The soundbite of the evening, as you’ll see below, is Trump accusing Hillary of taking “blood money” by trading political favors for big donations from Wall Street, something a financially independent populist need never do and would never do. Except he’s already doing it. Just three days ago, Trump crowed that he’d raised $12 million in two days from Republican fatcats. The chairman of his finance committee is a Goldman Sachs alum. Every time he rattles his cup for the Republican jet set, this argument that Hillary’s disqualified because she’s a political pawn of the rich becomes harder to make with a straight face. He knows it too. I think he’s considering saying “to hell with it,” dropping the fundraising, and embracing a shoestring campaign the rest of the way. Note what he said to ABC:
“As far as I’m concerned I’d be very happy to continue to self fund,” Trump said in an interview at Trump Tower with ABC News “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir…
“I’ll be honest, I think I could spend $50, $60, $70 million of my own money and run a wonderful campaign,” Trump told Muir. “Now, would I have as many ads as her? No.”…
“I don’t think that kind of money is necessary,” Trump said, using his spending during the primary season as an example. “Remember this: I spent $50 million, and I won. Other people that were running against me spent many times that amount, and they lost — not even close.”
Hillary’s going to spend a billion dollars, easy. He’s talking about spending less than a tenth of that here. Whether he honestly believes he could do that and remain competitive, only Trump knows. Republican operatives have pretty strong opinions about it, though, and I don’t just mean anti-Trump Republicans. Ed Rollins, who’s running one of Trump’s (highly underfunded) Super PACs, is ready to panic:
Trump is “now looking into the abyss,”said Ed Rollins, the top strategist for Great America PAC, a pro-Trump super PAC. “He can either start writing checks and selling some buildings and golf courses or get on the phones and talk to donors. Big donors just don’t want to give money unless they have the opportunity to talk to the candidate, hear what your positions are. There’s just been a failure from start to finish on the fundraising side.”…
“There’s no question that if Ben Carson could raise an enormous amount of money from the conservative base, that he could have,” Rollins said, referring to the retired neurosurgeon and former GOP presidential candidate who ran a strong grass-roots fundraising operation. “He has millions and millions of supporters, but early on, he pooh-poohed all of that.”
Other GOP fundraisers interviewed by WaPo marveled that they haven’t gotten a single call from the campaign asking for help. (“They are so [expletive] far behind the curve on so many things that are Campaign Organization 101, I find it inexplicable.”) The standard explanation for that is incompetence but I wonder if Trump has resisted making the effort for the simple reason that he cherishes his image as being unbeholden to big donors. It’s a great angle against Hillary Clinton, who really is a bedfellow of Wall Street. Trump’s trying to calculate whether protecting that line of attack against her is worth more to him than, say, $200 million in donations that are going to make him somewhat more competitive with Clinton in nuts-and-bolts organization but maybe not competitive enough to make it matter much. Should he keep raising money and give up on the “blood money” argument or should he give up the money and keep the argument? There are three ways he can go:
1. Give up on fundraising, cut himself a check for $50 million (if he has it), declare a moral victory, then spend the rest of the campaign talking about how, unlike Clinton, he can’t be bought. Frame the decision not to fundraise as a principled choice to remain free from corporate influence and hope that it disguises the enormous organizational failure.
2. Accept public financing. That’s what campaigns used to do until the Hopenchange fundraising juggernaut came along and realized it could raise far more money in private contributions than it could get from the feds. A candidate who accepts public financing would get upwards of $100 million but would be barred from accepting donations. Obama initially claimed he’d accept public financing in 2008 as a good-government gesture to getting big money out of politics, then naturally changed his mind once he realized rich liberals could pour more money into his campaign than the government’s lump sum would. $100 million is probably more than Trump would be willing to spend on his campaign by self-funding so he’d come out ahead by accepting public financing. And, just like O once did, he could claim it’s a good-government thing and challenge Hillary to forgo her “blood money” and accept public financing too. When she refuses, hammer her for insisting on letting Wall Street pay her bills instead of taking a more modest amount provided by We the People.
A hundred million could be quite lucrative to the various Trump properties involved in his campaign too, you know. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.
3. He could continue to fundraise among rich Republican businessmen and continue to attack Hillary for fundraising among rich Democratic businessmen because, hey, he’s Trump. He fans will fail to see the hypocrisy; undecideds may see it, but Trump will try to wear them down through sheer media muscle. If he’s on TV every day accusing Hillary of taking “blood money” and she’s on the air occasionally tossing the same charge at him amid a bunch of different attacks, maybe the hard sell will stick in voters’ minds and convince them that Trump is on firmer ground here than she is. Plus, even lefties think she’s compromised in her fondness for Wall Street money. Having Clinton attacked from both sides on Trump’s charge will add resonance. All he needs is for the media to play ball and not press him too hard on his double standard. Think they will?
Exit question: Are we sure Trump’s organizational weakness is due to lack of effort? I’ll leave you with this from the Times: “He has sought to hire a communications director, but has been rebuffed by at least two seasoned operatives who were concerned that working for Mr. Trump could harm their careers, according to Republicans briefed on the hiring efforts.”