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Donald Trump’s (Lack Of A) State-By-State Strategy Is A Big Problem

The issue isn't going after voters in all 50 states. The issue is doing it poorly.

When Donald Trump asked the Republican National Committee to open offices for him in all 50 states, the committee responded with confusion. One anonymous source called it a "fool's errand." Hillary Clinton will have offices in all 50 states, investing even in regions that will likely vote for Trump anyway. So why is it so ridiculous for Trump to do the same?

There are a number of problems with Trump's "50 state strategy." First and foremost, Trump doesn't actually care about winning big in states that lean Democrat (think Michigan or North Carolina, both of which have a strong GOP presence in state legislature and could go red in November). That's not impressive enough. Rather, he "thinks [he] can win" in states like New York and California — states that haven't voted for a Republican president since Reagan and Bush Senior, respectively, and aren't about to start now. Flipping states is expensive, though; in North Carolina, the Obama campaign spent more than $15 million on ads to shove the state into its win column — and won by just 0.4 percent of the vote. In comparison, Trump has spent absolutely nothing on ads in Virginia or Ohio. And unlike Trump in 2016, the 2008 Obama campaign went hard after battleground states like North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida — not, say, Alabama.

Secondly, while Trump demands that the RNC set up offices in strongly Democratic states, his campaign presence in states that will matter to an actual, real-life Republican presidential victory is virtually nonexistent. Take Ohio. Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, had only voted for a Democrat four times in the 100 years before Barack Obama won it in both 2008 and 2012. It's one of the most critical — and conservative — metropolitan areas in the state, and no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio.

But Trump doesn't have an office in Hamilton County yet (Hillary Clinton has three, with two more opening soon). The RNC has been working with volunteers in the area for several years, but the GOP nominee hasn't even sent out posters. And though Trump is closing a few offices in blue states he probably wouldn't win anyway (like New Jersey), he's still laser focused on states like Connecticut, which Obama won by 18 percentage points in 2012. Major staffing shortages in Florida and Pennsylvania, two vital states for Republicans, are putting even down-ticket GOP candidates (like state representatives and Senate candidates) at risk. Meanwhile, Trump wants to open an office in Hawaii.

Dr. Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told MTV News that Trump's strategy is ludicrous. "It’s a waste of Trump’s time and money to campaign [in Connecticut]. Trump simply must carry Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania to have any serious chance of winning. Half or more of his time should be spent there. But instead, Trump is found in Connecticut, a heavily Democratic state with no real affinity for Trump. There are less than three months until election day."

Sabato added that the increased diversity of America means that the electoral map, which is always in flux, could turn even traditionally red states blue (and keep blue states voting for Democrats, despite Trump's best efforts). "In the 1980s, all minority voters combined were no more than 15 percent of the electorate," he said. "This November, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Muslim-Americans will comprise about 30 percent of the electorate — and they vote over 80 percent Democratic. This has changed the complexion of many states." Sabato also noted that his native Virginia voted for Republicans from Nixon to George W. Bush — and then voted for Obama twice.

This strategy could be based on the idea that there were thousands of "missing" white voters in 2012 — that is, voters dissuaded by Mitt Romney but inclined to vote for someone more appealing to a blue-collar demographic. And Trump did win big in primaries in blue states like Massachusetts and Vermont. The problem is, primaries aren't the general election, and while Trump is still winning with white voters without college educations, he's losing college-educated white voters, who haven't voted Democrat since 1956. He's not gaining new voters, just losing old ones.

Trump's "50 state strategy" isn't bad because he's going after voters in all 50 states. Prior presidential candidates have had success in wide swaths of the country (Richard Nixon won 49 out of 50 states in 1972, and Ronald Reagan lost only Minnesota in 1984). The issue with Trump's strategy is that — much like his foreign policy proposals — he doesn't appear to actually have one. He's campaigning in deep blue states with little electoral importance (sorry, Connecticut), while in must-win states like Florida and Ohio, he's barely trying. He's not spending money on ads (or anything else, for that matter). And though his fund-raising efforts are starting to pay off, the RNC can't afford to support both him and down-ticket candidates engaged in tough elections (and many Republicans want to give up on Trump altogether).

A "50 state strategy" presidential campaign strategy isn't wrong. But Donald Trump's version is. He's focusing on states he can't win while losing support in states he could, and he's costing the RNC millions in the process. And with less than three months to go until Election Day, time is not on Trump's side.