Donald Trump Plans to Campaign Like It’s 1899

GOP Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Campaigns In Indianapolis
Micro-targeting does seem an unlikely resource for a candidate who likes to hit voters upside the head. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Donald Trump utters so much self-conscious b.s. about his campaign that you initially don’t know how seriously to take things like this:


Trump has no plans to invest in the kind of data-driven voter-targeting operation that powered Obama’s two White House wins and that Mitt Romney tried to emulate in 2012.

I’ve always felt it was overrated,” Trump told the AP. “Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine. And I think the same is true with me.”

Instead, Trump will rely on a large rally-based get-out-the-vote effort.

Maybe he’s just jiving us, but the idea of a data-free general-election campaign, horrifying as it must be to Republican professionals, is entirely consistent with everything else we know about Trump’s idea of campaigning. 

A personalized, event-based GOTV strategy obviously plays to characteristics that once led Trump’s most recently announced supporter, Bobby Jindal, to call him an “egomaniacal madman.” In a very real sense, Trump’s message, transcending any issue positioning, can be summed up in Pontius Pilate’s presentation of Jesus Christ to a mob in Jerusalem: “Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man!). So maximum exposure to the candidate in retail settings makes some sense. 

There’s also obvious rhetorical consistency value for Trump and his supporters in the idea of lumping together pointy-headed data nerds with other elites who for all their pretensions actually don’t know their asses from page eight. It’s reminiscent of one of George Wallace’s favorite lines:

He seemed to derive the greatest satisfaction from taunting the “thousands of bureaucrats toting brief cases in Washington who don’t know why they’re there … I’ll bet if you opened half of their briefcases all you’d find would be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!”

You can almost hear Trump taunt data geeks as bozos whose computers (or “data-processing machines” as he called them in the interview mocking the idea) are loaded with nothing but video games. 

There’s still another motive for Trump’s trashing of data analysis: It was robustly endorsed in the post-2012 RNC “Autopsy Report,” which in so many other respects he’s stomped on and tossed in the trash. Check out this language from the report, which comes after an appreciation of the Obama campaign’s superior deployment of data-driven voter targeting:

Another consistent theme that emerged from our conversations related to mechanics is the immediate need for the RNC and Republicans to foster what has been referred to as an “environment of intellectual curiosity” and a “culture of data and learning,” and the RNC must lead this effort. We need to be much more purposeful and expansive in our use of research and more sophisticated in how we employ data across all campaign and Party functions.

Now, for all I know, Trump’s going to have some secret Skunkworks where data analysis goes on 24/7, even as the public campaign exults in bread and circuses and the candidate urging his fans to beat the crap out of protesters. But I’m not sure exactly how you micro-target the effect of a political blunt-force object, and that will ultimately be the measure of Trump’s appeal.

Donald Trump Plans to Campaign Like It’s 1899