Some Republican consultants are vowing to redouble their efforts to derail Donald Trump’s presidential run even after the businessman took the lion’s share of states up for grabs on Super Tuesday.
Trump scored wins in key primaries in Virginia, Massachusetts, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Alabama. Texas and Oklahoma went to Ted Cruz, the latter being somewhat of a surprise for the Texas senator. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, notched his first victory of the contest in Minnesota.
Republican strategist Katie Packer held a call Tuesday with major donors to Chris Christie and Jeb Bush’s failed presidential efforts to solicit contributions for Our Principles PAC, an anti-Trump Super PAC she launched in January.
“We are willing to fight this battle to Cleveland,” Packer, a deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney in 2012, told C&E. “We are continuing to raise money — 71 percent of the delegates [are] left to be awarded after tonight.”
Packer's group made a $400,000 anti-Trump ad buy in the 48 hours leading up to Tuesday. In total, the group has dropped some $4.4 million on its anti-Trump ads since February.
Patrick Ruffini was another GOP strategist pushing the idea of a contested convention on Tuesday tweeting "#BrokeredConvention" while analyzing the remaining delegate math in the Republican primary.
In recent days, some prominent Republican consultants have sharpened their criticism of Trump. Former Romney advisor Stuart Stevens wrote in the Daily Beast that Republicans, "from elected officials to super volunteers to leaders of the party, must ask themselves what it will mean for the GOP and, vastly more important, the country to play a role enabling this hateful man."
During his victory speech, Trump slammed “special interests and the lobbyists,” and said he expects between $20 and $25 million to be spent against him ahead of the March 15 nominating contests. Still, he shrugged off suggestions he was dividing the GOP and struck a somewhat more conciliatory tone when speaking to reporters Tuesday night.
“I am a unifier,” he said. “I have millions and millions and millions of people.”
He added: “We’re a democracy. I think it’s awfully hard to say that’s not the person we want to lead the party.”
Meanwhile, Cruz tried to portray his campaign as the only organization strong enough to best Trump, underscoring the concerns among many Republican strategists that the current frontrunner doesn’t have the ability to create a national infrastructure to take on Hillary Clinton in a general election.
In Iowa, for instance, Politico reported that Trump state director Chuck Laudner and Ryan Keller, his deputy, went off payroll on Feb. 15. Mothballing staff instead of having them caravan to another state to organize or prepare for the general is a strategic fail, consultants warn.
It’s not just in organization where a Trump general election campaign could fall well short. He’ll need to raise millions of dollars to compete against Clinton, who is increasingly likely to emerge as the Democratic nominee after her showing Tuesday.
Trump has mostly self-funded his effort in the Republican primary, but he hasn’t made the same pledge for a general election, and there are real questions about his ability to put in enough of his own money ahead of this fall. Critics point to Trump’s reluctance to release his tax returns, suggesting it hints that his self-proclaimed $9 billion-dollar fortune exists primarily on paper. And cold-starting a fundraising operation needed to raise hundreds of millions for a general election will be an enormous challenge.
One of the biggest questions post-Super Tuesday for Republican consultants and party insiders will be whether they start down the road of acceptance and begin to come to terms with Trump as the likely nominee. GOP strategist Mike DuHaime, who advised Chris Christie’s presidential effort, is at least shrugging off some of the concerns over whether Trump could build the infrastructure needed to compete in a general.
“My guess is he would do all the things necessary to run a strong campaign — infrastructure and fundraising included,” DuHaime said in an email to C&E. “He will not want to come close and lose.”
There’s at least some evidence beyond the splintered results of a crowded primary field that Trump may realize the need to run a more targeted media campaign. Take Trump’s TV advertising, of which he’s done very little. An analysis by Morning Consult pegged his spend over Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia at $1.44 million. Inside of that total, though, was a “high-six figure” buy on Fox’s regional sports networks.
In fact, Trump’s buy was the largest made on Fox’s RSNs, according to Stephen Ullman, who oversees political marketing and media at Fox Sports.
“Trump was really the one to adopt a budget and ask, ‘what can I do in these seven states or these nine states?,’” Ullman said. “He was in two or three Caps games and two or three Wizards games [in Virginia]. He had a nice consistent presence basically owning two weeks leading up to the primary.”
In Texas, Trump bought Dallas Stars and Mavericks games, which are also seen across Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, said Ullman.
“They recognized that the local team profile is really a good one for voters: High turnout, undecided, likely to react to a spot in your game,” he said. “Cruz bought Texas and Georgia, but Trump was by far the largest candidate to spend on us.”