Priebus pledges 98 new field offices to narrow ground-game gap

For a campaign that derives much of its passion from anti-establishment populists on the Right, Team Trump seems pretty sanguine about outsourcing key operations to the RNC. Reacting to reports of a massive field-office gap between the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns, RNC chair Reince Priebus pledged earlier today to open almost 100 new field office in key swing states. That would cut the gap nearly in half — but that assumes they would focus exclusively on the presidential race, and that Team Trump would organize themselves to coordinate successfully with them:

The Republican National Committee on Friday announced that it will open 98 new offices and hire 392 new field staff as the general election season kicks into high gear after Labor Day.

“The RNC entered this cycle more prepared than any party in history and has built a nationwide, permanent field program for the entire GOP ticket,” chairman Reince Priebus says.

“Our organizing efforts began years ago and this new wave of hires will seamlessly plug into our operation as we head into the final stretch of the campaign season. The RNC is committed to sending Donald Trump to the White House and solidifying our majorities in Congress.”

Read this for a backgrounder on the problem — and bear in mind that Election Day is less than ten weeks away. This Washington Post graphic from PBS’ data shows the footprint disparity in ground operations:


The effort to open field offices should have started months ago, as soon as the nomination got clinched or very shortly thereafter. It takes time to staff up and organize volunteers in the community, and then to get and use the data for effective GOTV operations. Hiring another 400 people will take up precious time that the GOP can’t really afford to lose, at least in the presidential race.

Priebus knows this — which is why he’d already built a network of field offices over the last couple of years for the Republican Leadership Initiative. The plan was to give the 2016 presidential nominee a head start on building an effective ground operation and offer turnkey access to a network of volunteers and neighborhood ambassadors. I wrote about this effort in my book Going Red:

The RLI “hire[s] people from the communities that we want to influence, from the community to stay in the community, to then meet metrics that we set,” he explains. “That means one-on-one meetings for that community, and that means not just necessarily sitting around talking about fracking and clean coal; it means having a pizza party, bringing a band in, once in a while giving hot dogs out and talking to people, and then going to community events.” …

Priebus wants to lift that burden from the candidate by building a turnkey operation that can coordinate with the eventual nominee, no matter who he or she is. “The fact is,” Priebus says, “when you’ve got sixteen candidates, they’re raising money to win a nomination fight in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. They are not necessarily worried about how many voter registrations we’re picking up in Florida, Ohio, or Nevada. That’s our problem.”

Of course, the candidate would have to decide whether to use this RNC turnkey organization, but as Priebus says, they would have to be crazy to pass it up. “We sit down with the nominee and say, here you go. We’ve not only got our finances straight, we’ve got the $26 million waiting in the presidential trust for you,” Priebus says. “We’ve got this field operation with this many thousands or however many the amount of people. We got a data operation that is something that we can be proud of. We’ve got our act together when it comes to our digital operation as well. That’s what a competent national party needs to be able to do.”

Reprinted (or Adapted) from GOING RED: THE TWO MILLION VOTERS WHO WILL ELECT THE NEXT PRESIDENT—AND HOW CONSERVATIVES CAN WIN THEM Copyright © 2016 by Ed Morrissey, published by Crown Forum, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

What does a competent national campaign need to do? Simply outsourcing this effort to the RNC won’t suffice, although the extra effort might marginally assist the presidential campaign. However, the RNC has other priorities, and it’s going to use the RLI network to push Senate, House, and state legislative candidates along with Trump. Those campaigns will use the RLI to coordinate their own ground efforts, not just simply leave it to the RNC to do their work for them. Besides, voters want engagement from the presidential campaign, not just from the Republican Party, especially in these populist times.

Chris Cillizza wonders what choice the RNC will make when it comes to prioritization of resources:

Now let’s say that, by early- to mid-October, it’s clear that Donald Trump can’t recover a national lead. Maybe it’s still close in North Carolina, but he continues to trail by an average of 6.5 points in the ten closest states from 2012. It’s clear, in other words, that he won’t win. Let’s say further that your incumbent senator does well with moderate independent women, a group with whom Trump doesn’t.

What are you going to do? Are you going to spend your time sending volunteers to doors to convince them to consider Trump, or will you have them spend those precious seconds pitching Burr? When it comes time to get people to go vote, are you going to focus on sporadically-voting white working-class men, or on those moderate independent women who you might be able to spur to vote?

There’s a lot of intricacy to the relationship between the party and the presidential candidate. But one reason campaigns like to run their own efforts is that they can be sure that their candidate will be the focus of outreach. If the GOP has limited time and resources to persuade and turn out voters, and they have to decide between a senatorial candidate who could win and a presidential candidate who can’t, it’s not a tough choice to make.

Exactly. For a man whose executive experience and organization savvy form the core of his argument for president, surrendering control of those decisions seems very odd indeed.