Trump Re-Election Campaign Dwarfs 2016 Effort

President’s operation already has spent more than it did in entire race four years ago

President Trump’s sprawling, well-funded campaign operation in 2020 is a far cry from the leaner effort of 2016.

Photo: brendan smialowski/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

WASHINGTON—Nearly four years after Donald Trump’s skeletal campaign propelled him to a surprise victory, his operation looks a lot more like the behemoth Hillary Clinton built.

As President Trump prepares this week to accept the Republican nomination for president for a second time, new campaign-finance records shed light on the sheer magnitude of his operation. Through the end of July, with more than three months to go before the election, the Trump campaign already had spent $323 million, more than the $321.8 million it spent in the entire 2016 election cycle—and more than the $258 million Mrs. Clinton’s campaign spent through July 2016.

Mr. Trump in 2016 appeared to relish his operation’s underdog status. He has frequently bragged that the Clinton campaign spent nearly twice as much as him that year and still lost. “My father would teach me, if you could spend less and win, that’s better than spending a lot and winning,” he said in February at a campaign rally in Phoenix.

香蕉视频苹果下载Mr. Trump entered the general election four years ago with the most thinly funded and staffed campaign for a nominee in recent memory, which left him nearly entirely reliant on the Republican Party for the basic functions of a campaign. His operation’s single largest expense in the month before the 2016 Republican convention was on campaign merchandise such as T-shirts and stickers. He spent just $150,000 on ad buys that month, preferring instead to rely on free media. Mrs. Clinton’s largest expenses, in contrast, were on payroll, travel and advertising.

香蕉视频苹果下载The Trump campaign’s expense report this time around looks considerably more traditional. The campaign’s largest shares of expenses in July were on advertising, mailers and payroll, according to Federal Election Commission filings—though the campaign also spent more than $1.7 million on merchandise such as stickers, apparel and signs.

During the Democratic National Convention last week, the Trump campaign mounted a digital ad campaign attacking Joe Biden, spending more than $10 million to temporarily take over advertising on the homepages of The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Daily Caller as well as the YouTube masthead, a campaign official said. It expects to spend a similar amount during the Republican convention this week, the official said.

香蕉视频苹果下载According to FEC filings, the campaign in July had more than 200 staffers on the payroll, many of whom are based in a sprawling Arlington, Va., office building with glass walls. That number that doesn’t account for some advisers paid through their consulting firms. Four years ago, that number was less than 80—and dozens of them were piled on top of each other in the Trump Tower in New York.

Campaign advisers say the goal was always for the 2020 operation to be bigger. “I mean, Jesus—that operation was so tiny, it couldn’t be smaller,” one adviser said. “If you play the game, play with everything you got. That’s all we had in 2016.”

Incumbent presidents traditionally have larger campaigns—though not usually by such a large margin—because they are able to raise more money. After being outpaced in fundraising in 2016 by Mrs. Clinton, the Trump campaign through July raised more than $426 million, more than three times what it had raised by that point four years ago. At the end of July, the campaign had $120 million in the bank, tripling the size of its coffers in 2016.

Yet the campaign’s hefty spending has raised eyebrows among some Trump allies, who wonder where the money is being spent as national polls show Mr. Biden with a substantial lead. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted in mid-August showed the Democratic nominee with a nine-point edge.

The campaign operation’s biggest shares of expenses in July were on advertising, mailers and payroll, though it also spent more than $1.7 million on items like stickers and signs.

Photo: Joshua A. Bickel/Associated Press

“They’ve already spent as much as 2016, and they’re losing to Joe Biden,” one White House official said in an interview last month.

Courtney Parella, the Trump campaign’s deputy national press secretary, said the campaign was in good shape “thanks to the record enthusiasm for President Trump and the solid infrastructure we’ve built on since 2016.” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien has said the campaign’s internal polling shows the president in “strong standing.”

Sen. Tim Scott and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley kicked off the Republican National Convention, portraying President Trump as a strong but empathic leader. WSJ’s Rebecca Ballhaus reports that this year’s convention won’t be about the party, but why the Republican candidate deserves four more years. Photo: David T. Foster III/Zuma Press

The Trump campaign in July spent about $5 million more than Mr. Biden, and has spent $93 million more than Mr. Biden’s campaign over the course of the election, FEC filings show.

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There have been some signs of dissatisfaction on the president’s part. Last month, he demoted his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and elevated Mr. Stepien, a longtime aide with more extensive political experience. Following Mr. Stepien’s promotion, the campaign briefly paused advertising to conduct a review of the campaign’s strategy.

The scaling-up of the campaign was, to an extent, inevitable. An incumbent candidate means bigger events with more complicated logistics. More money means more people are needed to make sure campaign-finance rules are followed. Some of the expanded payroll reflects efforts to grow the campaign’s coalitions for various demographics. One campaign official last year described the campaign’s Latino-coalition staff as “bigger than our presidential campaign staff in 2015.”

Secret-service agents stood guard Aug. 20 as President Trump spoke at a rally in Old Forge, Pa., part of the campaign’s efforts in critical battleground states.

Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

香蕉视频苹果下载The Trump campaign has also spent more than $9 million on legal consulting, an unusually large number that resulted from the many federal, state and congressional investigations into the president’s associates. It spent less than $1.2 million on the same category through July of 2016, according to FEC records.

One irony of the campaign’s expansion: In the era of the coronavirus pandemic, the robust organization isn’t always necessary. The campaign now has a surplus of people in some departments like advance, which prepares for the president’s events. Mr. Trump hasn’t held a large campaign rally since one he held in June in Tulsa, Okla., failed to draw the crowds he expected. And with fewer people on the road, the Trump campaign spent just over $500,000 on air travel in July—about a fifth of what it spent four years ago.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

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