The final bill for the two campaigns might change the way presidential politics works

Long before the 2016 presidential election “officially” got in gear it had become a known rule inside the beltway that this was going to be expensive. It would be essentially impossible, according to the experts, to mount a realistic presidential campaign without a minimum of one billion dollars. Some estimates ran higher, with top fundraisers telling The Hill in January of 2015 that the total bill for the two parties would likely go as high as five billion and Hillary Clinton would attract close to two billion. And then Trump happened.

The New York Post takes a look at where the total spending wound up and while the Democrats certainly did pour a vast sum of cash down the Clinton rat hole (though less than projected) the GOP’s spending was actually quite modest by comparison.

Hillary Clinton and her supporters spent a record $1.2 billion for her losing presidential campaign — twice as much as the winner, Donald Trump, according to the latest records.

The president-elect, who confounded critics during the campaign by saying there was no need to raise or spend $1 billion or more, ended up making do with $600 million.

Clinton’s expensive machine tore through $131.8 million in just the final weeks, finishing with about $839,000 on hand as of Nov. 28.

Team Trump spent $94.5 million in the home stretch — from Oct. 20 to Nov. 28 — and had $7.6 million left.

Those figures aren’t just the amount directly raised by the two campaigns. They include spending by the two party committees and PACs as well. Yes, Clinton broke the billion dollar mark by a fair bit, but Trump and his supporters spent only half of that amount. And of the $600M spent on The Donald’s eventually winning effort, more than 10% of that came out of his own pocket.

Does that mean that the old conventional wisdom is simply wrong? Has much of this fundraising and endless purchases of television advertising blocks and direct mail pieces actually been for nothing? If so, that could indeed change the American political landscape going forward in a revolutionary way. And there’s something to be said for the idea that we keep doing the same things over and over again in political combat not because we know that it’s working or it’s a requirement, but simply because that’s how it’s always been done.

But I would suggest that the cash haul results from 2016 were just as likely one more example of an aberration created exclusively by Trump. He got away with spending far less money than Clinton and still winning, but that doesn’t mean that the next candidate could rely on the same type of plan. For the majority of candidates, they needs a fair chunk of that spending just to make sure a sufficient number of voters even know their name, to say nothing of their policies. And the media can easily overlook most of the activity in a candidate’s campaign schedule unless it has enough of a “wow factor” to attract eyeballs to their cable news show or newspaper.

Trump was somewhat unique in both regards. Everyone knew The Donald already – for better or worse – so no formal introductions were required. And the media followed him around like a puppy dog long before it became obvious that he’d win the primary. The reason was that he was so unpredictable and volatile that you never knew what he was going to do or say next. And by the time the cable news networks realized they were being intentionally played into acting as Trump’s personal advertising office it was too late.

So the question is, could anyone else duplicate this and run such a comparatively shoestring level funding effort and still win? Any generic politician from the Senate or the House (or most governors for that matter) couldn’t pull it off. They are already known quantities to the political press and they got where they are precisely by not being overly confrontational or “outrageous.” And if they decided to suddenly begin saying outrageous things to attract a press army it would be seen as either obviously intentional showboating or a sign that they’d lost their minds.

No, the only people who could duplicate Trump’s effort would be someone from similar stock. Imagine Kanye West running next time for example. He’s got the massive name recognition and a reputation for being erratic. He’s even built a track record of… I’m going to say, “success” (?), at least in one specific field of marketing. But it’s so easy to go from unexpected and somewhat outrageous comments all the way over the border into Crazytown that I somehow doubt he could pull off Trump’s performance.

So no… I’m not entirely buying the idea that presidential campaigns will become cheaper from here on out. At least not until somebody comes up with another Trump.

Trump Clinton