Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport on Oct. 12, 2016 in Lakeland, Fla. 
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty

Trump’s rejection of opposition research comes back to haunt him

As the public learned last night about new allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump, cartoonist Tom Tomorrow raised a good point: evidently, none of Trump’s Republican primary rivals “have ever heard of oppo research.”

It’s an important observation. In every presidential election, it’s a standard practice for campaigns to hire professional opposition researchers to investigate rivals and look for potentially damaging information about their records. Somehow, even in an enormous, 17-candidate GOP field, Trump’s Republican opponents failed to uncover many of the controversies that are currently dogging the party’s nominee.

It’s easy to imagine folks like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush turning to their aides last night and asking, “Why didn’t you guys find any of this stuff?”

But let’s also not forget that opposition research is also supposed to be introspective. As we discussed in May, it’s Campaign Management 101: It’s not enough to research your rivals; you have to research yourself. Taking a close look at your opponents’ backgrounds will help uncover their strengths and weaknesses, but digging through your own background will help you anticipate and prepare for potential embarrassments and controversies.

And if it seems as if Team Trump has been caught unprepared for some of its recent scandals, it may have something to do with the fact that the Republican campaign never scrutinized the candidate’s past.

Remember this report from Mother Jones’ David Corn?
For most major presidential campaigns, it is a routine act: You conduct opposition research on your own candidate. The reason is obvious; campaign officials and candidates want to know what they might have to contend with once the you-know-what starts flying. But not Donald Trump.

At least not at the start of the campaign that would lead to him becoming the presumptive GOP nominee. According to a source with direct knowledge, when Trump was considering entering the presidential race early last year, his political advisers, including Corey Lewandowski, who would become his campaign manager, suggested that he hire a professional to investigate his past. But the celebrity mogul said no and refused to pay for it.
In other words, when any of the various damaging revelations – about Trump’s finances, his boasts about his romances, women who allege he groped them – the Republican candidate’s staff has no prepared response because they don’t know what’s coming.

As we talked about when Corn’s piece first ran, it would be a mistake for any national candidate to skip this examination, but for a guy like Trump – whose record includes a long list of personal and professional controversies – it represented an enormous risk.

It now appears that was a gamble that failed to pay off.

Donald Trump

Trump's rejection of opposition research comes back to haunt him