Cleveland — Donald Trump has long defended the small size of his campaign staff and his habit of letting aides fight among themselves for his attention and for control of his operations. In June, Trump tweeted a defense of his Mini Me campaign staff: “I am getting bad marks from certain pundits because I have a small campaign staff. But small is good, flexible, save money and number one!” Another time he called his model “What we need as Prez!”
In the aftermath of the plagiarism flap about Melania Trump’s speech, Republicans in Cleveland are openly contemptuous of his amateur-hour staff. “How could you do a better job of stepping on your message than by cribbing from Obama’s wife, then refusing to fire anyone, and then claiming nothing happened that was wrong?” one GOP congressman asked me. Another called the Trump campaign “The Mistake on the Lake,” a reference to an old slur that people used to level against Cleveland.
If only the incompetence of the Melania episode were isolated. But it’s not.
The preparation of Trump’s Thursday night acceptance speech is in shambles, with people in the know having seen only fragments of it and nervous that the speech will not be properly vetted or will consist of clichés.
Politico reported that the move is making other Trump aides nervous:
In a sign of the acrimony that characterizes Trump’s orbit, news that Trump was seeking $10 million in damages from a former adviser rattled another ex-aide to the New York billionaire. “When I saw the headline, I thought it might be me,” the former adviser remarked.
Trump’s insistence on nondisclosure agreements has prevented several people from applying for jobs in a campaign that is going begging. Other applicants have filled out applications but asked for minor amendments to the NDA and then never heard back. Others who have been offered jobs turned them down after they realized that Trump’s management style involved promoting rivalries among subordinates.
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Trump loyalists such as former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski defend his approach. “Of course there’s competition, because you want the best,” Lewandowski told the Associated Press — before Trump fired him. “That’s the type of mindset you have to have in the federal government.”
But to impose that mindset in Washington, you first have to win an election, and that’s where Team Trump looks like the Bad News Bears. In April, a cheap Trump laid off scads of staffers in early states. At the same time, Hillary Clinton kept her troops in key primary states, laying groundwork for the general.
There’s a vicious cycle at work here, which is that as donors see the Trump campaign in chaos, they’re unwilling to fork over their hard-earned cash. Why back a candidate who’s rending the Republican Party apart, doesn’t follow conservative orthodoxy, and seems to have no idea what he’s doing with the money?
Trump says his critics don’t grasp that he’s running a different campaign. His social-media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram now reach nearly 20 million people at little or no cost. Trump still gets heaps of media coverage, and if you really believe his theory that all publicity is good publicity, he comes out ahead from that coverage.
But what Donald Trump is attempting to do is unprecedented in modern presidential politics. It’s true that he pulled off a remarkable feat by parlaying his 95 percent name ID into 14 million votes in the GOP primaries and winning the nomination. But in the general election, he will need 50 million votes. It’s unclear whether simply promoting his brand will win him enough votes.Trump could nonetheless win the November election. He might perform well against the wooden, lie-a-minute Hillary in debates; terrorist attacks could drive nervous independents in his direction; promised leaks from Hillary’s e-mail accounts via Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks may well materialize. But if this election is close and Trump loses, his failure to spend money on a competent staff, build a ground game, and avoid unforced errors will probably be blamed.
The irony is that a man who claims to be so successful and so enamored of finding “the best” has brought his campaign into its current disrepute because he’s been a cheapskate when it comes to spending money on the Trump presidential brand.
— John Fund is NRO’s national-affairs correspondent.