Trump campaign fundraising woes compounded by high cost of raising money

Eufemia Didonato

Some Republicans fear that President Trump’s failure to outraise Democratic nominee Joe Biden in August will limit his reach in crucial states, adding that massive spending by the campaign in earlier months is limiting resources with which to engineer a turnaround. “The working theory would be that you raise that […]

Some Republicans fear that President Trump’s failure to outraise Democratic nominee Joe Biden in August will limit his reach in crucial states, adding that massive spending by the campaign in earlier months is limiting resources with which to engineer a turnaround.

“The working theory would be that you raise that money, even if you’re spending it at a furious clip, because you want to have the donors to go back to,” said one veteran GOP operative. “Well, here we are. This is the time that the strategy would pay off, and yet, they’re having to cut back on spending.”

Strategists pointed to spending by the Trump campaign to solicit small-dollar donations online as one particularly costly process and one that’s yet to yield the returns that could be typically expected.

“They set up a structure where it’s just spend, recklessly, even, to raise as much as we can, regardless of the cost of the dollar,” said one veteran GOP operative.

Biden’s massive August fundraising haul, $364.5 million to Trump’s $210 million, gives the Democrat’s team the leeway to make incursions into typically Republican territory.

“And now, you have the crescendo of the money coming in,” said one GOP strategist, predicting Biden’s advances would be exacerbated by the partisan fight over Trump’s third Supreme Court pick. “It’s a huge problem.”

Democrats’ massive $48 million haul over 48 hours after the Biden team announced California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate is indicative of the hurdles ahead.

“Biden has the resources to put more states in play,” while Trump will need to decide how much to commit to each individual state and whether to make a play for states either just outside or inside of the margin of error, this operative said. “It’s the difference between trying to get a reach goal of a Minnesota or Nevada or New Hampshire … It restricts your ability to compete there.”

“The Biden campaign, if they want to go play in Georgia, or they want to go play in a state they otherwise really don’t need to win, like Arizona, this allows them the flexibility to go add previous red states and a huge structural advantage,” this person said.

The Trump operation’s high burn rate has shown signs of slowing. The campaign went off the air for more than a week in key battleground states this month while it retooled its advertising strategy. But less cash on hand means fewer resources devoted to tapping supporters for donations.

“The problem is not how much money they’ve raised, for either side,” said one GOP strategist, pointing to Trump and the Republican National Committee’s $1.33 billion fundraising haul versus Democrats and Biden’s $990 million. “That’s a lot of cash. The problem is how much money Trump has spent … The problem has become that the Trump campaign has spent $1.13 billion.”

This strategist said comparisons to 2016, when Hillary Clinton led most polls and won the money race before losing to Trump on Election Day, were “ignorant and revealing.”

“You can never rerun your last race,” this person said, calling such comparisons “the dumbest thing ever.”

In a statement, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel praised “early investments in field, digital and data” that she said allowed the Trump reelection effort to build a history-making ground game. “Democrats simply cannot compete with our grassroots army of two million volunteers, and the millions of door knocks and phone calls we make each week will prove to be a critical advantage for President Trump and Republicans come Election Day,“ she said.

Veteran Republican operative Terry Sullivan said perceptions that Trump was falling behind could further aggravate his fundraising woes.

“If it looks like you’re going to win, you raise more money,” said Sullivan, who managed Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, adding that this was particularly the case among high-dollar donors, with whom Trump “has never had a great relationship.”

“They were all against him in the primary,” he added.

While many wound up supporting Trump in the general election, “he didn’t start with a close relationship with most of those donors, and most of those bundlers,” Sullivan said.

“It’s much tougher to raise money for a campaign that is perceived to be losing,” he said. “What makes this unique is that he’s a sitting president.”

Trump, in 2016, spent and raised much less than Clinton and criticized his 2016 opponents for their reliance on big donors. He told Fox News in a Monday morning interview that Democrats “[have] always had more money than the Republicans.”

The president said he isn’t worried and that he would chip in if need be, or work the phones for a day.

“Yes, if we needed money, but we don’t need money,” Trump said on Monday. “We have a lot of money … I could raise so much money if I took one day and just started making phone calls to rich people, but I don’t like doing that. I never did.”

The economy remains a bright spot for Trump, an issue where he has consistently polled ahead of Biden.

Lenny Alcivar, a veteran GOP consultant, said Democrats had failed to make their message on this clear despite their cash advantage.

Pointing to Florida, Alcivar said that the Biden team had, so far, failed to take advantage of demographic shifts in the state to make strong inroads, including with an aging Cuban population.

“The Democratic machine seems to be built for a time when the Biden campaign would be able to make this election solely a referendum on the top of the ticket, and that’s not happening,” Alcivar said. “The message that you’re hearing from Democrats does not seem to be breaking out, and that’s because the economic concerns have not been addressed.”

“I don’t believe that the snapshot of an ad spend in August is going to be as much of a factor as Democrats hope that it would be,” Alcivar said. “But I would rather be the Trump campaign than the Biden campaign today, and we’ll see in about a week whether or not that that starts to play itself out.”

Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign, said the president is in good stead, tweeting this weekend that the campaign started the month with $325 million on hand.

“We are confident in our strategy of our advertising tracking the early voting states, while President Trump is campaigning aggressively in battleground states, and our 2.1 million volunteers contact voters personally every day,” Murtaugh said in a statement. Trump “will have the resources he needs to ensure his message resonates, and we will have two or three times the funds we had in the closing days of the 2016 race.”

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