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Trump’s Small Donor Base Appears to Finally Be a Bit Tapped Out

He’s having to hit up billionaires and Wall Street more than ever before, and it sure looks like he’s making some deals.

Former President Donald Trump attends an election night watch party at Mar-a-Lago on March 5, 2024, in Palm Beach, Florida.

Back in 2000 when Donald Trump first tested the waters of a presidential campaign by giving a series of speeches as a possible Reform Party candidate, he famously told Forbes Magazine, “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.” He was speaking at the time about a weird deal he had going with motivational speaker Anthony Robbins in which he timed his political appearances around paid seminars that Robbins paid him a million bucks to give. By the time he decided to run for real in 2015, he didn’t publicly suggest that he could make money campaigning but he did make the case that he was incorruptible saying, “I don’t need anybody’s money.” (He’d obviously figured out that that real graft was to be made once he was in the White House.)

He pledged to spend a hundred million of his own money on his run but contributed only about $66 million out of $398 million so Trump didn’t “self-fund” by a long shot. In 2020 he didn’t use any of his own money at all instead raising $774 million for the campaign with the RNC and his Super PACs raising much more. (The 2020 election was by far the most expensive in history, doubling the record-breaking 2016 campaign.) His spending in that campaign was so profligate that it ended up having a cash crunch in the months before the election.

Still, the myth persists among the MAGA faithful that Trump is incorruptible because he’s allegedly a self-made billionaire and doesn’t need anyone’s money. (And even though they believe this, they’ve been sending him their own hard-earned cash just because they love him so much.)

Back in 2019, Politico reported on research showing that this myth has had some pretty serious political consequences:

Using a 2017 University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, we found that believing Trump was not born “very wealthy” leads to at least a 5-percentage-point boost in the president’s job approval, even after considering the many factors that can influence public approval ratings. This shift is rooted in the belief that his humble roots make Trump both more empathetic (he “feels my pain”), and more skilled at business (he is self-made and couldn’t have climbed to such heights without real business know-how).

When voters were informed of the truth, that Trump was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and had to be bailed out repeatedly by his father, there were “noticeable and statistically significant effects on evaluations of Trump’s character,” losing 10 percentage points from Republicans on empathy and 10 points on business acumen. “Our research shows that the basic information plugged-in elites take for granted is not known by many Americans, and can be consequential in political evaluations,” the researchers concluded. Imagine that.

The following video has gone viral on social media the last couple of days and it shows what might have been if all journalists had been as aggressive as Barbara Walters was in 1990 when she confronted Trump with his recent business failure (just one of many more to come) and the lies he was telling the public:

You’ll notice that his persecution complex was in full effect even then, as he whines to Walters that nobody’s ever been treated as unfairly as he has been.

Trump has been dancing as fast as he can for decades, trying to stay one step ahead of bankruptcy and the law and he has been successful at doing it, apparently leading him to truly believe that he could always prevail by sheer force of will. When the 2020 election didn’t go his way, his fragile psyche couldn’t take it and he simply created an alternate reality in order to cope. Now he’s faced with the greatest challenge of his life, and he has to make one great hail mary pass in order to keep himself from going broke and out of prison. He has to win the presidency and he desperately needs money to pay his own legal expenses and finance his campaign. It’s not going all that well.

The wheels of justice are grinding infuriatingly slowly, largely due to some judges (and Supreme Court justices) who seem to be happy to help Trump out of his immediate criminal jam. But the civil judgments against him add up to more than half a billion dollars and nobody knows exactly what kind of collateral he’s having to put up to post the required bonds or who might be acting as his benefactor. The potential for corruption is so immense it’s stunning that anyone could have the chutzpah to run for president under these circumstances. But then again, this is Trump we’re talking about and the White House is his guaranteed get-out-of-jail-free card.

But what about his campaign? Considering his precarious personal financial situation there’s no way that Trump will be self-funding any part of it and he’s commandeered the RNC for his personal use, most likely to help him pay for any lawyers who won’t allow him to stiff them. So, according to the New York Times, he’s having to hustle like crazy for campaign donations:

One of the most pressing issues facing Mr. Trump is the financial disparity he and allied groups now face with Mr. Biden and the Democratic Party. Mr. Biden’s campaign announced on Sunday that it entered March with $155 million cash on hand with the party, after raising $53 million in February. The Trump operation has not released a more recent total, but his campaign account and the Republican National Committee had around $40 million at the end of January.

He’s having to hit up billionaires and Wall Street more than ever before and it sure looks like he’s making some deals, such as his abrupt turnaround on banning TikTok last week after meeting with one of their major investors. This is because so far, his small donor base appears to finally be a little bit tapped out. The campaign claims that February will be its strongest month for small dollar fundraising which would beat the $22.3 million in August. But as the Times pointed out, the Biden campaign is seeing a massive rush of small donor money, raising more than $10 million online after the State of the Union, more than doubling Trump’s much-ballyhooed haul of $4.2 million from his ignominious mug shot.

How can it be that Biden is raising so much more money when we are told daily that Trump voters are overwhelmingly excited while Biden’s are disconsolate and depressed? Well, money isn’t everything and incumbency always has an edge in the money game but it does seem odd that with Trump holding a slight lead in many of the polls he would be having trouble raising money while the Democrats are awash in cash.

Perhaps Biden voters are more enthused than is commonly recognized or, just as likely, are more terrified of another Trump term. But maybe it’s also the case that Trump’s rapturous followers aren’t as representative of Republican voters as they would have us believe. And just maybe people have heard a few things about Trump being indicted on 91 felony counts in several different criminal cases and being hit with over half a billion dollars in fines. Is it possible that people are still telling pollsters they support Trump but they aren’t putting their cash where their mouths are? I wouldn’t be surprised. Sometimes money does speak louder than words.

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