Trump’s fundraising haul equaled the top two Democratic candidates — combined.
President Donald Trump’s latest fundraising numbers indicate he will be a formidable opponent for whichever Democrat emerges from a crowded primary field to face him in next year’s general election.
Trump raised $30.3 million in the first quarter of this year — a number roughly equal to the amount raised by the top two fundraising Democrats, Bernie Sanders ($18.2 million) and Kamala Harris ($12 million), combined.
In an unusual move, Trump officially announced his reelection campaign just days after he was inaugurated, and it shows in his fundraising numbers. According to the New York Times, at this point in the 2012 presidential election cycle, Barack Obama — who launched his reelection campaign on April 4, 2011 — had less than $2 million in the bank. Trump, by contrast, currently has a war chest of $41 million.
Trump’s strong fundraising is also reflected in the numbers for the Republican National Committee, which raised $45.8 million in the first quarter. The Democratic National Committee lags well behind that pace and was $4.6 million in debt at the end of January. When Trump’s fundraising is combined with the RNC’s pro-Trump efforts, he has a total of $82 million.
During his campaign-launching speech in June 2015, Trump vowed, “I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists’. I’m not using donors’. I don’t care. I’m really rich.” While he followed through on his vow to self-fund his campaign, the latest fundraising numbers indicate how much more seriously Trump is taking things his second time around.
Trump has the small-dollar funders that Democrats have been trying to cultivate
According to the Trump campaign, nearly 99 percent of donations received in the first quarter of this year were for $200 or less, with donors giving an average of just over $34. Small-dollar funders have been something Democrats have been targeting as well. As Vox’s Tara Golshan and Recode’s Theodore Schleifer explained:
Here’s the conventional gold standard: What percent of the total money raised comes from increments less than $200? We know the sum of those donations from the line that shares the total number of “unitemized” contributions in the FEC reports. Watch out for campaigns that parrot the percentage of their contributions that are less than $200 — which isn’t the same statistic (for instance, what if 50 people gave $1 but then one donor gave $2,800?) The sometimes self-reported “average contribution” figure can also tell you something.
By any real measure, Trump is meeting that standard already. And unlike Democrats, who have taken various pledges to reject corporate PAC money and high-dollar donations, Trump has done nothing of the kind. This means that the president already has a grassroots powerhouse and the backing of the Republican megadonors, who could step in at any time.
Trump has two major things going for him
While Trump was the underdog in the last election, two things give him a major boost besides fundraising: the strong economy (assuming it still stays strong) and incumbency.
As Vox’s Dylan Scott explained, “the link between the economy and presidential approval has become ‘increasingly untethered,’” but political scientists still view this as a major factor in the 2020 presidential election. It’s also a trendline Trump can’t necessarily count on:
In general, GDP has been growing a little faster under Trump than it was at the end of Obama’s presidency. Leaving alone whether the president deserves any credit for that improvement, it would bode well for his reelection chances if it continues.
The question is whether it will. The Federal Reserve recently downgraded its GDP growth projections for 2019, from 2.3 percent to 2.1 percent, and for 2020, down to 1.9 percent. It’s not a guarantee, but those projections are a warning sign for the president.
The other major factor — incumbency — is also nothing to sneeze at. Vox’s Matt Yglesias put it simply:
[I]ncumbent presidents usually win reelection. So do incumbent members of Congress. The extraordinarily high reelection rate of House members has a lot to do with gerrymandering, of course, but studies show that incumbency effects are very real. Bob Corker’s decision not to run for reelection in 2018 is good news for Democrats not because Tennessee is a particularly promising terrain for a Democratic Party pickup, but because an open seat is inherently easier to win than one held by an incumbent.
Trump has a trifecta of fundraising, incumbency, and a strong economy going for him.
But Trump also has one major thing working against him: he’s unpopular
Trump’s approval rating, though it has gone up and down in the past two years, has remained stubbornly underwater — that is, more people disapprove of him than approve of him. And perhaps alarmingly for a president who likes to talk endlessly about his Electoral College win, he’s actually much more unpopular in the key states that tipped him over the top.
Morning Consult, which has been tracking Trump’s state-by-state approval ratings, shows him dipping underwater in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — all states that were crucial to Trump’s win.
This is, importantly, what handed Democrats their landslide victory in the House in 2018. They capitalized on some of Trump’s most unpopular policies: health care and his tax bill.
Still, he has a lot of time to improve. After all, the latest Gallup polling shows his approval rating at 45 percent, equaling the high-water mark of his entire presidency.
It’s still very early
While Obama only had $2 million in the bank at this point in his 2012 reelection campaign, he ultimately raised more than $1 billion. It’s still very early in the cycle.
But the newest fundraising numbers are the latest evidence that Trump, despite his consistently low approval ratings and barely varnished bigotry, will be hard to beat next year. And while Democrats spend the next year trying to best each other in a primary, his campaign will be able to focus on continuing to grow its war chest.
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