From the moment Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president, his animating theme has been the promise to make America great again. But is Mr. Trump really serious about restoring America to the greatness he claims it has lost? If so, there is a simple way for him to show the American people before the first presidential debate that he truly means what he says: He can reach into his personal fortune and spend the kind of money on his quest for the White House needed to maximize his chances of success.
To date, this has been something that Mr. Trump has been conspicuously unwilling to do. According to his own account, his net worth exceeds $10 billion. But let us instead take the independent estimate of Forbes Magazine of a net worth of $4.5 billion. Were Mr. Trump genuinely committed to winning the White House, it would be reasonable to expect him to contribute $450 million or one-tenth of his wealth -- the minimum amount many religions ask their followers to contribute -- to his campaign. Instead, Mr. Trump has thus far contributed a relatively paltry $52 million.
Presidential campaigns are immensely expensive; allies of Secretary of State Clinton estimate that the campaign costs on their side alone may surpass $1.5 billion by the time of the election. As of late summer, the Clinton campaign had raised $435 million, compared to just $161 million for the Trump campaign. The gap between the two campaigns is one that Mr. Trump could easily eliminate -- if he were so inclined -- with his personal resources.
As presidential campaigns reach their final stages, costs mount rapidly. Apart from the expensive TV ads that are required to have a chance at victory, there are the costs of not only the professional campaign staff, but also the elaborate ground operations that are necessary to get out the vote. In this regard, the Trump campaign is currently at a huge disadvantage; as of August 29, the Clinton campaign had 291 campaign offices in 15 battleground states, compared to just 88 offices for the Trump campaign.
As Mr. Trump himself has emphasized, the stakes in this election could not be higher. In his speech at the Republican National Convention, he described Hillary Clinton's legacy as secretary of state as one of "death, destruction and terrorism and weakness." Recent ads by the Trump campaign have claimed that a Clinton presidency would mean "the system stays rigged against Americans," "the middle class gets crushed," "terrorism spreads," and "Washington insiders remain in control." As someone who claims that he knows the system inside and out, Trump maintains that he can transform it to serve the American people; as he put it in his speech at the RNC, "I alone can fix it."
This is a large claim -- and a weighty responsibility. If Mr. Trump alone can save America, then it would seem to be a moral imperative for him to deploy some of his own considerable resources to win the election. Indeed, throughout the primaries Mr. Trump repeatedly promised to fund his own campaign; his vast wealth, he maintained, would free him from the special interests that other candidates depend on, making him uniquely able to resist the demands of big money. It is no exaggeration to say that this promise to fund his own campaign was one of the main sources of his appeal.
But perhaps Mr. Trump is not, as many have argued, nearly as wealthy as he claims. Let us imagine that his wealth is just half of Forbes' estimate of $4.5 billion. Yet even this would still permit him to donate $500 million to the cause of winning the White House, while maintaining assets of $1.75 billion -- a number that would still leave him among America's 400 wealthiest people.
The reality, however, is that the Trump campaign is now on pace to be outspent in TV ad buys by the Clinton campaign by a factor of seven in seven key battleground states -- $127 million to $18 million. According to an analysis by ABC News, Hillary Clinton and her allies have outspent the Trump campaign on the airwaves so far in this election by almost five to one; with outside groups excluded, the Clinton campaign has outspent Trump by more than nine to one.
Mr. Trump claims to love America deeply. But his actions suggest otherwise. Perhaps it is time for his millions of supporters to accept a bitter truth: that despite his repeated protestations of love, he's just not that into you.
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General Election: Nov 3, 2020
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