Trump thinks he can win without get-out-the-vote operation

Donald Trump seems to think he has revolutionized political campaigns.  Without spending much money, he is on top of the national polls but is behind in Iowa and losing ground according to some polls in New Hampshire.  Trump is running a campaign without spending money on polling, paid advertisements, or get-out-the-vote efforts.  He probably views it as cost-effective, but it may end up costing him the nomination.

His long-promised “next phase” defined by new spending, such as a wave of television commercials, has so far failed to materialize, week after week. His advisers have not revealed the existence of any pollsters on their staff or any advertising team. He has no real research operation to examine his own vulnerabilities or those of his opponents and, based on Federal Election Commission filings, little in the way of a voter contact operation to identify and turn out his supporters.

Mr. Trump had hurt himself in Iowa by not augmenting his news presence with a parallel effort to push his message through ads, mailers and phone banks. “Such an effort would have also inoculated him from attack,” he said.

If Mr. Trump’s team had researched Mr. Cruz’s weaknesses, for example, then incorporated them in Mr. Trump’s heavily covered speeches and ceaseless television appearances, as well as in paid advertising, he may have been able to pre-empt or at least slow the senator’s rise there. Mr. Trump does not appear to have used a pollster to target his message or identify pockets of support, except for one survey early on.

Polling: Trump doesn't bother conducting polls of his own, relying on public polls.  This leaves him at the mercy of third-party pollsters who may not poll states of interest for days or weeks.  It also excludes him from an understanding of how the polls were conducted, so he has no way of knowing how reliable they are.  Furthermore, if he is unable to see the internals of the polls, he is unable to determine what his strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis the electorate.

For example, if he did his own polling, he might find out that he has room to grow with some segments of the electorate (soccer moms, farmers, small businessmen, or other groups) and target his efforts accordingly.  But Trump's campaign strategy has been like a broad fire hose, not focused on any specific groups.

Paid ads: Trump is so proud of his standings in the polls without having run many paid ads.  But he is tied or behind in Iowa, and New Hampshire is rapidly becoming competitive.  If Trump had bothered to do his own polling, he could have identified voter segments he is weaker with and targeted them with specific ads.  For example, if polling found he were weaker with small businessmen, he could run ads or send targeted mailings talking about how he wants to get rid of excessive regulation, a topic that is usually not the focus of his regular speeches.

Get-out-the-vote operations: Trump sees his big crowds and figures he doesn't need a big get-out-the-vote operation.  But not everyone who shows up at a rally is going to take the trouble to vote for Trump, and Trump needs more people than that to win.  There are basically four kinds of voters:

1) Hardcore Trump supporters: These are the die-hard high-enthusiasm voters who will walk barefoot on glass on primary day to support Trump.  No problem there.

2) People who hate Trump.  No effort needed there, either.

3) People who support Trump but are not not die-hard supporters.  These are people who, if asked, will tell pollsters they will vote for Trump, but they will not always make a special effort to do so.  If they are busy or distracted on election day, they may not.  This is the segment of voters for whom a get-out-the-vote effort is crucial.  Every Trump voter should be called several times before election day with a reminder to vote.  These people should be asked if they need transportation to the polls, and it should be arranged if needed.  Trump has no such operation in place.  He doesn't even know who is supporters are.

4) Undecided voters.  These are voters who are only slightly leaning toward Trump or are undecided.  Wouldn't it be nice if Trump could identify these voters, and then have volunteers call and knock on doors and try to persuade them?  But he can't.

Trump is acting as though there is no need for any of these things, because he leads in some polls, but Trump supporters will be the first to say not to believe the polls.  If Trump were running for president in a serious way, he would do everything in his power to guarantee a win.  The fact that he is not is troubling.

Trump says if he is the nominee, he will start to spend money on his campaign, but given his touting of his frugality, I have doubts.  We need a nominee who is going to put forth the maximum effort on all fronts.  I worry that if Trump gets a slender plurality of GOP votes and becomes the nominee, he'll again rely on star power for the general election and lose an election that was ultimately winnable.

Now, you can point to a campaign that is fully staffed and doing all these things but getting nowhere with it: the Bush campaign.  But Bush is not an appealing candidate.  Trump is.  (The only other campaign with a large infrastructure is Ted Cruz's.)

Trump likes to say how smart he is and what a great manager he is.  A smart person surrounds himself with knowledgable people.  Trump either hasn't done that or refuses to listen to them.  It's a bad sign for how Trump would operate as a general election candidate or as a president.

Exit question for Trump supporters: So far, Trump has less than 10% of the precinct leaders he promised to recruit for the Iowa caucuses.  Do you really feel there is no need for Trump to identify and target his supporters to get them out on election day?

This article was written by Ed Straker, senior writer of, the conservative news site.

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