Trump's historic May fundraising debacle

The numbers are so feeble as to almost defy belief but there’s no point arguing about this. If you’re on the Trump train, your confidence in him after the primary is absolute. All the same criticisms were tossed at him then — he’s not raising money, he’s not building a ground game, he’s not investing in data — and he routed a deep field. Never mind that the general electorate is demographically starkly different from the primary one; never mind that he’s facing one opponent for the duration this time instead of a splintered field of 16; never mind that Hillary will be rolling in dough to a degree that someone like Cruz or Marco Rubio could only have dreamed of in the spring. To back Trump is to believe that the special sauce that won him the nomination, political incorrectness plus billions in free media coverage, necessarily will win him the election because he’s leading a revolt of “the people” and the people can’t be denied. Romney raised $76 million(!) in May 2012 and ended up with only 21 more electoral votes than McCain did four years earlier because the people weren’t on his side. Why not try a bold new populist scheme this time in which the nominee raises, er, next to nothing?

As bad as the numbers are, though, they’re not the worst part.

Mr. Trump began June with just $1.3 million in cash on hand, a figure more typical for a campaign for the House of Representatives than the White House. He trailed Hillary Clinton, who raised more than $28 million in May, by more than $41 million, according to reports filed late Monday night with the Federal Election Commission.

He has a staff of around 70 people — compared with nearly 700 for Mrs. Clinton — suggesting only the barest effort toward preparing to contest swing states this fall. And he fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, on Monday, after concerns among allies and donors about his ability to run a competitive race.

The Trump campaign has not aired a television advertisement since he effectively secured the nomination in May and has not booked any advertising for the summer or fall.

He raised $3.1 million for the month despite becoming the party’s presumptive nominee after the Indiana primary on May 4th. He had 27 days, nearly four full weeks, to make nice with Republican donors and to start pounding his populist base with e-mails asking for donations. What did he do with his time over those four weeks? His first fundraising e-mail, promising to match donations dollar for dollar, went out today. It’s one thing to believe in the special sauce and shrug all of this off as unnecessary, as foolish as that would be, but Trump’s not doing that. He concedes that money needs to be raised and that he can’t rely entirely on the RNC for his turnout effort. An organization needs to be built. What is he waiting for?

As I say, the bottom-line numbers aren’t the worst part. This is the worst part.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign paid more than $1 million last month to companies controlled by the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, according to reports the Trump campaign filed late Monday with the Federal Election Commission.

The figure represents payments for facilities rental, catering, monthly rents and utilities at more than a half-dozen Trump-owned companies and properties. It includes nearly $350,000 that the Trump campaign paid a Trump-owned company, TAG Air, for the use of Trump’s private jets and helicopters.

The most striking expenditure in the new filings was $423,372, paid by the Trump campaign for rentals and catering at Trump’s 126-room Palm Beach, Florida, mansion, Mar-A-Lago, which Trump operates as a private club.

Here’s an incomplete itemized list of which Trump properties got paid by the campaign and how much. One of the easiest things Trump could do to encourage rich donors to chip in is to assure them that their money will go towards defeating Clinton, not towards reimbursing him for his own expenses. The most dramatic gesture he could make on that point would be to forgive the $40 million in loans he’s already made to the campaign, converting that into an outright gift. He hasn’t done that yet. Failing that, he could refuse to use campaign funds to cover expenses incurred by his own business holdings, applying the money instead to ads or data hires or what have you. He’s not doing that either. Note that the expenditure for Mar-a-Lago alone was equal to roughly one-third of the total cash on hand Trump’s campaign now has; by comparison to the $400K he spent on the club, he spent just $48,000 on data management and $115,000 on online advertising. He spent more on hats. Is this a campaign or, as some Trump critics like to say, a scampaign?

And why is a man allegedly worth $10 billion in this position at all? He’s 70. He’s one of two people in the world with a chance to lead the most powerful country in the world. He could liquidate 20 percent of his supposed fortune, dwarf Hillary and the Democrats in campaign spending overnight, and still have enough left over for a multi-billion-dollar inheritance for each of his five kids. There’s no reason not to ante up. Either he’s not worth remotely what he claims to be worth or he’s willing to gamble away a chance at the presidency to prove the point that a national election can be won on a shoestring budget. If you’re a Trump fan, convinced that he’s a national savior who’s going to singlehandedly make America great again, how do you feel about him not using every resource at his disposal to defeat the left? Lefty Paul Waldman is right about this:

[W]hile we sometimes overstate the degree to which the management of a campaign is a test of how a candidate would run the country, in Trump’s case it’s an unavoidable analogy. With his lack of experience in politics, people might not have expected Trump to devise the best voter contact strategy or delegate management operation. But if nothing else, at least he should have been able to assemble and oversee a well-run organization and raise a lot of money. Instead, he’s failing at exactly the things he’s supposed to be so good at…

[R]aising money isn’t going to get much easier. Think about how you’d feel if you were a big Republican donor considering whether to donate to Trump. You probably didn’t want him to be the party’s nominee in the first place. His campaign looks like a disaster. And yet he’s constantly saying he doesn’t need anyone’s money. So why would you break out your checkbook?

As Nate Silver put it, no one wants to pick up the check for a guy who’s constantly bragging about how rich he is. By boasting not just about his wealth but how that wealth supposedly immunizes him from special interests, Trump’s boxed himself in now to where he either needs to pony up a huge haul of money he doesn’t really have (or doesn’t want to part with) or he needs to go hat in hand to those same special interests and let voters conclude that he’s not immune after all. Trump’s core fans will excuse him for that because they’ll excuse him for anything but undecideds will wonder. The fundraising will certainly get better — he’s already raised something like $8-$12 million this month now that he’s started to put some effort into it — but as noted above, Romney took in $76 million during the same period. I wonder if, after becoming presumptive nominee, Trump convinced himself he could win the election by raising next to nothing and building little more than a skeleton organization, simply by applying the formula he used in the primary to the general. His poll slide over the last few weeks might have shaken him out of that stupor. It’s good that something did, but now he’s far behind. And I mean far.

Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire has a nice rundown of the other lowlights from Trump’s FEC report. As for the RNC, they’re doing a little better than Trump is, with $20 million now in the bank. Four years ago it was … $60 million. And Trump will need more of that $20M to fill the gaps in his own campaign than Romney needed of the $60M. Good luck, down-ballot Republicans.

Update: Trump continues to tease the idea of him cutting a big check if need be. Hillary has a $116 million lead in ad spending. Define “need.”

A huge donation now would give donors confidence that he really is in it to win it. Think of it as an investment. Why won’t he invest?

We haven’t even started yet, he says. Right. Why not? He’s been the nominee for the past 48 days.

Update: A WSJ analysis last month concluded that Trump likely has somewhere between $78 million and $232 million in liquid assets, enough to live large but not nearly enough to match what Hillary’s going to bring in. If he wants to self-fund, he’ll have to sell assets.