Ted Cruz wants to make the argument that he’s best prepared to take on Hillary Clinton in two ways. First, he’s an authentic anti-establishment conservative who has no taint of crony politics or connections to the Clinton establishment, unlike you-kn0w-who. Second, his organization is better prepared to out-organize and out-hustle the Democrats. Bloomberg’s report on Cruz’ fundraising helps underscore the second argument, with a total of $32 million in the first quarter of 2016:
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz raised $12.5m in March, campaign says in news release. Cruz raised $7.6m in January, $11.9m in February, according to FEC filings[.]
It’s impressive, although it comes up far short of the fundraising across the aisle. Bernie Sanders raised $44 million in March alone, almost four times what Cruz raised while locked in a similarly binary race with Hillary Clinton. That eclipsed their record haul in February, when Sanders raised $43.5 million. Team Hillary raised $29.5 million in March, more than twice Cruz’ haul. Trump has not put an emphasis on fundraising, although he does take donations, claiming that he can self-fund and remain independent of big-money backers.
The organizational argument works better for Cruz in Colorado, where he continues to clean up thanks to a strong focus on organization — and the lack of it from his main competitor. While many of Colorado’s delegates will be officially unbound this year at the convention, Cruz and his campaign have organized to put their supporters in the delegation. By comparison, the Trump campaign hasn’t even been able to tell who’s on the ballot, as NBC’s Benjy Sarlin reports this morning:
After a shake-up at the top this week in which Trump empowered Paul Manafort to manage the campaign’s troubled delegate operation, Sen. Ted Cruz swept a third straight Congressional District convention Thursday night. All three delegates selected were listed on a slate put forward by the Cruz campaign.
Trump aides concede that Colorado is not a promising state, but the level of disorganization at Thursday’s event suggested problems that ran deeper than the top-line results.
Addressing the audience, Trump’s new Colorado state director Patrick Davis told supporters to vote for the three pro-Trump delegate candidates on a glossy brochure the campaign distributed.
“Look for them on the back when you vote Donald Trump!” Davis said. “He’s going to make America great again!”
There was only one problem: Two of the three names weren’t listed on the ballot.
“That’s a good question,” Davis told reporters after his speech when asked why they were left off.
Er … yes, it is. It’s one thing to have a light organization due to self-funding, but it’s another entirely to have an ineffective and underresourced organization that fails to demonstrate basic competence. The problem for Trump — and for Republicans who want to win in November — is that it’s now very late in the game to be playing catch-up. Chris Cillizza makes that point in the aftermath of the Colorado fumble:
As Putnam of FrontloadingHQ wrote last month: “Colorado becomes a real delegate prize for the campaigns who are able to organize there. Those that gain an organizational advantage — and that is much more likely in a low turnout election without the incentive of a presidential preference vote — have a real opportunity to get something out of the Centennial state.”
Trump — as has happened so often in the past — got out-organized.
It’s unfair to pin this debacle on Manafort, the newly hired staffer in charge of fixing this problem. But it reinforces that Trump’s team is playing catch-up. Organizing is not instant; you can’t simply hire a new top guy in New York and immediately expect things in a congressional district in Colorado to change. You need to find people, you need to get up to speed on processes, you need to invest in resources — human and otherwise. None of those things happened in Colorado, and it’s hard to imagine they’ll be lined up before tomorrow. …
The race is now a slog for delegates in the mud outside Stalingrad, and Trump’s only now pulling on his boots.
Delegates aren’t the only issue, although right now it’s the first priority. Organization matters in the general election too, and this half-hearted effort so late in the primary cycle is yet another red flag about a candidate who seems ill prepared for the mantle he wants the GOP to award him. It’s also the second such red flag this week, and it carries the same lesson I noted after the Wisconsin primary:
It only took two weeks for Trump to demolish what looked like a lock in Wisconsin. His campaign spent weeks in Wisconsin, and yet did nothing to learn what voters there think or what they want in a nominee. Trump’s fortnight was a disaster of his own making, and a glimpse of the high risk a Trump general election candidacy would provide the GOP.
That risk might be tolerable if Trump gave an indication that he recognized the problem. In his statement after the loss, however, Trump instead railed about having to endure an “onslaught” of negative advertising and hostile media. Just what does Trump expect to find in the general election if he wins the nomination? If Trump folds only because of negative advertising and hostile media, that alone should have unbound delegates thinking twice about a Trump nomination, especially with Hillary Clinton and a mainstream media already hostile to Republicans waiting after the conventions.
Trump’s spectacular collapse from 10 points up to a 16-point loss in just three weeks is lesson enough for Republicans. Loose cannons might hit their marks on occasion, but their recoil damages everyone in their proximity. If Republicans want to win the White House and hold the House and Senate, they need a nominee with much better aim and discipline. If the Wisconsin loss reminds delegates and the voters still left to participate of this truth, then it will be a turning point indeed.
Manafort might be able to right the ship, and at least it shows that the Trump campaign has belatedly realized its shortcomings. But that’s a tall order for an effort that appears to only have started three months before the national convention, and seven months before the general election.