Juggernaut rolls, for now: Trump, RNC raise $212M in Q1

Is there any stopping the Donald Trump/RNC campaign’s fundraising? Perhaps not, but the sudden economic stall slowed it up considerably. Nonetheless, the combined fundraising set a new record for the quarter, according to the Associated Press and both organizations.

The real question is whether the coronavirus lockdown will turn into a lockout for Joe Biden:

President Donald Trump’s record-setting fundraising pace slowed slightly amid the coronavirus outbreak but remained strong as he maintains a massive cash advantage over Democrats.

The Trump reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee raised more than $212 million in the first quarter of 2020, according to figures first obtained by The Associated Press, bringing their total to more than $677 million since 2017. Their haul for March, even as the nation’s economy began grinding to a halt to slow the pandemic, was more than $63 million.

That represented a slowing from the more than $86 million raised in February but nonetheless was Trump’s second-best month ever, and it kept his campaign on pace to maintain its massive fundraising advantage over Democrats.

If the fundraising game gets called on account of COVID-19, Trump will clearly be the winner. He has nearly a quarter-billion dollars cash on hand with six months to go before the election:

The pro-Trump effort will report having more than $240 million in the bank at the end of March — more than $40 million more than two months prior. The campaign has planned to raise more than $1 billion among itself, the RNC and associated joint fundraising committees.

Note too that nearly all of this is general-election money. Trump didn’t need to raise primary campaign funds, being all but unchallenged for the nomination. He and the RNC have always had the luxury of putting their cash away for the fight against whichever Democrat won their nomination.

Biden’s win creates a mismatch that is completely apparent from his campaign’s FEC filings. Even just comparing Biden to Trump on his own without the RNC, Biden only raised roughly a third of what Team Trump did in the 2019-2020 period, $88 million to $231 million. Both Bernie Sanders ($181M) and Elizabeth Warren ($122M) far outstripped Biden in fundraising, even though Warren barely lasted to the actual voting.

By the end of February, Biden had only $12 million cash on hand, and that was before Super Tuesday. His burn rate is around 86% in the primaries. And now Biden will have to start all over again to raise general-election funds, which he won’t be able to use until after the Democratic convention anyway.

How will Biden raise those funds? Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak and social distancing, it won’t be easy. Democrats plan to hold virtual fundraisers, and celebrities are starting to line up to make appearances, but technical issues keep derailing Biden. It’s still far from certain that telethons like this will raise any serious dough, especially for a candidate who’s stuck in his own basement. A big part of the cachet for raising campaign funds is the ability to meet the candidate in the flesh and perhaps even chat for a moment or two.

Trump technically faces the same obstacles, but that $240 million in the bank gives the incumbent a yuuuge head start. Trump and the RNC can also leverage the White House setting for some of its PR efforts (although they almost certainly can’t fundraise from there). Trump can stage virtual rallies to stoke the base if needed, but his daily press briefings will likely be his best asset for pushing the fundraising calls to stay the course in a crisis. Plus, Trump looks a lot more comfortable in front of a camera these days than Biden does.

As the economy continues to stall, the fundraising will dry up considerably anyway. That might be the worst news for Biden, who can only raise so much money from deep-pocket sources. If the grassroots fundraising dries up — a task at which Biden was never very good anyway — there’s no way for Democrats to catch up.

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