We’ve already seen that Trump’s campaign spending has been less about winning votes and more about keeping Trump himself happy. That’s why it spent $400,000 on an ad buy in Washington, D.C.—the place that will give Biden his most lopsided victory. But you know who watches TV in Washington? Most of that ad buy was on Fox News, of course.
But $400,000 was presidential chump change. Now we’re seeing the first big money moves, and they look stupid.
We’ve seen a strong correlation between Trump’s job approval ratings and the states that are in play this November. So let’s start there.
In short, any state bathed in blue (approves of Trump) is safe Republican. Any mid- or dark-orange state is safe Democratic. It’s the light-colored states that are in play, and here they are:
The only state that looks out of place is Iowa, otherwise I’d predict that these are 2016 Trump states in order of likelihood of turning blue this year. (I’d put Iowa after Georgia.)
That’s why when I talk about Montana, Alaska, Iowa, and Texas becoming competitive, I’m less interested in their electoral votes (as nice as they would be) and more interested in the impact that would have on down-ballot races. All four of these states have important Senate races, all four have important House races, and all four of them have important down ballot state-level races. The better Biden does, the better our down-ballot candidates will fare.
But for presidential purposes, if Biden wins Iowa, he’s already won Michigan, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, and with them 279 electoral votes and the victory (which is 270). If Biden wins Ohio, he’s already won Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida, and Georgia, with a healthy 334 electoral votes. Ohio’s 18 electoral votes would look nice added to that total, but they are unnecessary for presidential victory.
Make sense? One of Clinton’s big mistakes in 2016 was spending to expand the map in Arizona and Georgia without locking down the core states needed for victory. If Biden spends every dime on his core seven states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—that would be totally okay. Everything after that is just gravy, and we don’t need gravy, as delicious as it might be.
So how is Trump wasting his money? By spending money in Iowa, Ohio, and other reach Biden states. He just plopped down a cool $18.4 million in Ohio while only reserving $7.4 million in Wisconsin and $5.2 million in Arizona. Michigan isn’t even on the list. How does that even remotely make sense? There is no scenario in which Ohio will be a deciding state. Interestingly, the Trump campaign claims their polling is showing them with a “wide” lead in Ohio. $18.4 million says they’re lying.
During the primary season, Trump spent $7 million in Iowa in order to … what exactly? And he’s kept spending there ever since. In Texas, Trump was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars last year, telegraphic fear of his weak electoral standing in what should be a safe Republican state (for now). The state, along with Iowa and Ohio, was part of the campaign’s $14 million ad blitz in June.
So what has that Iowa spending bought Trump?
Exactly. Nothing. The chart looks the same in every other battleground state. Because people aren’t making presidential voting decisions based on what they see on TV. They don’t need an ad to understand Trump’s values, his priorities, or his “leadership” style. His messaging is clear, and directed straight to his rabid QAnon and Boogaloo base. And his performance speaks for itself—in body bags. No ad will ever overcome the disadvantages of who and what Trump himself represents.
We don’t even need to get into the effectiveness of those ads, do we? Look at this ridiculous Trump digital ad and then ask yourself: “Who the hell would be convinced to support Trump as a result?”
That’s not the only way the campaign is wasting money. As of mid-May, the campaign had already spent over $16 million on legal fees. For comparison’s sake, Biden’s campaign had spent $1.3 million at that time. Every time the campaign “sues” CNN or another outlet for a poll it doesn’t like, or unflattering coverage, or airing a negative campaign ad, his supporters get fleeced. It makes Trump feel good and happy! Suing people is among his favorite things! But it’s not smart stewardship of campaign resources.
None of this is really a surprise. Trump is literally the guy who went bankrupt running a casino, a business that essentially prints money. His bankruptcies are legion. And he’s shown time and time again that he feels no particular need to safeguard the trust of his investors, much less that of his donors.
So the moral of the story? Money isn’t everything in presidential politics—just ask Hillary Clinton. And when it comes to Trump’s war chest, assume he’s going to piss away a good amount of that cash, because he already has.
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