Ted and Heidi Cruz met working on George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. It’s one of many stories of how people meet. Networks are built, friendships are cemented, and some marriages result. It’s how politics has run for 240 years. Until Trump.
By refusing to operate a real campaign, Donald Trump is doing more than just destroying his own chances of winning. He is sabotaging an entire election year cycle of young Republicans looking for a cause where they can meet and gain experience on the ground.
The only way Trump supporters meet is at rallies (as spectators) or online, where nobody knows if the yellow egg they’re interacting with is a Russian troll or an actual American voter. For the anti-establishment candidate, Trump is relying on the establishment of the RNC to do all those things he has no idea how to do. And that’s going to hurt the party for many years.
Jonathan Allen makes an excellent point about the value of a ground game in swing states, where just a few votes can make an outsize difference in electoral outcomes.
Republican and Democratic experts in field organizing say that a tiptop organization can make a small but significant difference — maybe as many as four or five percentage points — in a particular state. That is, where Clinton’s building an operation and Trump isn’t, polls are likely underrepresentative of her strength.
In a chat last week on the social media platform Sidewire, former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn and GOP strategist Doug Heye lamented the absence of a Trump field operation on the ground in the battleground Hawkeye State.
“The boots have largely been outsourced to the RNC staff that’s been on [the] ground. They are hustling to staff up,” Strawn said. “And as everyone learned watching Hillary [and] Bernie battle during caucuses, if it comes down to mechanics versus message at the end … well, we know how that turned out.”
But the worse problem is loss of momentum for future races.
But Trump’s failure to put together even a bush league campaign organization has Republican insiders rightly worried about the long-term implications of the impending November debacle. He’s refused to do the presidential-year work that parties rely on to build their donor, volunteer and voter lists for future elections at the local, state and national levels.
Imagine if a baseball team built an all-star team for one year, but refused to invest in young players or infrastructure?
Actually it happened with the Florida (now Miami) Marlins in 1997 and 2003. Blockbuster (who?) CEO Wayne Huizenga quickly built the Marlins through expensive free agent contracts with Bobby Bonilla, Moisé Alou and Alex Fernandez. The team won the World Series in 1997, and Huizenga sold off all the players afterward, and sold the cellar-dwelling team in 1998.
John Henry bought the team and did the same thing as Huizenga in 2003. He bought Iván Rodriguez, Juan Pierre, Cliff Floyd, Preston Wilson, and pitcher Tim Spooneybarger. The team managed to beat the New York Yankees for the championship, but didn’t sell off all their players.
You can’t make a long-term play with just the core stars, and once again the team faded, failing to convert. It took three seasons for any hope of recovery, and the Marlins have not won another championship in 12 years.
Trump is doing to the GOP exactly what Huizenga and Henry did to the Marlins. He isn’t even playing with the best talent: Lewandowski, Manafort, Hannon are not political powerhouses. They’re not even good AAA talent. None of the top people will work for Trump, although he’s got a really good booster section cheering “batter, batter!”
There’s one difference between the Marlins and Trump. The Marlins actually won championships. Unfortunately, the damage is done. It may be a very long time before the Republican Party recovers from this dismantling–that is if it recovers at all.