What is Trump’s Victory Strategy, Exactly?

Donald Trump sees himself as a winner. Success is his brand. His most famous book is about coming out ahead in negotiations. He prides himself on his business acumen and ability to manage organizations as a chief executive officer.

So it’s curious that his presidential campaign doesn’t seem to have any strategy to win at all.

It’s not at all clear where his campaign money is going, since it doesn’t appear to be spent on field, staff or advertising:

Open Secrets uses FEC data to report that, at the end of June, the Trump campaign had $20m on hand. According to the latest Trump reports, they raised an additional $80 million in July and, early in August, had $37m on hand. If you do the math, that means Trump spent $63m in July. He didn’t spend it on TV advertising. How did Trump spend the money?

Shockingly, no one seems to know. He still hasn’t ramped up field operations in key states and counties. He isn’t spending on TV advertising. Many suggest that he may be simply repaying himself the money–which would fit in nicely with his image as a grifter, but it’s not a strategy for winning a campaign. A self-funded candidate breaking even on a devastating loss isn’t exactly the portrait of a winner.

Moreover, Trump appears to believe that he doesn’t even need a get-out-the-vote campaign at all because his supporters will all be driven to the polls out of sheer media-and-rally-based enthusiasm.

“One of the big things about the RNC is they have this whole infrastructure of data and information and contacts and email lists and mailing lists and phone numbers. That is something that is important to your campaign,” Bolling said. “That’s not at risk. Is that in jeopardy at all?”

“I don’t know. I will let you know on the ninth, on November 9th,” Trump replied.

“We are gonna have tremendous turnout from the evangelicals, from the miners, from the people that make our steel, from people that are getting killed by trade deals, from people that have been just decimated, from the military who are with Trump 100 percent,” he went on. “From our vets because I’m going to take care of the vets.”

“I don’t know that we need to get out the vote,” the Republican nominee concluded. “I think people that really want to vote, they’re gonna just get up and vote for Trump. And we’re going to make America great again.”

This is clearly not a man who has paid attention to decades worth of scientific and experiential understanding of how to win elections. It’s also a flimsy excuse for the sort of laziness one more often finds from delusional long-shot local Congressional candidates: “I don’t need to phonebank or walk precincts–I’ll put ads in the campus newspaper and all the college students will vote for me in droves!” County central committee chairs deal with these sorts of people all the time, and they’re invariably dilettantes with more money than sense who coasted to financial security through social and family connections. Much like Donald Trump.

But for a candidate who seems to be relying on media to carry forward his campaign message without the benefit of nuts-and-bolts organizational capacity, he’s certainly doing a terrible job of managing his image and the press. Typically, clownish media-driven candidates present a disarmingly charming side to the press that makes positive coverage inevitable. Hard as it is to take the likes of Silvio Berlusconi, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura seriously, their affability makes them crowd and media favorites–at least until the novelty wears off. But Donald Trump is relentless nasty and utterly without the sort of positive charisma that makes the aggressive populist outsider shtick work.

So what’s Trump’s gameplan for victory? It’s hard to tell. There doesn’t appear to be one, which is astonishing for a candidate whose entire brand revolves around victory.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.