Trump Time Capsule #25: 'They Know You're Going to do a Good Job'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Four years ago, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were in a tight ad-spending race in the potential swing states. This year, only one side is competing in that race. From NBC News.

Time Capsule #25: June 19, 2016. Doing a good job.

Last week Donald Trump explained why it didn’t matter to him or his supporters that he has offered no specifics on how he would achieve his impossible-sounding goals, from making Mexico pay for The Wall to winning so much we get tired of winning.

“My voters don’t care and the public doesn’t care,” Trump said. “They know you’re going to do a good job once you’re there.”

That is, faith in Trump’s powers to resolve all knotty problems through great deals surmounts the boring details of how politics, budgets, and diplomacy actually work. A similar faith in Trump’s ability to laugh his way past usual realities underlies his general-election prospects. Sure, you might think he faces obstacles with blacks, Latinos, women, and other groups the RNC thought it needed in order to take the presidency—in addition to his own lack of knowledge and experience, and his temperamental instability. But look how he keeps winning!

For more than a month now Trump has been in the position of presumptive nominee; items #1-#24 in this series illustrate what kind of “good job”  he has done in that role. Today comes a fascinating new piece of tangible evidence: how he is handling the strategic economics of a modern national campaign.

Doing a good job as a candidate means, among other things, being aware of the huge financial obligations of today’s politicking: How you raise money, how you carefully husband it, how you spend it when and where it is most useful and save it everywhere else.

The chart above, from Mark Murray of NBC, is one indicator of how things are going. Four years ago, an incumbent president and his well-funded challenger were in a tight advertising race in what both sides had identified as possible swing states.

This year, all the ad-spending in those swing states has been by Hillary Clinton and her allies. Trump’s forces have not put up anything. Either he doesn’t have enough money, or he hasn’t understood how and when and where to spend it, or he has no ads prepared, or something else. He has also apparently ignored the professional-politicians’ lesson of the past few cycles, which is that opposition advertising in May and June, when a nominee has emerged but before he or she has been officially chosen at the convention, can powerfully brand a candidate in a way very hard to shake once the “real” campaigning begins in the fall.

To get all the provisos out of the way: Of course skill in running a campaign is not the same as skill at being president. Of course money is the ruination of modern politics. Of course ads can be an insult to the collective intelligence. Of course [name a hundred other points]. But you can’t be a good president if you don’t get elected. And in this, the first sample of how Trump might handle the complex management challenges that go with political leadership, early results look bad for him. He said: Don’t sweat all the details, I’ll do a great job. In fact he’s doing a terrible job.


The previous entry noted that Time Capsules would shift to a slower schedule, documenting less of the daily chaos and highlighting the more remarkable developments. The difference that Mark Murray has documented is remarkable.