Has the RNC abandoned Donald Trump? Only if the DNC has turned its back on Hillary Clinton. Politico headlines a report from Ken Vogel and Alex Isenstadt with the news that the RNC has spent nothing on independent expenditures (IE) for TV ads supporting its presidential nominee, but as it turns out, neither party committee has advertised for its nominees.
The RNC spent heavily in 2008 and 2012, but apparently learned a lesson from it:
RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh said that the committee is not going to spend any more money this cycle on television ad IEs, but that the decision is completely unrelated to Trump.
Rather, she said it stems from a strategic calculation made soon after the 2012 election that “that is not an efficient use of party committee dollars to spend money on television.” Pointing to a report that assessed the shortcomings of Republican efforts in the 2012 election, she said RNC leaders determined that the party’s money was better invested in data-driven voter contact operations.
Rather than spend money on their nominee, the DNC has left that to Team Hillary and her super-PACs in the same way that the RNC left it to Trump’s campaign and outside groups. That has led to a large imbalance in advertising — one that far outstrips anything the RNC could have corrected in any case:
Despite the Democratic National Committee’s lack of any IE spending, Clinton and groups supporting her had outspent Trump and his allies on ads $189 million to $50 million through the end of last week, according to advertising data compiled by the firm Advertising Analytics for NBC News.
The difference of $139 million is more than the RNC spent on IEs in the last three presidential elections combined. There’s no way that the RNC could have put a dent in that gap even if they had the excess cash to do it, and there’s little reason to think it would have made much of a difference anyway. The only cycle of the three that the GOP won was the cycle in which the RNC spent the least — $18.2 million for George W. Bush in 2004.
Prior to 2008, it made some sense for party committees to dump cash into IEs, because their nominees opted to use federal presidential campaign funds and stick to the spending limits that came with them. When Barack Obama ended that tradition (and John McCain followed), it made a lot more sense to leave messaging to the candidates and the outside groups that focused only on those races. (Read more from Vogel and Isenstadt on the nuances of ad rates for that point, too.) Party committees could then focus on areas under their control and on down-ballot races that need more support.
Needless to say, the headline will certainly feed into the budding narrative that the RNC has abandoned Trump, but that’s not what happened here, which the article makes clear … after a number of paragraphs. The Trump campaign has eschewed advertising since the earliest days of the primaries. It didn’t bother to advertise at all for over a month after the Republican convention, and claimed that advertising wasn’t important. They’re spending money now, but allowed Team Hillary to control the airwaves for a long time. If they weren’t investing in advertising, why would the RNC?
Update: The RNC announced this change of strategy three years ago … and it was exclusively reported by Politico:
FIRST LOOK – Memo from RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer, to “RNC Surrogates and Allies … RE: Follow the Money – RNC Investing”: “As we draw closer to 2014, I want to update you on the new approach the RNC is taking toward investing our resources. In the past, the committee would spend an off year accumulating cash and then, during the election year, we would continue stockpiling cash until the last 90 days. … That strategy is both outdated and ineffective. That’s why Chairman Priebus has changed the role of the RNC. The lesson from 2012 is we must have a permanent ground game. We must engage with voters year-round in their communities, especially in Hispanic, African American and Asian Pacific communities. So, while in the past, we may have measured the RNC’s success by the amount of cash we had piled up three months before Election Day, that will no longer be the case.
“We’re investing that money now and will continue to do so. … By this past summer, we already had more people in the field than in headquarters. Today, we have hundreds of people already hired across the country, working alongside state parties to build a bottom-up boots on the ground operation. … Under the guidance of Chief Technology Officer Andy Barkett and Chief Digital Officer Chuck DeFeo, we intend to leapfrog the Democrats in our technological capabilities. As Andy likes to say, it’s as though the RNC is launching a start-up company.” http://goo.gl/Z1c5Dx
The memo at the link specifically mentions TV advertising as part of an old, outdated strategy. The date on the Playbook entry – October 28, 2013.