In a strange election cycle of unexpected, unpredictable, often inexplicable events, here’s the latest topper: The richest presidential candidate has money trouble.
If the real-estate mogul with all the big buildings and the mouth to match really wants to win the White House — as opposed to simply blowing up the party of Abraham Lincoln — he’s going to need more than a billion dollars for the general election campaign starting July 22.
Acquiring that much money that quickly is a bigger, more crucial challenge than all others.
Well, you say, Trump claims to have $10 billion, maybe more. We don’t really know because he hasn’t released his taxes. Trump boasts of being self-funded since the start. That’s not really accurate, either.
Having effectively clinched the GOP nomination, Trump reneged on self-funding, saying he'll begin accepting donations because he’s reluctant to sell “a couple of buildings.”
Trump is very late to fundraising. Most presidential candidates establish money-raising operations two years out. Trump’s got 10 weeks until the national convention in Cleveland. He’s just now talking with the Republican National Committee about joint fundraising.
Trump has four weeks until Hillary Clinton and her veteran fundraisers launch a nearly $100 million assault of attack ads to define him before he does. This tactic worked beautifully against that heartless-capitalist-vulture Mitt Romney in 2012 since the nominee-to-be was unable to respond. Again, that money thing.
Bernie Sanders, and Ron Paul before him, revealed the power of online fundraising from fervent followers.
With only a big DONATE button on his website, Trump has taken in — and spent — $12 million along with $35 million of his own money, which the Art of the Deal author has technically loaned himself, subject to repayment from donations. You don’t get and keep billions without planning ahead.
Trump recently announced his chief fundraiser, Steve Mnuchen, another longtime Democratic donor from Wall Street. But there’s another problem: Trump has spent nearly a year vilifying wealthy political donors as greedy special interests seeking favors. Much as he admits doing for years.
Now that Trump needs them, it’s OK?
One, they don’t trust him. Trump’s unorthodox primary run destroyed an entire field of highly qualified Republicans for whom these GOP donors raised hundreds of millions.
Two, they see nothing conservative about the man who for years has been a wealthy benefactor of liberal causes and Democrats, including the woman he'll be running against.
And three, the landslide defeat of Trump, which current polls predict, would also sweep away a large army of down-ticket Republicans who were painstakingly assembled over many years at great cost. Perhaps a better investment this year is to bolster them.
And, anyway, how will beseeching big money go over with grass-roots Trumpers? Organizing bundlers? Authorizing PACs? Isn’t this a betrayal of the standard politician Trump claims not to be?
Through April, the Clinton network going back to Arkansas had raised $217 million, lunch money in real estate perhaps but a giant head start for one campaign. Plus her Priorities USA super PAC has another $67 million to add to political spending by labor unions, Planned Parenthood and others.
Having said he’d need a billion bucks, Trump added, “I’m not even sure that’s necessary because I have a big voice.” Very true. Some estimates say the media magnet has gotten nearly a quarter-billion dollars in free exposure since last June.
But that was over 11 months. Fewer than six remain until Nov. 8. And Trump has no ground game. No policy shop. No opposition research arm.
The RNC can help. But all that takes money, a lot of money. Without it, the bombastic billionaire risks becoming the worst imaginable thing in his own world — a loser.
Andrew Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s.