Donald Trump needs Nikki Haley’s billionaires

Donald Trump Nikki Haley 12 23

Former President Trump has a money problem. The polls may be moving in his direction, with the latest Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll showing the former president ahead of President Biden by 6 points in the swing states, but the fundraising contest is not going nearly as well.

Just before the deadline, the Trump campaign reported raising only $19 million in the final quarter of 2023, ending the year with $33 million in the bank. By comparison, the Biden team hauled in $33 million during the period and finished out 2023 with $46 million in its coffers.

Including fundraising by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Biden raised $97 million in the final three months of the year, ending 2023 with $117 million on hand — the most of any Democratic candidate ever at this point in the race. The fourth-quarter haul surpassed the $72 million and $71 million takes in the second and third quarters respectively. Including outside groups, Trump’s war chest at year end totaled roughly $70 million.

Because the GOP primary is ongoing, with Nikki Haley still in the race, the Republican National Committee is unable to raise money for Trump. That is just one reason that the former president would like Haley to drop out.

He also would like Haley to exit the race to give him greater access to her deep-pocketed supporters. As much as Trump’s camp has blasted Haley for being in the pocket of “the billionaire donor class,” the truth is that the former president, and anyone else running for the Oval Office, needs to raise a boatload of money from such “one percenters.”

In 2020, the Trump campaign and outside groups raised nearly $1.1 billion, with 51 percent of his campaign contributions coming from large donations. His take from small donors was impressive and unprecedented, but not enough to mount a nationwide campaign.

Biden raised $1.6 billion; large contributions accounted for 61 percent of his campaign haul. Willie Sutton, when asked why he robbed banks, reportedly said, “because that’s where the money is.” Ditto billionaires and campaigns. 

In fact, even as he mocks Haley’s fundraising with the Wall Street crowd, Trump is courting his very own flock of billionaires. According to Politico reporting, the former president has recently entertained fellow hotel magnate Steve Wynn, who showed up on primary night in New Hampshire, and also visited with moguls Robert Bigelow and Don Ahern in Las Vegas. Trump has also courted Rebekah Mercer, a one-time donor. Trump, like Biden, is slated to soon hit up the Palm Beach crowd.

That’s not to say that Trump is not scoring with small donors. He is probably the first candidate in history to use his mug shot in a fund-raising appeal. Democrats have done an excellent job of turning Trump into a victim. Supporters consider many of the former president’s legal woes politically motivated. They are also incensed that Democrats in Colorado and Maine took him off the ballot, accusing him of trying to mount an insurrection on Jan. 6.

Winred, the principal online fundraising platform for Republicans, has reported that Trump raised $3.9 million April 4, 2023, when he was arraigned in Manhattan on charges related to paying hush money. That was his best day ever.

Not only did Trump raise less money than Biden last year, but he also spent a good amount on legal fees related to his numerous indictments and lawsuits. The Wall Street Journal reports that of the $188 million raised by Trump and supportive super PACs last year, about one-quarter went to paying off his lawyers and related expenses. Though the former president may eventually be exonerated on some of his 91 felony charges, or even if he is successful in dragging them out in court, the expenses of his defense will continue to drain his finances.

Moreover, Trump has spent considerable time inside courtrooms, which will continue, allowing him less time for fundraising.

Meanwhile, for all that Republicans find Biden’s intention of seeking four more years in the Oval Office utterly ludicrous, he has finally hit the campaign trail and, despite continued blunders and rhetorical stumbles, is raising tons of dough. He has hosted more than 100 fundraisers, including some 39 in last year’s final three months.

In addition to the money raised by the DNC and the candidate, a super PAC called Future Forward recently revealed that it has reserved TV and digital advertising rights for the post-convention election season mostly in toss-up states totaling $250 million — a huge commitment. A campaign memo revealed the ads would target “lower information, less-partisan voters,” in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Who are those lower-information voters? Apparently, the memo described the intended audience as including younger audiences, Hispanic and African American voters. Future Forward also came through for Biden in 2020, to the tune of $140 million.

It is not clear who funds Future Forward; it reportedly has no intention of revealing that information. So much for Democrats’ sanctimonious complaints about “dark money.”

Biden is enjoying the advantage of incumbency; he is not engaging in any primary contests, and his nomination is all but guaranteed barring a health crisis or some other unexpected event that would cause him to withdraw.

Trump does not have that advantage. By all accounts the former president is running a much more professional and well-organized campaign this time round, which has helped him easily defeat his primary rivals in Iowa and New Hampshire. But it all takes money.

And it will take discipline. After the New Hampshire primary, Trump huffily warned Wall Street bigwigs supporting Haley that they will be “permanently barred from the MAGA camp” if they continue to fund his last remaining challenger for the GOP nomination.

That is highly doubtful; Trump needs their support. Given the multiple disasters perpetrated by the Biden White House and widespread dismay that the weak president could win four more years, he may get it.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek. 

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