The Trump Campaign is Stupid

A week’s worth of boneheaded decisions.

Trump in Charlotte, courtesy of Reuters.

I don’t understand what the Trump campaign is doing. Forget the policies and forget the candidate (although I would be inclined to issue a similar judgement to the individual as well).

Let’s take a look at some of the recent moves by the campaign, and why they make no sense.

1. Idiotic Ad Spending.

The Trump campaign is short on cash, which makes this next bit of news particularly devastating to the incumbent’s chances of reelection. Last month, the New York Times reported that the Trump campaign had spent $800 million of their $1.1 billion raised. As they put it,

“Under Mr. Parscale, more than $350 million — almost half of the $800 million spent — went to fund-raising operations, as no expense was spared in finding new donors online. The campaign assembled a big and well-paid staff and housed the team at a cavernous, well-appointed office in the Virginia suburbs; outsize legal bills were treated as campaign costs; and more than $100 million was spent on a television advertising blitz before the party convention, the point when most of the electorate historically begins to pay close attention to the race.

Among the splashiest and perhaps most questionable purchases was a pair of Super Bowl ads the campaign reserved for $11 million…more than it has spent on TV in some top battleground states. It was a vanity splurge that allowed Mr. Trump to match the billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg’s buy for the big game.”

(Biden, it should be noted, is on the other end of the financial spectrum. He shattered fundraising records in August with $365 million raised, then broke his own record in September by raising even more than that. Trump raised $150 million less than Biden in August alone.)

There are two factors at work here. One, the president’s team splurged on some questionable ad buys earlier in the cycle, which emptied the coffers. Second, the campaign continues to struggle with fundraising, a position the Republicans and their corporate backers rarely find themselves in.

As a result, the MAGA folks are pulling $17 million in ads that had previously been booked in Ohio, Iowa, and New Hampshire. Conversely, Biden is on ad-buying frenzy, purchasing airtime in Texas, Georgia, Ohio, and Iowa.

But of all the stupid advertising decisions, the Washington, D.C. ad buy ranks supreme.

As you can see, the Trump campaign is pulling money from states they must carry like Iowa, Ohio, and Michigan, and are increasing their advertising in Washington, D.C.

A few months ago, I wrote an article called “Campaign Feel-Good” which highlighted some examples of how the campaign places more emphasis on making Trump feel good rather than winning. I wrote about Washington, D.C. in that article:

“From late May through June, the Trump campaign spent a whopping $400,000 on television advertisements in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Washington and its three electoral votes have never voted for a Republican, and Donald Trump mustered just 4% of the D.C. vote in the 2016 election.

Given that math, the campaign just lit close to a half million dollars on fire. It could be argued that dumping that money into literally any other media market would have been the wiser move. It is the ultimate high risk, low reward calculation.

So why did the Trump campaign so foolishly do this? According to Tim Murtaugh, communication director for the Trump campaign, the ads were intended for Trump allies and not the general public…

The Daily Beast, which broke the story, spoke to two campaign officials who claimed that the ads were meant to “put the president at ease.” The ad buy strategically purchased time slots on days where Trump would be in the White House, and the ads covered the three channels Trump watches the most — Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.”

The Trump campaign follows the old adage, “if it’s broke, don’t fix it.” There is no electoral benefit to increasing ad time in D.C. while hemorrhaging money elsewhere. The campaign staff is just trying to keep the boss happy, while making sure those direct deposits keep hitting — for the next few weeks, anyway.

2. Picking a Fight With Dr. Fauci

The Trump campaign is currently running a 30 second ad in Michigan which highlights the president’s actions with the coronavirus. To anyone with even a modicum of news literacy, the ad is a semi-coherent farce.

In the ad, which can be seen here, Dr. Fauci says, “I can’t imagine that…anybody could be doing more.”

