In 2008 and 2012, the Republican National Committee spent millions on TV ads supporting its nominees or savaging their Democratic rivals.
In 2016, it has spent $0 on commercials boosting Donald Trump, according to a new analysis by Politico. The RNC did spend $321,000 on attacking Hillary Clinton — last fall, before Trump had emerged as the party’s standard-bearer.
As one would imagine, this has produced no small amount of grumbling in Trump Tower. Since Trump’s reflections on the art of groping married women became public, there’s been a lot of chatter about the RNC shifting resources down ballot. But the fact that the committee never spent any money on ads for the nominee might lead a hypersensitive narcissist to feel he was abandoned from the very beginning.
But the RNC maintains that its decision to shift resources away from the airways had nothing to do with Trump. Per Politico:
RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh said that the committee is not going to spend any more money this cycle on television ad IEs, but that the decision is completely unrelated to Trump.
Rather, she said it stems from a strategic calculation made soon after the 2012 election that “that is not an efficient use of party committee dollars to spend money on television.” Pointing to a report that assessed the shortcomings of Republican efforts in the 2012 election, she said RNC leaders determined that the party’s money was better invested in data-driven voter contact operations.
“We put people on the ground for three years, invested in communities, doing data and voter registration, so that when we had a nominee, we would be able to link up with that nominee and work together to insure that the nominee had the best field program that the Republican nominee has ever had,” said Walsh
The idea here was to leave the attack ads to the presidential campaign and its donors’ super-pacs. After all, presidential campaigns are legally entitled to lower ad rates than are outside groups. Plus, they are more likely to advance a clear, coherent message, since it’s illegal for the RNC to coordinate with the Trump campaign over ad strategies. Better, then, for the party committee to focus its attention on ground operations and boosting down-ballot candidates.
This is a reasonable division of labor. So reasonable, the Democratic National Committee also pursued it. The DNC has spent nothing in direct advertising for Clinton, allowing the Democratic nominee and her super-pacs to outspend Trump and friends over the airwaves $189 million to $50 million, according to NBC News.
The problem, then, lies not with the RNC but with the incompetence of the GOP nominee. The Trump campaign and its independent allies have struggled to raise enough money to launch a competitive air campaign. And they have contributed very little to the party’s ground operations.
Politico notes that some Republican skeptics believe the RNC’s “abdication of the air war” stems less from strategy than from financial desperation — the committee has raised $231 million in 2016, a long step down from the $356 million it raised four years ago.
But it’s hard not to think that this financial constraint stems from the fact that the Republican nominee is a misogynistic reality star whom the GOP donor class hates.