Another couple weeks have gone by, and since the conventions, it appears that the Trump campaign has remained in disarray. While I don’t believe this election is over, I think the Trump campaign should be incredibly worried as we move towards November.
Last week, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, as I tend to do to get quick news updates, and I saw a tweet that said that one Trump rally is “equivalent to 40,000 door knocks”. I raised my eyebrows at that tweet, due to what I saw as incredibly flawed logic, and what I think of as a very amateur political mistake.
Since I was in 8th grade (2008), I’ve worked and volunteered on a variety of campaigns, from the local level to the state level to the federal level. I’ve worked on winning races and losing races. Let’s admit it, I’ve worked on more losing races than winning races. But from each loss, I’ve learned something. I’ve looked at successes from the winning races, and failures from the losing races, to be able to advise candidates, campaign managers, and staffs what I believe it takes to have a strong GOTV performance. While you cannot do the same targeted ground approach on a national campaign, covering likely 140M-150M voters, that you can for a local campaign, likely targeting less than 50K voters (and also likely to be more homogenous), there is still a specific targeted ground game that national campaigns put on, through outsourcing of resources to state and local offices, which are tasked with creating a plan, which works for their own targeted area.
First, a major problem the Trump campaign is facing is the lack of a local presence. I can only speak to North Carolina, because it’s where I’m most familiar, but I’ve seen Democratic offices popping up in the state since May, and more recently, popping up in smaller locations, showing that Hillary Clinton (along with Deborah Ross (Senate) and Roy Cooper (Governor) ) is prioritizing having a strong ground game in North Carolina. It is likely that her efforts are just as strong in other states, such as Florida, Ohio, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. Hillary likely does not even need North Carolina in order to hit 270. I think most strategists would indicate that North Carolina can be a cherry on top, but not part of the 270 base.
Second, let’s get back to the statement about door knocking versus rallies. From campaign trainings I’ve been to, I’ve learned that you want to have as personal of an interaction as possible with a voter. A door knock is cited as being 14 times more effective than a phone call. A phone call is cited as being magnitudes more effective than a piece of direct mail. Using that logic, a piece of direct mail should be considered magnitudes more effective than a large campaign rally. Let me give you one caveat to that though. A campaign with a strong local presence is going to be looking for volunteers, and can use a large rally as a recruitment effort for new volunteers. If done effectively, that will bring more people to knock on doors and call potential voters. It is unlikely that Trump has been able to harness this potential though due to the fact that his campaign is so unorganized at the local level. Another way to look at a rally is a way to energize preexistent supporters, but if you’re going to take the time out of your day to attend a political rally, you are likely not going to struggle to take time out of your day to go vote, thus… (Even though, we’ve already seen plenty of people go to Trump rallies, just because of the great FREE political theatre it is).
I realize that this is Trump’s first campaign for any meaningful office, but Trump needs to end this period of amateur hour. This morning, while listening to NPR on the way into town, I heard that Trump has (once again) restructured his campaign at the top. While Paul Manafort will remain the campaign’s chairman, despite recent allegations that he has been funneling money from Ukraine back to the pockets of DC lobbyists, Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway have been hired by the campaign and placed into inner circle political positions. Neither Conway, nor Bannon, have significant campaign experience. Bannon, who is a former investment banker, and is now the head of the conservative lightning rod site, Breitbart News (a sign that Trump may be digging his heels into his previous rhetoric), has been appointed the Chief Executive of the campaign. While Conway, a long time Trump friend and experienced Republican pollster, has been appointed the campaign manager. Neither of these moves appears to me to be a sound campaign move, and both look to me like trying to put a round peg into a square hole. Despite the recent controversies surrounding Manafort, Manafort has at least been a high-level advisor on previous presidential campaigns. I have seen struggling state level campaigns, which have been more organized than Trump’s presidential campaign. Apologies for stealing what has become such a cliche news headline over the past week, but I’m starting to wonder if Trump even wants to win anymore.
That’s all for now. I’ll get back with you next week with a little more of a liberal perspective on campaign organizing, and what we’ve been doing to prepare for the semester ahead in the College Democrats, including a drive to turn campus blue.