A few problems: the quote was from March, Dr. Fauci wasn’t talking about Trump specifically, Dr. Fauci isn’t endorsing President Trump, the comment was taken out of context, and Dr. Fauci did not give his permission to be in a Trump campaign ad.

Besides that, good ad.

Fauci issued the following statement to CNN:

“In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate. The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials.”

Dr. Fauci enjoys broad, bipartisan support. About 68% of Americans trust Fauci, while 62% of Americans distrust Trump on Covid-19. Trump is acutely aware of this disparity, once saying, “It’s interesting…he has a very good approval rating, and I like that, it’s good…but remember, he’s working for this administration…we’ve done what he…recommended, and he’s got this high approval rating, so why don’t I have a high approval with respect to the virus?”

Watching a coronavirus press briefing, which usually included statistics like new infections and new deaths, only to see a presidential self-pity party emerge is something I’ll miss with the next administration. CNN had the most devastating chyron I’ve ever seen: Trump As U.S. Nears 150,000 Deaths: “Nobody Likes Me.”

But yeah, I don’t see how publicly sparring over perhaps your only competent administration official is politically beneficial. The discussion now isn’t over Trump’s Covid-19 spin, but rather that Fauci is attempting to distance himself from this. But hey — they don’t call him Double-Down Donny for nothing.

3. Botching Trump’s Covid-19 Diagnosis.

I’m inclined to give a pass to the campaign for this one — they were dealt a tough hand. A president who has called the virus “a hoax” and “99% harmless” gets infected and hospitalized. No amount of spin can save them.

This could have been a net positive for the campaign, however. An ill president, seeing the effects of the virus firsthand, emerges healthy but with newfound empathy. But no, we didn’t get that.

Instead, President Trump wanted to leave the hospital with a Superman T-shirt under his dress shirt and rip off the outer shirt, like Clark Kent. From the New York Times:

“When he left the hospital, he wanted to appear frail at first when people saw him, according to people with knowledge of the conversations. But underneath his button-down dress shirt, he would wear a Superman T-shirt, which he would reveal as a symbol of strength when he ripped open the top layer. He ultimately did not go ahead with the stunt.”

Juvenile antics from a juvenile president. He then told reporters, “You catch (the virus), you get better, and you’re immune.” Quite tone-deaf for the 215,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19. But sure, if you can get treated from your home hospital, then get airlifted to a different hospital, and get experimental treatment and around the clock monitoring, sure, your odds are better.

4. Making 2016 Your Closing Pitch.

Here is an actual fundraising email from the Trump Campaign:

From: Donald J. Trump

Subject: Lock her up

Body: Hilary Clinton.

Three weeks out, Hillary’s emails seem to be the Trumpian closing pitch. Frankly, even if Trump were facing off against Clinton, this would be weak. Let alone that he’s facing Biden, not Hillary.

According to the New York Times, there was a particularly brutal cabinet meeting last week:

The president castigated his own team, declaring that Attorney General William P. Barr would go down in history “as a very sad, sad situation” if he did not indict Democrats like Mr. Biden and former President Barack Obama. He complained that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had not released Hillary Clinton’s emails, saying, “I’m not happy about him for that reason.” And he targeted Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director. “He’s been disappointing,” Mr. Trump said.

“Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes, the greatest political crime in the history of our country, then we’re going to get little satisfaction unless I win and we’ll just have to go, because I won’t forget it,” Mr. Trump said, referring to the investigation into his 2016 campaign ties with Russia. “But these people should be indicted. This was the greatest political crime in the history of our country, and that includes Obama and it includes Biden.”

Mr. Trump has often argued that his political antagonists should be prosecuted, but in this case, he went further by indicating that he had directly pressured Mr. Barr to indict without waiting for more evidence.

But when the economy is tanking and the virus is still out of control, maybe all you have is Hillary’s emails, Obamagate, Spygate, and the other Fox News drab.

The campaign is just stupid, from top to bottom.

political science researcher. former valedictorian. reader/writer. host of “Politics Mostly” podcast.

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