Donald Trump is sitting on a massive national lead in the polls—more than 40 percentage points over his closest rival—and when it comes to campaigning for president, he’s also … sitting. While his rivals dash around Iowa and New Hampshire, Trump has spent the summer at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, hitting the campaign trail only occasionally. That’s not the way his campaign tells it, though.
Asked by The Washington Post for details on campaign events Trump had done, his campaign offered up a list of 60 events since late May. Sounds like he’s working hard, right? Yeah, right:
Six events — or 10 percent — included attending Saudi-backed LIV Golf events at his clubs in New Jersey and Virginia in which he has a financial interest. Eleven of the 60 events were held at his private club in Bedminster, N.J. Three of the events involved remarks he made next to his plane after being indicted on federal or state charges. Five were virtual events. Many of them were multiple events on the same day, such as stops at restaurants en route to the airport. About half were traditional campaign stops — speeches, rallies or meet-and-greets with voters.
So make it about 30, plus a lot of hilarious padding. Haven’t there been any weddings at Bedminster that he’s dropped in on that could have been added to that list? Has he shaken hands with anyone while golfing? That could count as a meet-and-greet.
By contrast, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s campaign said she had done more than 120 events in a similar time period. For Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, it was more than 100. Sen. Tim Scott’s spokesperson claimed more than 60 events. And former Vice President Mike Pence’s team claimed he’d done 55.
The question is whether it matters. Trump has that huge lead, after all. Voters know who he is, and they have overwhelmingly already made up their minds about him. He did even fewer campaign events during this period in 2015, a Post analysis shows, and he won that primary despite not having all the advantages he has now.
“Trump has uniquely saturated every part of American life, and that includes early primary state voters and caucus-goers,” a former Haley aide told the Post. “You may hear gripes about lesser-known candidates visiting South Carolina, but you don’t really hear that about President Trump.”
But a flailing Team DeSantis really, really wants it to be a problem for Trump. If they didn’t outright pitch this story to the Post, they did make sure that their attacks on Trump’s schedule, as well as their desperate rationalizing of DeSantis’ current poor showing in the polls, made it into the article:
DeSantis advisers say current polling doesn’t reflect the full impact of their on-the-ground operations and heavy campaigning — arguing that the benefits will kick in closer to caucus night, when their groundwork translates into turnout. DeSantis’s team has also ridiculed Trump’s plans to do more events in Iowa, saying DeSantis attended more this past Saturday than Trump has pledged for the next seven weeks.
It’s not working for your guy, though, is it? Trump sits at Bedminster and dominates polling, while DeSantis sprints through Iowa and watches his influence ebb in Florida.
“No one is entitled to the nomination and voters deserve to hear from candidates in-person about their records and visions for the future,” a DeSantis spokesman said in a statement to the Post. “Donald Trump’s basement campaign would be a losing strategy against Joe Biden in the general election, just like it will be in the Iowa Caucus when he cedes that state to Ron DeSantis as a result of taking Iowans for granted.”
Trump maintains a double-digit lead in every recent Iowa poll, and it seems like a reasonable assumption that he will bestir himself to campaign against Biden if he’s the Republican nominee, but nice try.
What’s interesting here is that Trump isn’t out feeding his ego by campaigning. The man does love a crowd. Sources told the Post he wanted to enjoy the summer at Bedminster—very low-energy of him, if true, and makes you wonder how much he’s rattled by his many indictments—and that he felt skipping events was a display of inevitability. Additionally, his legal expenses are a challenge for the campaign. Going light on the expenses of travel and staging big events can ease that strain.
Trump’s campaign schedule is expected to increase in the coming weeks, which is nothing to look forward to—unless he uses that time to decisively bury DeSantis’ hopes.