This article from the New York Times, which leads today’s Jolt from the Political Insider team, caught my eye for the way it describes one more way in which the Trump campaign harkens back to an earlier time:
“Donald J. Trump is leaning heavily on Republican Party organizations to provide crucial campaign functions like getting out the vote, digital outreach and fund-raising, at a time when some leading Republicans have called for party officials to cut off Mr. Trump and focus instead on maintaining control of Congress.”
This is curious for a couple of reasons, but mostly for the way it runs completely against the trend of how campaigns have worked since the Citizens United court decision.
I just happened to have lunch Friday with a longtime GOP activist in Georgia, and we talked about people who might be leading contenders to succeed Padgett next spring. But he also made the same observation many politicos have made to me over the past several years: The state party matters less these days, because of Citizens United. Although liberals constantly complain about that court ruling, its main effect was not to pump more money into politics but to change the distribution of that money, away from state parties and other traditional campaign apparatuses and toward independent committees. State parties still play an important role, but they aren’t the fund-raising powerhouses they used to be.
Yet, it appears the Trump campaign wants to turn back the clock and let these same, diminished state parties go back to doing much of the grunt work of campaigns. Of course, some of this is not their choice: Many of the big donors who have given to Republicans in the past are refusing to support Trump.
But the main problem here is that it’s an open question whether state parties have the resources to pull off this kind of work in 2016. Two years ago during Georgia’s statewide races, I frequently heard that outside groups friendly to the Republican Party did much of the phone-banking and door-knocking required to push GOP candidates to victory. That’s not necessarily a knock on the Georgia GOP, just an acknowledgment of how things work these days. It’s a model that is very familiar to Democrats and their labor-union allies.
The great cliche in politics is that tight races will come down to “turnout.” People say this as if it’s a mystical force divorced from the nuts and bolts of campaigns — when, in fact, the nuts and bolts of campaigns are largely geared toward inducing turnout. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about Republicans about the Trump campaign’s lack of a ground game to get out the vote for Trump. I’m not sure this news will alleviate many of those concerns.