Trump says big rallies are his key campaign weapon
NEW YORK (AP) -- Donald Trump, GOP nomination virtually in hand, is planning a general election campaign that banks heavily on his personal appeal and trademark rallies while spurning the kind of sophisticated data operation that was a centerpiece of Barack Obama's winning White House runs.
"I've always felt it was overrated," Trump said in an interview Tuesday. "Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine. And I think the same is true with me."
Trump won the Republican presidential primary in West Virginia, adding to his claim on the GOP's nomination Tuesday night. But first he met with The Associated Press at his office in New York, where he's been huddling with advisers to plan for a fall campaign that came upon him more quickly than even the confident billionaire expected. His remaining rivals abruptly exited the race last week, leaving him an open path to the Republican nomination.
As part of his general election planning, Trump is moving aggressively to identify potential running mates and says he now has "a very good list of five or six people," all with deep political experience. While he would not provide a full list of names, he did not rule out New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the former rival whom he's already tapped to head his transition planning.
Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is running the vice presidential vetting effort "with a group," Trump said, that includes former competitor Ben Carson and himself.
A first-time political candidate, the billionaire businessman said there's no need for another business person on the Republican ticket and said he was eager for a running mate who would be effective in helping him pass legislation as president. By joining forces with a political veteran, Trump would also signal a willingness to work with the Republican establishment that he's thoroughly bashed during his campaign.
Trump said he doesn't plan to announce his running mate until the Republican National Convention in July, a four-day event that he's planning to remake with a showman's touch.
"The concept of some entertainment from a great singer, a great group I think would be something maybe to break things up," Trump said. "You'll be hearing plenty of political speeches."
He also ruled out for the first time the option of taking public financing for his campaign, a move that would have saved him the time-consuming task of raising vast sums of money but would have dramatically limited the amount he would be able to raise.
"I don't like the idea of taking taxpayer money to run a campaign. I think it's inappropriate," he said.
Trump stunned the political world at every turn during the Republican primary, prioritizing large rallies over intimate voter interactions in early voting states and operating with a slim campaign operation. Even as he brings in new staff for the general election, he says his emphasis will continue to be on raucous rallies that put him in front of thousands of voters and generate significant free media coverage.
"My best investment is my rallies," Trump said. "The people go home, they tell their friends they loved it. It's been good."
The businessman said he'll spend "limited" money on data operations to identify and track potential voters and to model various turnout scenarios that could give him the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency. He's moving away from the model Obama used successfully in his 2008 and 2012 wins, and the one that likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is trying to replicate, including hiring many of the staff that worked for Obama.
Separately, the Republican National Committee has invested heavily in data operations, eager to avoid another defeat to a more technologically savvy Democratic candidate. Trump could make use of that RNC data or leave voter targeting to the party.
Trump and his aides have been meeting with RNC officials this week to discuss the mechanics of his campaign. He is also planning a trip to Washington Thursday to meet with party leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who have had a mixed reaction to his primary success.
For some Republicans skeptical of Trump, the desire to defeat Clinton in November is enough of an incentive to rally behind his candidacy. While Trump has vowed to be tough in taking on Clinton, he also suggested he might avoid running negative ads against her, saying, "I just don't find them to be very effective."
"I've had over $100 million in negative ads spent on me and every time it's boosted my numbers," he said.
As Trump was speaking, however, his campaign posted a new ad on Instagram assailing Clinton for her response to the attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The video accuses Clinton of lying about the reason for the attack and includes footage of her laughing superimposed on a scene of burning wreckage.
Trump surged to the top of the Republican primary field despite having vague policy positions. It's unclear how much his shift to the general election will include beefing up his domestic and foreign policy plans, though he did say voters have a right to expect more details about his health care proposals.
He dismissed the idea that voters have a right to see his tax returns before going to the polls. He's so far refused to release those documents, citing an ongoing audit. And besides, he said, "there's nothing to learn from them."