Thus far, the presumptive Republican nominee’s campaign team has publicly dismissed the need for a robust data operation and ground game. Having a charismatic candidate like Donald Trump, they argue in public, offers more upside than his “very dull” opponent has, and eliminates the need to spend money and effort on more traditional GOTV operations. Faced with a June swoon in polling, however, Politico’s Ken Vogel and Darren Samuelsohn report that the Trump campaign has quietly begun an embrace of the ground game — and they’re turning to #NeverTrump operatives for help:
Donald Trump has dismissed political data operations as “overrated,” but his campaign is now bolstering its online fundraising and digital outreach by turning to GOP tech specialists who previously tried to stop him from winning the party’s nomination.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s recent boast of an $11 million online fundraising surge has been aided by the Prosper Group, an Indianapolis-based digital firm that worked during the GOP primary for Trump rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, according to four operatives familiar with Trump’s data operation.
To process all that cash, the Trump campaign this month brought on a company called Revv, which did work for the #NeverTrump movement, according to three Republicans.
And last week, the campaign’s top data officials met in San Antonio with officials from the Republican National Committee and a company called Cambridge Analytica to discuss how the firm could help target voters with narrowly framed micro-messages, according to operatives familiar with the meeting. But some of the operatives say there is internal disagreement about whether to hire the firm, which was paid more than $6.7 million by Cruz and his allies.
If true, there’s no small amount of irony in this. Trump’s allies, supporters, and the campaign itself derided these same players as part of the establishment, the dreaded “consultant class” that supposedly couldn’t shoot straight. They attacked Cruz for engaging them, and NeverTrump for continuing their efforts through them.
The irony cuts both ways, of course. The very people who supposedly threw in with the effort to derail Trump now have signed onto an effort to boost him in a short enough timeframe to cause whiplash. That tends to corroborate the complaints from Team Trump about the hired-gun “consultant class,” even if their new association with them undermines their overall complaints about it.
Politics makes for strange bedfellows — but hardly unpredictable ones in this case. One look at this chart from RCP (noted earlier in this post) shows the need to look for a backup to Trumpian charisma:
One Trump advisor told Politico that the ground game would be needed if the race came down to a 50/50 split, and then the campaign will “want to have every tool available to us.” The question is why that would be true in a modern campaign even if the race wasn’t split 50/5o, which is certainly the case at the moment. In fact, that has been the puzzler for weeks now, as Team Trump kept blowing off data operations and a focus on ground game, insisting that the big-event focus would work in the general campaign. Why not do both? The two aren’t mutually exclusive, as Barack Obama proved in 2008, and to a lesser extent in 2012.
The good news, at least for now, is that the Trump campaign appears to have belatedly recognized that — and has dispensed with its threats of revenge on opposing firms in favor of organizing for a competitive profile. The potential bad news is that they’re getting an awfully late start on it.