Donald Trump also has two secret weapons, and it remains to be seen if he will be able to use them effectively. The first is the ability to write a multi-million-dollar check for his own campaign. So far, Trump has worked a minor miracle—running for president, leading the polls for three months, and doing it all on the cheap. He raised just under $4 million last quarter, putting him ahead of his favorite “loser,” Rand Paul, and his largest expenditure was $400,000 on hats and T-shirts. Wisely, he is not spending money where he doesn’t need to. But when and if he does need to spend, particularly if he’s leading and winning, it’s highly likely he will. We’ve never had a true billionaire as a major-party nominee, and the campaign value there cannot be understated.
The second secret weapon Trump has at his disposal is an underrated potential to turn out massive numbers of new voters. Trump truly is “yuuge.” He has an audience that follows him from network to network, and he’s seemingly gotten more people to tune into debates than ever. Almost every time he appears on a TV show, the program experiences a massive ratings jump. He gave Jimmy Fallon one of his highest-rated episodes since his debut. While very few real celebrities (sorry, Clay Aiken) have run for office, those who have possess a compelling track record: Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Al Franken, Sonny Bono. Trump would, in fact, be one of the best-known celebrities ever to run for public office (as of July, Trump’s name ID was 92 percent, roughly the same as Clinton’s).
Across the country, and in Florida and Ohio in particular, Trump is well positioned to turn out new voters. He’s been adept at using social media to engage new supporters. But while social media can turn people on, it alone cannot turn people out. To actually bring potential Trump voters to the polls will require a sophisticated digital and data operation and a massive registration campaign. Candidates like Clinton and Bush are building those efforts now—and have been for months. At least as of his most recent F.E.C. report, Trump has not started building this team, and the talent who would be needed to work on such a project may no longer be available.