Donald Trump may look like a classic political strongman, but his campaign feels entirely new. He's truly a product of the Internet, despite policy ideas that sound medieval at times. But he's a very different Internet-age candidate than we've seen before.
For Trump, Twitter is a strategic weapon aimed straight at political reporters, commentators and talk show bookers. Every outrageous statement gives him a new round of media attention, and each wave of attention makes it even more imperative that reporters and pundits talk about him, lest they lose their own relevance. If President Obama mastered the connection between the web and organizing, Trump has exploited the connection between the Internet and mass media.
It's a virtuous circle from his point of view, with domination of cable TV news reinforcing his image as a winner in supporters' eyes. Why bother with the traditional trappings of a campaign organization when he gets everything he needs for free?
Now, Trump is beginning to build out a rudimentary field operation, but to date he's won without one. If anyone doubted that fact, the Nevada caucuses settled the question: his supporters' passion overcame the others candidates’ investment in traditional turnout methods.
Is the Trump model replicable? For most candidates, I doubt it. Perhaps only a celebrity was truly poised to capture the way social media and digital channels can drive traditional media coverage — and to not care about what the haters think. Next up, Kanye 2020?
The Political Magic of AOL
Political campaigns want your mom, or at least her email address. According to a study by digital marketing firm Fluent, AOL address compose 4 percent of political email lists, but their owners made 22 percent of digital donations. By contrast, Gmail addresses made up 44 percent of the lists, but contributed only 13 percent of the total.
The disparity makes sense when you consider that older people give more political money than their children and grandchildren do. They're also more likely to have created an AOL account back in the 1990s and to be sticking with it. The implication for campaigns? Try targeted messaging directed specifically at AOL accounts, highlighting themes important to senior citizens. Today, campaigns must make sure that their AOL emails are getting through, since appeals that land in an AOL spam filter are donations lost.
In the meantime, stop making fun of your mom's AOL account. She's a hot commodity, after all.
Clinton Builds Her List, While Christie Sells His to Rubio
Note this line from a recent Clinton fundraising email: "...more than 800,000 people have chipped in to support this campaign, including you! I think that’s just incredible. I know it doesn’t fit with the media narrative, but we’re building quite a movement here..."
A Clinton small-donor base definitely defies the overarching story of the campaign so far as she's been defined as the Big Money candidate on the Democratic side. Bernie Sanders’ donors outnumber hers several times over, of course, and they've happily opened their wallets for him again and again. As the Democratic presidential primary campaign drags on and big donors max out, though, even a smaller base of grassroots supporters will help her continue to raise significant money. The irony is, of course, that Sanders, the "insurgent" candidate, is the one most likely to be flush with cash. Thank you, online fundraising.
In other email news, Chris Christie just sold his supporter list to Marco Rubio's campaign. Not everyone supporting the New Jersey governor will choose to cruise with the Florida senator, but every donation matters.
Moreover, it highlights the common practice of campaign list reselling. I'm still ending up on new conservative fundraising lists via an address I gave to Newt Gingrich years ago. It's a true joy to watch how that one email signup echoes through the years, courtesy of Newt.