Pundits are once again claiming that Trump's campaign is on the ropes. He has just over $1 million in the bank, compared to over $40 million for Clinton. Further, Clinton spent $26 million on advertising last month, while Trump spent virtually nothing.
For many this indicates that Trump is either running an unprofessional campaign, incapable of raising the money, or that the wealth Republican donors are simply refusing to back him In any other year, I might agree with this analysis. But this is not an ordinary year. Trump won the Republican nomination while raising and spending far less than his competitors.
Trump is the master of free media. He has absolutely no trouble getting his message to the public without spending a dime.
Paid advertising is much like prostitution. Anyone involved realizes there is a crass commercial motive behind it. As a result, most of the public tends to ignore it. Everyone knows that political operatives can spin facts in such a way as to make them sound far different than reality, without actually lying. This means that few people give ads any credibility.
As a result, we are far more likely to pay attention to actual news articles or video clips that discuss issues. When a candidate like Trump says something outrageous or off the wall, it gets far more coverage, and far more people see it. There is no need to advertise. If Trump is going to win this election, it will not be by playing Clinton's game of professional fundraising and paid political advertising. He is going to do it through free media. Therefore, I don't see the fundraising gap as an indicator of success this year, even though it is a big indicator in many previous elections.
Meanwhile, Trump has made at least one concession to convention. He has dumped his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, for Paul Manafort. The Campaign originally hired Manafort to handle a possibly contested election, something Manafort has done many times before, going back to 1976 when he managed the convention for Ford against Reagan. But since the Convention now seems to be settled, Manafort's skills were not really needed there.
Lewandowski really has no experience leading a national campaign like this. Manafort is a more conventional choice for a campaign manager. But since Trump is not running a conventional campaign, it remains to be seen if this is a good idea. Manafort may end up a cross purposes with Trump if he tries to force Trump into a more conventional strategy. On the other hand, more conventional leadership may help to bring on board the Republican money and organization that should help the campaign.
Meanwhile, Clinton has been on an advertising spending binge. At first glance, spending money now when few people are paying attention to the campaign now that the primaries are over and before the convention, may seem like foolish timing. But this is a good time to begin defining your opponent. Conventional wisdom is that you need to define your opponent before he can define himself. Typically, this means trying to turn an opponent's strength into a weakness. We all remember how Bush went after Kerry's war record, or how Obama went after Romney's business practices. Those attacks began in this same general period. When the target refused to parry the attacks unsuccessfully, they followed him throughout the general election.
Clinton has begun challenging Trump's business acumen. She is focusing on the fact that he has gone through multiple bankruptcies, refused to pay people who did work for him, and shown a willingness to treat employees like dirt. Whether Trump can prevent any of this from sticking will be far more critical to his success than his ability to raise funds.