Will Trump's 'Other People's Money' Campaign Prevail Over Clinton's Standard Tactics?

Michael Barone
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Posted: Jul 19, 2016 12:01 AM
Will Trump's 'Other People's Money' Campaign Prevail Over Clinton's Standard Tactics?
Donald Trump postponed the announcement of his vice presidential candidate, Mike Pence, because of the terrorist attack in Nice, which was in line with the modus operandi of his campaign. He didn't want to preempt news media coverage of another radical Islamist terrorist attack.

Disarray and disorder work against the party in power, especially if the president and his presidential candidate refuse to identify radical Islamists as the threat facing civilized societies. The rollout of the mild-mannered Pence could wait until a slow-news Saturday.

The Trump campaign, pundits tell us, is violating all the old rules. The candidate has mostly eschewed "paid media" -- television and radio advertising -- in favor of low-cost tweets and the inevitable intensive free media coverage generated by a celebrity candidate.

This is much like the modus operandi of big commercial real estate developers, who typically finance their projects not with their own cash but what they call "OPM": Other People's Money. The ideal is to get 110 percent financing; the building costs you nothing. Get it constructed fast enough, within budget and before there's a glut of available real estate, and you can easily pay the interest costs and make millions.

Now that he is in the big leagues, Trump is being advised that he must raise millions for TV ads and for building an organization to turn out his vote, and he has made some moves in that direction. But he got where he is by the political version of OPM -- Other People's Media. Something like $2 billion worth of free airtime -- more than all the Republican candidates put together -- spiced up with an on-and-off feud with Roger Ailes' Fox News Channel.

Hillary Clinton is also reluctant to spend the millions she's made in half-hour speeches to Wall Street firms. She's doing it the old way: lots of fundraising, lots of TV ads, utilizing the brilliant organizational tactics developed by the two Obama campaigns. It's a formula that has proved its worth since the 28-year-old Ailes put together TV ads for Richard Nixon's campaign in 1968.

In those days TV viewers had the choice of three ideologically similar networks and couldn't avoid omnipresent campaign ads. Now they can choose their own congenial media outlets and, with the help of TiVo, fast-forward through ads they don't want to see.

But the ratings seem to indicate that lots of voters want to see lots of Donald Trump. So maybe he can win the presidency as he won the nomination -- through Other People's Media.

One of the unusual things about this campaign is that both parties' nominees won thanks to large margins among their parties' most downscale constituencies. Hillary Clinton won big margins among blacks, especially in the South. Donald Trump inevitably ran strongest among non-college whites, especially those with low degrees of social connectedness.

Americans tend to sympathize with the disadvantaged and are often ready to pay special respect to their views. After all, the most discriminated-against Americans, Southern black churchgoers, led the nation through the civil rights movement to renounce the vicious system of legally enforced racial segregation -- one of the great triumphs of our history. We honor them appropriately each year with the Martin Luther King holiday every year.

So it's an unfortunate fact that the candidates whom both parties' downscale constituencies effectively chose are distrusted and disliked by solid majorities of general election voters. It's likely that many alternative Republican nominees would easily beat Clinton and that many alternative Democratic nominees would easily beat Trump.

I suspect that many voters would love to see Clinton lose but hate to see Trump win, and that many would love to see Trump lose but hate to see Clinton win. The likelihood that many voters are cross-pressured makes the outcome harder than usual to predict.

Polls reflect this. At this point in the last several election cycles, fewer than 10 percent of respondents picked neither major-party candidate. Currently, 17 percent are picking neither presumptive nominee in two-way pairings, and when Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein are added to the mix, that number jumps to 23 percent. That's extraordinary in -- or after -- a long period of strong and polarized partisan attachment.

Right now polls indicate there isn't a majority ready to vote for either nominee. It's possible one or both will get bumps from their conventions and possible that one or both will get shellacked in the debates. Outcome: unclear.