Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Trump Sticks With Tweets and Insults

As Clinton goes on the attack, his freestyle campaign lacks money, staff, and a consistent message

Re­pub­lic­ans who have been eager for a new, less volat­ile, more pres­id­en­tial Don­ald Trump should prob­ably settle in for a longer wait.

A full month after nail­ing down the GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion, the real-es­tate mogul’s cam­paign is still strug­gling to raise money, hire staff in key states, or even es­tab­lish a ser­i­ous com­mu­nic­a­tions shop to counter Demo­crat­ic at­tacks.

“Every day that goes by is a day lost. That’s true,” con­ceded one Trump aide privately.

The can­did­ate him­self, mean­while, con­tin­ues to let per­son­al griev­ances shape his cam­paign mes­sage. Dur­ing a re­cent trip to New Mex­ico, Trump in­sul­ted the pop­u­lar Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor, who hap­pens to be fe­male, His­pan­ic, and chair of the Re­pub­lic­an Gov­ernor’s As­so­ci­ation. Her ma­jor of­fense: At an April fun­drais­ing din­ner in New York City for the state party, Susana Mar­tinez tapped out mes­sages on her smart­phone in­stead of at­tent­ively listen­ing to Trump’s speech. (Trump late this week star­ted try­ing to make amends.)

And over the last week, Trump has been lash­ing out at a fed­er­al judge in San Diego, say­ing his Mex­ic­an her­it­age pre­vents him from fairly presid­ing over the class-ac­tion law­suit filed by former stu­dents of Trump Uni­versity, ac­cus­ing it of fraud.

“Ab­so­lutely zero up­side,” the aide said. “What the can­did­ate is do­ing is risk­ing our num­bers.”

Trump is also con­tinu­ing a cam­paign con­sist­ing largely of his own ral­lies and the at­tend­ant me­dia cov­er­age, rather than sys­tem­at­ic­ally fo­cus­ing on ma­jor themes. While that strategy worked dur­ing the GOP primar­ies, in which he was able to win by draw­ing more voters to low-turnout con­tests, it’s un­clear wheth­er the tac­tic can work in a gen­er­al elec­tion, which at­tracts mil­lions more voters.

Among the con­sequences of this free­style, low-budget ap­proach has been Trump’s fail­ure to as­semble an ex­per­i­enced staff to pro­mote his mes­sage and blunt that of likely Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee Hil­lary Clin­ton. While the Clin­ton cam­paign has nearly two dozen staffers in its press shop, Trump es­sen­tially re­lies on just two: cam­paign man­ager Corey Le­wan­dowski and press sec­ret­ary Hope Hicks. (Neither replied to a Na­tion­al Journ­alquery for this story.)

The con­trast was on vivid dis­play Thursday in Cali­for­nia. Clin­ton de­livered a long-pre­pared, much-re­hearsed 34-minute speech that evis­cer­ated Trump, call­ing him dan­ger­ously ill-suited to be com­mand­er in chief. “Don­ald Trump’s ideas aren’t just dif­fer­ent. They are dan­ger­ously in­co­her­ent. They’re not even really ideas—just a series of bizarre rants, per­son­al feuds, and out­right lies,” she said.

The Trump cam­paign’s en­tire re­sponse: Trump send­ing out Tweets that Clin­ton didn’t “look” pres­id­en­tial and cri­tiquing her Tele­PrompT­er read­ing abil­ity, and, later that even­ing, call­ing Clin­ton names and say­ing she be­longed in jail. “Let me tell you. My tem­pera­ment is so much tough­er and so much bet­ter than her tem­pera­ment,” he said.

Had the situ­ation been re­versed, the Clin­ton team likely would have flooded re­port­ers with re­but­tals and fact cor­rec­tions, set up a con­fer­ence call with top staff, and offered up sur­rog­ates to ap­pear on the TV net­works. This is ex­actly what the Trump aide had been push­ing for, but Trump was con­fid­ent he could handle the re­sponse him­self. “This is go­ing to be a con­stant chal­lenge,” the aide said.

It was a chal­lenge that was sup­posed to be go­ing away. Long­time Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist Paul Man­a­fort, who was hired when Trump still feared a brokered con­ven­tion, as­sured Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee mem­bers at their April meet­ing in Flor­ida that Trump would ac­quire the trap­pings of a tra­di­tion­al cam­paign and start be­hav­ing in a more pro­fes­sion­al man­ner after he sewed up the nom­in­a­tion. It’s the same mes­sage that Man­a­fort has been spread­ing to mem­bers of Con­gress in vis­its to Cap­it­ol Hill.

But Trump him­self has res­isted any such change. He has con­tin­ued the be­littling in­sults in speeches and on Twit­ter that he be­lieves helped him win the nom­in­a­tion. At a con­front­a­tion­al news con­fer­ence this week re­gard­ing his be­lated dona­tions to vet­er­ans’ char­it­ies, Trump said he had no in­terest in a makeover. “You think I’m go­ing to change? I’m not chan­ging,” he said.

Un­der­ly­ing all the con­cerns is money, or as one Trump ad­viser de­scribed it on con­di­tion of an­onym­ity, the lack there­of. Trump paid for most of his primary cam­paign out of his own pock­et, spend­ing $43.5 mil­lion by the end of April. But his fin­an­cial dis­clos­ure doc­u­ments show that des­pite re­peated claims that he is worth more than $10 bil­lion, he has nowhere near the cash and li­quid as­sets he would need to fin­ance a $1 bil­lion gen­er­al-elec­tion ef­fort.

And while his cam­paign did sign a joint money-rais­ing agree­ment with the RNC, so far that has res­ul­ted in a single fun­draiser that re­portedly brought in $6 mil­lion. “They need to be rais­ing that every day,” the ad­viser said.

Clin­ton, mean­while, has raised $239 mil­lion through the end of May, and has already star­ted build­ing gen­er­al-elec­tion staffs in key swing states, in­clud­ing Flor­ida, where a Clin­ton win would likely make a Trump pres­id­ency im­possible.

Trump, in con­trast, has little bey­ond the skelet­al staff he had for the March primary in that state, said long­time Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant and Trump crit­ic Rick Wilson. “They don’t have the money to pay them,” he said. “There’s no re­sources on the ground, there’s no or­gan­iz­ing, they don’t be­lieve in data.”

The Trump cam­paign aide, though, said that was chan­ging, des­pite the dif­fi­culty of rais­ing money for a self-de­scribed bil­lion­aire. New donors are com­ing on board weekly, both those ready to bundle $5,400 checks from their friends as well as those will­ing to write five- and six-fig­ure checks to a newly cre­ated su­per PAC by a Trump loy­al­ist.

“To write the epi­taph of this cam­paign’s fun­drais­ing would be pre­ma­ture,” the aide said. “Give it two weeks.”

(Image via Flickr user Gage Skidmore)