Donald Trump needs a robust ground game to defeat Hillary Clinton in November, and there’s worry his campaign lacks the organization and funds needed to build one.
Take this statistic: According to the most recent Fox News poll, 48 percent of Republicans will have to “hold their nose” to vote for Mr. Trump. This compares to Mrs. Clinton’s 37 percent of “nose-holders” within the Democratic Party.
Unless something dramatic happens, this statistic is problematic for both presidential candidates in that it creates a turn-out problem. For people who don’t particularly like a candidate will find it harder to motivate themselves to go out and vote in November — especially if the weather is bad.
Given that the popularity of both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is at record lows this election cycle, turnout among supporters — even reluctant supporters — will matter. This is where Mrs. Clinton’s ground game and money will matter. Her campaign will identify these reluctant voters down to their home addresses.
Her campaign will then call them, knock on their doors — heck — they may even arrange rides to the polling station, in order to get out this vote. It will take time, money and organization — all of which Mrs. Clinton has.
Compare that to Mr. Trump. A report from NBC News said the Trump campaign lags “far behind the Clinton campaign, which has over a dozen senior staff dedicated to communications as well as teams devoted to modern data and analytics, an area where Trump is publicly skeptical of hiring. In addition, Clinton enjoys support from established super PACs like Correct The Record and American Bridge that respond to attacks and promote opposition research.”
Jeff Roe, the former campaign manager of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, told Politico that Mr. Trump’s lack of a first-rate ground operation could cost him as much as 2.5 to 5.5 percentage points in the general election against Mrs. Clinton.
“‘There’s a trove of information that’s done in and around politics’ that Trump needs to tap,” Mr. Roe told Politico. Mr. Roe credits Mr. Cruz’s win in the Iowa caucuses to the campaign’s identification and targeting of precisely 9,181 voters who were undecided but had Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump as their final choices, Politico reported.
“It’s worth, on its worst day, 2½ points, and in its best day, 5½ points,” Mr. Roe said of the ground game, adding: “So let’s just split the difference and say that Clinton’s running a great [operation]. … He’s not right now, so that would give her … 3½ points.”
In a close election, those points matter.
Mr. Trump is relying on the Republican National Committee to help him drive out voters. The RNC has given such support to previous Republican presidential contenders, but it’s largely generic, with John McCain and Mitt Romney having their own operations as well.
Mr. Trump has defied political odds so far — commanding the press’ attention, which has given him the ability to bypass traditional campaign strategies. It may work come November.
But what if it doesn’t? What if the press turns on him — denying him the oxygen he had in the primaries — and then only reports negative news? Will the Trump campaign be able to navigate a different terrain, where there’s only one other competitor and where the media is hostile only against him?
I hope so. But I’d feel better about it if he had a solid ground game that was solely his own.