Trump flexes new digital muscle

Donald Trump is beefing up his digital strategy as he enters the general election campaign against Hillary Clinton. 

The presumptive Republican nominee has rolled out a website highlighting what he says are lies told by Clinton and, for the first time, is emailing fundraising pitches to supporters, one of the key elements of a national campaign.

{mosads}“I think the early signs we’ve seen, from them activating a small dollar online plan coupled with the rollout of the microsite, tells me that the Donald Trump campaign is getting its footing,” said Michael Duncan, a partner at Cavalry, LLC, a political consultancy, who directed digital strategy for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) 2014 reelection bid.

“I’m hopeful that it’s the first of many steps towards building out a more sophisticated digital operation,” he said.

Trump’s campaign has taken a few steps in recent days to expand its digital footprint beyond the businessman’s Twitter account, which already has more than 9 million followers.

It launched a website on Thursday dedicated solely to making the case that Clinton is dishonest, a frequent line of attack for Trump. The site, what is known among digital operatives as a “microsite,” has its overall message embedded in the URL:

The creation of the site followed Trump’s first-ever fundraising email, sent Tuesday, in which he promised to make it “the most successful introductory fundraising email in modern political history.”

“This is the first fundraising email I have ever sent on behalf of my campaign,” he wrote. “That’s right. The FIRST ONE.”

A day later, his son followed up with an email claiming that the fundraising effort had generated a record haul. The campaign has since said only some of the money raised this week came directly from the email.

Trump also sent a fundraising appeal on Friday tied to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

The digital push comes as Trump takes steps to expand his campaign operation to square off with Clinton’s, which is about 10-times larger than his. He fired former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on Monday and noted a slate of recent hires the next day.

Among the additions to the Trump camp was Brad Parscale, the campaign’s digital director. Like Trump’s spokesperson, Hope Hicks, Parscale seemingly had little political experience before joining Trump’s bid as a contractor last year.

His San Antonio firm’s portfolio includes websites for “a South Texas food store with a dash of Euro-sophistication” and homebuilders, among others. Trump reportedly hired him because of work he did for business ventures like Trump Winery.

The only political donation Parscale has ever made was to Trump’s presidential campaign last year, according to Federal Election Commission records.

“The Trump campaign clearly values loyalty, and Brad has done a great job with the digital properties of the Trump family,” said Vincent Harris, a Republican digital operative, in an email.

An operative who worked for one of Trump’s opponents said it would not hurt to have “fresh blood” working in an insular world of Republican digital consultants.

It remains to be seen just how Trump will build out the campaign’s digital team beyond that. A local business journal in San Antonio reported that Parscale’s firm is prepared to hire as many as 100 workers in response to the demands of the Trump campaign. Hicks did not respond to a request for comment on the digital push.

GOP operatives say that Trump’s unconventional methods, and his ability to dominate media coverage, mean he may be able to reap the benefits of online organizing without building the massive digital operations that Mitt Romney and President Obama had in 2012.

“My inclination is to tell you right now that he needs to staff up, but hell, he’s done everything in a way that has been atypical for a politician the entire time and he beat us,” said the operative who worked for one of Trump’s opponents.

Harris, who worked for Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) presidential campaign, said that Trump’s ability to generate a flood of free media with just a single post on social media gives him a huge advantage. 

“This might be a different digital operation than those previously run on the GOP side because a dollar online for Trump goes further than a dollar for [John] McCain or Romney ever did,” he said in an email. “People yearn for Trump content.”

“Hillary might have more digital staff right now, but she needs them to compete with Trump’s complete owning of the medium. ” 

Trump is also leaning on the Republican National Committee to improve his online campaign. 

He is relying on the RNC’s data team — the product of a $100 million investment in technology since Romney’s loss in 2012 — for targeting his message. And Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that the RNC had been intimately involved in the rapid response emails attacking Clinton that were sent to reporters during her speeches this past week. 

There have been hiccups: Only 12 percent of people opened Trump’s first fundraising email, according to an analytics firm, and in many cases the email went straight into recipients’ spam folders.

Trump’s challenge now is to turn his effective use of social media into an operation that motivates tens of millions of supporters to open up their wallets and go to the polls.

“Donald Trump has used digital to amplify his message that he’s out there on cable news talking about,” Duncan, of Cavalry, said. “Which is great. But every tweet, every Facebook post, is an opportunity to drive people to a site and capture their information, capture a vote, capture a donation.”


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