Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump needs to put together a serious campaign organization, and fast. His acceptance speech Thursday evening was a prime example of why.
It wasn’t perfect. It was long and at times repetitive. But it was Trump, and it was a strong and effective case for the themes – like ending illegal immigration and fighting what he sees as unfair trade deals – that are central to his appeal.
Passionate and yet loaded with substance, delivered in orderly fashion from a teleprompter and yet sounding just like the extemporaneous Trump that won voters over in the primaries, it was the showcase for what a focused and organized effort by Trump and his campaign can produce.
Now, on center stage in a two-person race for the White House, Trump will need such clarity of purpose to be the rule, not the exception. Clarity that only an organized campaign can provide. And that, he doesn’t have.
The events of the past week, both positive and negative for Trump, have illustrated conclusively that the solo promo campaign he waged in the primaries will not work for him in the general election.
In the primaries, the challenge for Trump was twofold: to somehow stand out in a field of 17 competitors, and to demonstrate that he was the candidate to push aside the establishment in a year of deep discontent with business-as-usual. His low-cost strategy of making astonishing statements upending conventional wisdom satisfied each of these imperatives, ensuring constant free media and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Trump would be doing things differently.
To be sure, he will still need to draw attention and tap into anti-establishment fever. But to close the deal (to use a metaphor he would appreciate), he now needs to demonstrate that he is going to replace the establishment with something better.
He must show that he is competent to govern. That for Republicans who didn’t back him, independents who are on the fence, and even Democrats ready to jump ship, it’s OK to vote for the real estate developer turned GOP nominee.
Yet incompetence – which is what we’ve seen again and again over the past week – suggests instead that it’s not OK.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, for all her myriad flaws, is the devil people know. They must be convinced the devil they don’t know – with respect to how he will govern – won’t turn the place into Hell.
What’s more, Clinton is far better funded than any of Trump’s Republican competitors, even former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. With endless amounts of cash, and the only serious alternative to Trump, Clinton will have little trouble seizing both free and paid media and sharing Trump’s limelight. In addition, having spent 25 years on spin cycle being put through the wringer, Clinton is not going to wilt like Bush did when Trump picks on her.
Meantime, Trump’s shtick is getting old. During the past week he has issued his predicted colorful tweets. He called America a “crime scene,” decried the “Clinton News Network,” returned to labeling Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” blasting “Lyin’ Crooked Hillary” and charging that President Barack Obama is trying to “destroy Israel.”
But, did anybody notice? Instead, for the first time in this campaign, what seems like should be bad press for Trump actually turned out to be bad press.
The rollout of his vice presidential pick, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, was a fiasco that not even the JV team would have conceived. Not only did the pick leak to the press before it was announced, but stories appeared that Trump was equivocating the night before the announcement.
Ostensibly because of the attack in Nice, Trump delayed the announcement from last Friday to Saturday. But then, remembering that Pence would have to file for reelection for governor Friday – or not – he meekly dribbled out the bug news via a tweet.
The campaign then brandished a new logo featuring the first letters of the ticket’s last names. But it was soon forced to pull back the banner when critics impishly noted that the T appeared to be copulating with the P.
Then, incomprehensibly, Melania Trump delivered a speech that was so poorly vetted it hadn’t even been run through a free program that checks for phrases that had been written previously by others. Within hours of delivering a beautifully spoken address, Melania Trump was suddenly accused of being a rank plagiarist. Instead of performing Damage Control 101 – admit the mistake and move on – the Trump campaign denied the problem. Then it waited a full 24 hours to produce the person responsible for allowing the copied phrases from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic convention, ensuring a two-day negative story.
On the other hand, the failed attempted hijacking of the convention Wednesday evening by Texas Senator Ted Cruz Thursday showed, like Thursday night’s acceptance speech, what a little organization and planning can do. Aware that Cruz was not going to endorse him during his speech, the campaign arranged for Trump supporters on the floor to begin shouting the senator down. Trump himself appeared in the wings – followed by a spotlight – just as Cruz was closing his remarks.
The reality-TV stagecraft ensured that Cruz was humiliated. He was cast as petty, creating a moment from which the Texas senator may never bounce back.
But Trump’s campaign remains relatively skeletal. His joint PAC with the Republican National Committee raised $32.4 million from its formation in late May through the end of June, but Trump’s campaign kept only $2.2 million of the haul.
Reports of disarray in his campaign continue to circulate, with some pointing to Ivanka Trump’s husband Jared Kushner as the de facto campaign chief even while Paul Manafort continues to hold the title of chairman.
Trump cannot rely on the Republican National Committee to wage his campaign. A successful presidential effort needs a cadre of its own dedicated loyalists to pull it through the tough times and a vast army of acolytes to drum up support at the grass-roots and shepherd people to the polls.
The RNC technically belongs to Trump, but it still represents the establishment he fought against. It serves many other masters, including House and Senate Republicans desperate to maintain control of Congress.
Trump must put together his own organization to ensure he is seen as a viable political leader and to effectively convey his message. Otherwise, he risks becoming the punch line to the joke his detractors have been trying unsuccessfully to tell all along.