by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
For the past several months, a patchwork of conservative activists and deep-pocketed donors had made it their mission to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the Republican nominee. Last week, they failed, touching off a series of angry recriminations about what went wrong and who should have been minding the store.
Some people involved in what came to be called the #NeverTrump movement lamented that their efforts to bloody the front-runner wouldn’t have been necessary if any of the other candidates had been willing to attack him themselves. Many laid the blame on Ted Cruz, calling him an unacceptable alternative to Trump. Cruz’s camp blamed John Kasich, saying the race would have unfolded differently if he’d dropped out and let Cruz go head to head with Trump. Others blamed the strategy of anti-Trump groups, saying it’s no help telling voters who to be against if you can’t tell them who they should be for. Several said the Republican National Committee should have stepped in and effectively excommunicated Trump from the party. And still others wondered whether Trump had ever been stoppable in the first place. …
… [I]n the same way that he was able to openly defy Republican orthodoxy with little to no consequence, Trump appeared largely unscathed by the money spent on stopping him. In part, he managed to balance any ad aired against him with a personal appearance on the same screen. He was a near-constant presence on television, calling in to cable-news shows or appearing in person. “I don’t think any of us could have calculated the effect he had in earned media,” says [Club for Growth’s Doug] Sachtleben.
What’s more, Trump, who largely self-funded his campaign, repeatedly demonized super PACs and major donors as part of the D.C. political class for which he — and his supporters — expressed so much disgust. “He managed to set that up at the beginning to make it hard for paid media to get oxygen, and at the same time he dominated earned media, so it did really make the money side of things a lot less effective,” says Sachtleben.