Some GOP operatives and other political observers are starting to suspect that Donald Trump’s campaign is structured more as a publicity tour than a quest for the White House.
Federal disclosures released this past weekend help make the case that the real estate mogul, at the very least, is not conducting a traditional campaign operation.
They show, among other things, that Trump’s organization spent more money in July on the now-iconic “Make America Great Again” red hats, Trump T-shirts, and mugs than on the staff whose job it is to run the campaign.
The Trump campaign paid more than $1.8 million to two vendors — California-based headwear-maker Cali-Fame and Louisiana’s Ace Specialties — for T-shirts, mugs, stickers, and the red hats (which the campaign spent over $400,000 on alone).
Compare that to his spending on staff. In the month of July, Trump spent roughly $921,000 on staff and consultants, about half of what he spent on merchandise bearing his own name and slogans.
There’s also curiously little spending on field staff — ground troops who work to corral votes. In the crucial swing state of Ohio, the Trump campaign at the tail end of July employed a single field staffer: Andrew Coffield, who lists himself as the Southeastern Ohio Regional Representative for the campaign on his LinkedIn page.
The local Ohio press reports that Trump opened a modest campaign office in the state in early August, although we’ll have to wait until next month’s federal disclosures to know if his spending in the state has ramped up in any significant way.
Then there is the fact that a significant amount of Trump’s campaign spending is going to his own businesses. One analysis of the latest financial disclosures found that the campaign has spent $7.7 million at Trump’s companies, around 9 percent of the campaign’s total spending. This includes money that went for Trump’s private jets, the Trump Tower, and the Mar-a-Lago golf club in Florida.
Then there’s the almost nonexistent presence on the advertising airwaves. The Trump campaign has been outspent 17-to-1 by the Clinton campaign; the Republican nominee has spent just $4 million to date on general election advertising compared with Clinton’s $68 million.
By every measure, Trump has little more than a skeleton of a campaign operation, and what little he does have is unusually tilted toward benefiting his own bottom line and publicity.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.