GOP bigwigs aren't the only ones worried about Donald Trump winning the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump has emerged as the Republican candidate to beat while spending far less on television advertising than his rivals, a source of anxiety for TV station owners across the country who are banking on a record level of political ad spending. It's a novel campaign strategy of generating free TV coverage with ever more outlandish events and statements.
His approach has made a mockery of his opponents' traditional approach of spending prodigious amounts on TV ad campaigns. Indeed, their spending this year — and a 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened up campaign spending — has boosted projected political TV revenue in 2016 to a new high point, reaching $4.4 billion, up from $3.8 billion in 2012.
But while local TV stations have been distressed over Trump's lack of ad spending, some industry analysts think the situation now may change in the general election.
So much negative advertising — from both Republicans and Democrats — has cast Trump as a political loser that some observers say he now might have to ramp up his own advertising to counter the attacks.
Independent "Stop Trump" groups have spent more than $20 million in opposition to his nomination.
Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia, believes that Trump will have to step up TV advertising in a general election campaign against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
"They both have 100% name ID and voters have a sense of who they are," Sabato said. "They don't have to advertise in ways that other candidates do. They are not going to have to tell the family story. It's pointless. They will still need negative advertising. The campaign is going to be scorched-earth."
Trump brings an unpredictability to campaign spending — and that includes a possible increase in dollars from the Republican Party in support of Senate and House candidates fearful of being pulled down by a crushing loss at the presidential level. Trump is shown running behind Clinton.
"The Republicans know they are in trouble," Sabato said. "One of the recommendations from the party to candidates running for Senate and House seats is to spend, spend, spend."
Political advertising has become a major profit center for TV stations in hotly contested swing states like Florida, Ohio and Colorado. Presidential election years in particular can be bonanzas.
But if Trump decides to just rely on his celebrity and advertise less than a typical candidate in the general election, TV station owners could miss out on a bounty of revenue usually expected in a race this heated.
"Most broadcasters think they will net out coming close to expectations, but they are really nervous about it," said Bill Day, a vice president for Frank N. Magid Associates, a consultant firm with a number of broadcasting clients.
"They have so much baked in on the back end of the year, and if they are wrong there is no recovery time," Day said.
Trump has played his celebrity to the hilt.
"In an environment like this where somebody is proving a disruptive model — Trump is saying 'I'm a reality TV star and I know how to move things without using television advertising' — it's a scary space," Day said.
Trump's confidence in his free media skills could result in him spending less than the $492 million that 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney put into TV ads, said Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president of Kantar's Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG — but not a lot less if he wants to be competitive against Clinton.
"He may not spend what a typical Republican nominee would spend and he will get a lot of earned media," or free airtime through news coverage, Wilner said. "But the Democratic Party is going to be on his case every day."
The projected increase in political advertising is due in part to the Supreme Court decision that removed limits on spending by independent expenditure groups that include corporations and unions.