can successfully complete a hostile takeover of a major American political party without being particularly skilled at demagoguery, what could a skilled demagogue accomplish? If a politician with the personal charisma of, say, Marco Rubio or Cory Gardner or Bill Clinton or Barack Obama decided to go down the dark demagogic path Trump that has trod, with the same utter shamelessness he’s shown, such a person most likely would not be languishing around 40 percent in the polls, as Trump currently is. Instead, such a person might well be winning, especially against an opponent as weak as Hillary Clinton. And that is a frightening thought.
A demagogue who really knew what he was doing could be, and probably would be, winning this race. Trump knows what he’s doing insofar as he sensed that lots of American would respond well to an unabashedly nationalist program and lots of Americans would respond well to him personally, as they always have. I think he thought that alone would be worth 51 percent, though, rather than 40 when in reality the toughest job for each party is getting that last 11 percent out to the polls on their behalf. He seems to have had next to no plan for dealing with that and, interestingly, his fans seem to have no hard feelings about it at all. Every now and then an Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham will grumble about him straying off-message but I don’t think I’ve read a single piece by a Trumper lamenting that this guy could be about to blow the greatest chance of a presidential victory that nationalists have had in ages because he didn’t care enough about the process to take organizational matters seriously. On the contrary, everyone seems to be gearing up to punish the RNC for letting him down on a ground game even though it’s not the RNC’s job to run the nominee’s campaign. Between his fundraising shortfall and his weak staffing, Trump may end letting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity against a highly beatable candidate slip through his fingers. It’s amazing.