Last time Donald Trump ran for president, he was an upstart, outsider, unlikely to win, who put some $66 million of his own into that successful unorthodox campaign.
This time is different, very different. He’s an incumbent commander-in-chief with no real challengers and the Republican National Committee is fully on his side. So, it seems, are a lot of small donors.
While media ooh and aah over the $24.8 million collected in the second quarter by Pete Buttigieg, the Trump campaign and the RNC took in $105 million — $54 million from the campaign and its allied fundraising committees and $51 million from the RNC.
As of last Sunday, the campaign had $56 million cash on hand, compared to $18.8 million for Barack Obama at this point in 2011. As the incumbent, Obama put those funds to good use in mid-2012, advertising heavily to define the underfunded Mitt Romney in voters’ minds as he emerged from the primaries.
In total last time, Trump collected $350.7 million, just 60 percent of the $585.7 million raised by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, estimates they’ll need a billion dollars this time.
The advantage such sums bring Trump is that an entire year in advance his team can focus on next year’s general election, building grassroots organizations, online ads and operations.
Meanwhile, across the road, two dozen Democrats are competing for the same donors and criticizing each other and, Joe Biden aside, trying to build national name recognition.
If some of the lesser-known candidates raise sufficient funds, they can stretch the expensive competition out into the primary season next spring, diluting resources and media attention while the president employs his proven skills as media magnet.
Such a lengthened competition also leaves less time for unification efforts after a Democratic nominee is, in effect, selected.
Trump will preside over the national July 4th TV presentation Thursday evening and announced another of his trademark rallies next Wednesday in Greenville, N.C., his second there and 26th in that state since 2015.
His campaign officials said they received 725,000 donations from individuals online with an average of $4. That kind of small donor enthusiasm is unheard of in GOP politics. They said it was the first time the RNC drew a larger share of small donors under $200 than its Democratic counterpart.
While Trump’s base has been staunchly loyal in the low-to-mid-40 percent range, the majority disapproving of his job performance have also remained stubbornly steady. That raises the question of how susceptible to convincing they are regardless of campaign chests.