Can Trump win from a TV studio?

Donald Trump has confounded commentators, political insiders and most people mildly interested in politics.

He has been accused of all sorts of things, but most damningly from political insiders it was the lack of a campaign team and a ground game.

No one thought he could beat Ted Cruz’s ground team, but beat them he did.

Now Karl Rove has joined the chorus of people thinking Donald Trump can’t win.

In this most unusual of elections, conventional wisdom has often been wrong. Donald Trump is betting the presidency that the trend will continue.

For starters, Mr. Trump believes that fundraising and TV advertising are overrated. “I just don’t think I need nearly as much money as other people,” he told Bloomberg. “I get so many invitations to be on television.” But consider a hypothetical: Say Hillary Clinton runs a week of TV spots in Tampa/St. Petersburg, a key media market in Florida, and Mr. Trump counters by appearing on cable shows.

Counting only adults, 314,000 viewers might see a Clinton ad during “60 Minutes” on Sunday, according to Nielsen data. Nearly 190,000 would see one during “Dancing With the Stars” on Monday; 248,000 during “NCIS” on Tuesday; and 120,000 during “Hawaii Five-0” on Friday.

Mr. Trump’s appearances on Fox News would reach only a fraction of those numbers: 82,000 adults for a segment on “The O’Reilly Factor” and 61,000 for one on “The Kelly File.” An appearance on CNN’s best-viewed evening program would reach 33,000.

Granted, people who watch cable news are more politically active and likely to vote. Still, it’s unclear whether Mr. Trump can counter an advertising onslaught with free news coverage alone.

He’s done it so far.

The rub, now that the self-proclaimed multibillionaire has abandoned his pledge to self-fund his campaign, might be money.

The website Open Secrets says that the Clinton campaign (through April 30) and supporting PACs (through May 15) have raised $289 million, while the Democratic National Committee has taken in $102 million through May 31. That’s a total of $391 million.

For the same periods, Open Secrets reports that Donald Trump’s campaign and supportive groups have raised $61 million (mostly from Mr. Trump), while the Republican National Committee has collected $150 million. That totals only $211 million.

Democrats aim to raise $1 billion, or $600 million more than they have so far. Republicans admit privately that they will be lucky to raise another $300 million. The bottom line is that Mrs. Clinton may outspend Mr. Trump two to one—which strikes many GOP leaders as dangerous.

Money doesn’t win elections, if it did we’d have many more Act MPs, and Colin Craig in parliament. It helps and with Trumps earned media it might not matter that the GOP is behind on donations.

Mr. Trump’s attitude about the ground game is equally unconventional. Team Trump thought it largely unimportant and therefore ceded it to the Republican National Committee in the joint fundraising agreement signed last month. This is an unusual move but not necessarily a bad one.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus had been planning for this task for years, having decided after Mitt Romney’s defeat that the national party’s efforts were best spent registering new Republicans, identifying supporters, persuading swing voters and turning them out. This is a throwback to at least the 1960s, when the RNC, not the presidential campaign, led the door-to-door canvass.

Mr. Priebus placed directors in battleground states almost three years ago. They now lead a staff of 473—compared with 170 at this point in 2012—in executing the ground game. They have already trained 3,500 volunteer field organizers.

Yet this might not be enough. Hillary Clinton is trying to duplicate President Obama’s enormous 2012 get-out-the-vote machine. Fox News reported last month that she has already opened offices in 28 states and boasts nearly 800 staff directing an estimated 10,000 volunteers.

When the RNC invites Trump supporters to training sessions, they show up, energized and passionate. But will Team Trump funnel thousands more volunteers to the RNC? And will the party raise the necessary funds to execute its ambitious plan? Neither is clear.

Mr. Trump’s decisions—to forgo ads, abandon his self-funding pledge and accept a big financial deficit, and turn the ground game over to the RNC—are unprecedented challenges to conventional wisdom. In 21 weeks, we will know if they were smart bets. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m wagering that the first two are not.

Donald Trump’s entire campaign has been an unprecedented challenge to conventional wisdom. It is still hard for him to win, but if he can’t do then no one else could have either.


– Washington Post

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