Labor Day has come and gone, and as the presidential race enters the top of the home stretch, the New York Times reports the Trump campaign (and the Republican National Committee) has blown through a staggering amount of its cash by midsummer. A Times analysis found that the campaign and the party committee had already spent more than $800 million of the $1.1 billion raised over the past 18 months to support President Donald Trump’s reelection bid. The fact that nearly a billion dollars has added up to a 10-point deficit in national polling doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the campaign or the candidate’s competency.
When Biden finally emerged from the Democratic field, it was basically starting from scratch for the general election, putting him at a sizable disadvantage, but the Times reports, over the past five months the Trump campaign has squandered its financial lead, though the exact numbers are difficult to pin down. “But interviews with more than a dozen current and former campaign aides and Trump allies, and a review of thousands of items in federal campaign filings, show that the president’s campaign and the R.N.C. developed some profligate habits as they burned through hundreds of millions of dollars,” the Times reports. “Since Bill Stepien replaced Mr. Parscale in July, the campaign has imposed a series of belt-tightening measures that have reshaped initiatives, including hiring practices, travel and the advertising budget.”
Part of the problem appears to be that running a disciplined, functional campaign for an undisciplined, dysfunctional leader might just be impossible. Throw in that the candidate is vain, unfocused, and corrupt at a cellular level, and you have a recipe for campaign grift and graft, both of which point to unprecedented waste. The Trump campaign, for example, paid $11 million to run Super Bowl ads in February. That might not seem like much when you have a billion dollars to throw around, but, by comparison, the two game day ads cost more than Trump would spend through the end of July on local TV ads in four pretty important upper midwest battle ground states combined: Wisconsin ($3.9 million), Michigan ($3.6 million), Iowa ($2 million), and Minnesota ($1.3 million).
As with every campaign ever, it’s hard to look good if you’re losing—and impossible to look smart if you lose. But the Times data shows the shady decadence of a number of now typical Trump-style expenses has started to add up: more than $1 million in TV ads in the D.C. market solely to flatter the president’s ego and millions spent at Trump properties, office space in Trump Tower, lavishly courting donors at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and at the steakhouse at Trump’s Washington hotel. And that doesn’t even include the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been paid out through the shady limited liability company, American Made Media Consultants, to God knows where. The opaque company is thought to pay the Trump family and assorted hangers-on abnormally high sums for their campaign “services.” The campaign even spent nearly a million dollars in ads promoting its now former campaign manager Brad Parscale’s Facebook and Instagram pages. Let’s not forget, Trump and his clan have never shied away from spending other people’s money.
Trump reportedly doesn’t want to do Zoom fundraisers despite the fact that they have ended up being an efficient fundraising tool for his opponent that requires no travel, virtually no expenses, and only about 90 minutes of the candidate’s time. As a result, the Trump campaign has seen real-world shortfalls and had to scale back in some places to reprioritize for the final months of the campaign, when candidates generally believe they get more bang for their buck because voters are paying more attention as Election Day nears. “Most visibly, the Trump campaign slashed its August television spending, mostly abandoning the airwaves during the party conventions,” the Times notes. “In the last two weeks of the month, Mr. Biden’s campaign spent $35.9 million on television, compared with $4.8 million for Mr. Trump, according to Advertising Analytics.”
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