I’ll be the first to admit I did not see this coming. Back when it was announced Trump had appointed ex-Goldman Sachs banker, Steven Mnuchin, to be his national finance chairman, I assumed this would mean Hillary Clinton-esque oligarch pandering would rapidly ensure. Surprisingly (to me), this has not really been the case.
Indeed, when it comes to raising money from small donors, Trump may have a little Bernie Sanders in him.
Donald Trump has unleashed an unprecedented deluge of small-dollar donations for the GOP, and one that Republican Party elders have dreamed about finding for much of the last decade as they’ve watched a succession of Democrats — Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and, to a lesser extent, Hillary Clinton — develop formidable fundraising operations, $5, $10 and $20 at a time.
Trump has only been actively soliciting cash for a few months, but when he reveals his campaign’s financials later this week they will show he has crushed the total haul from small-dollar donors of the last two Republican nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney — during the entirety of their campaigns.
Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has an actual political movement behind him. John McCain and Mitt Ronmey did not, and neither does Hillary Clinton.
All told, Trump is approaching, and has possibly already passed, $100 million from donors who have given less than $200, according to an analysis of available Federal Election Commission filings, the campaign’s public statements and people familiar with his fundraising operation. It is a threshold no previous Republican has ever achieved in a single campaign. And Trump has done so less than three months after signing his first email solicitation for donors on June 21 — a staggering speed to collect such a vast sum.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said a senior Republican operative who has worked closely with the campaign’s small-dollar fundraising operation. “He’s the Republican Obama in terms of online fundraising.”
Clinton counted 2.3 million donors as of the end of August, the result of decades of campaigning, a previous presidential bid and allies who painstakingly built her an email file of supporters even before she formally announced her second run. But Trump had zoomed to 2.1 million donors in the last three months alone, his campaign has said.
The question now is what the gusher means for the GOP. The Republican National Committee, through a deal struck with Trump in May, is getting 20 percent of the proceeds from its small-donor operation for Trump plus access to this invaluable new donor and email file. But can Trump’s candidacy help close the Republican Party’s small-donor divide in one fell swoop? Will these donors — 2.1 million and counting — give to other Republicans? Will they drag the Republican Party in Trump’s direction for years to come? Or, if he loses, will they simply vanish?
Is this actually a real question? Trump’s entire popularity is fueled by the fact he has gone against so much of what was considered mainstream GOP orthodoxy. If Trump wins the Presidency, Donald Trump is the GOP.
Trump has found record-setting success as the first Republican nominee “in the Internet age” to have made empowering the grassroots and railing against the elite a core of his campaign message, Finn said. Going forward, the key is if his donors can be convinced to give to a candidate with just a bit less bombast. “Can you be a populist without being a barnburner?” she asked. “And thus still be able to raise this kind of money.”
“People are pouring in and we’re having to manage the inflow,” said one of the operatives familiar with the Trump operation.
“I would just put it in the perspective of they’re still not doing as well as they should be doing and they’re doing too little too late,” said Kenneth Pennington, who served as digital director for Bernie Sanders. “Once they start copying some of things Democrats are doing, then I’ll get worried.”
Like what, cheating?
In an atypical arrangement for a presidential campaign, the RNC is actually taking a cut of all the small-dollar fundraising done through its joint committee with Trump (Romney received 100 percent of the joint committee’s small donations, in contrast). The agreement was struck back in May, when Trump emerged as the nominee with little infrastructure or experience to execute a large-scale digital operation. As a result, the RNC will end 2016 will access to a far larger email and donor file than ever before.
“A lot of them probably don’t realize that 20 percent of the money goes to the RNC otherwise they probably wouldn’t give,” said one of the operatives who has worked with Trump and the RNC. “People are giving money to the joint fundraising committee because Donald Trump’s name is on it.”
That is the catch-22 for a Republican establishment that, thanks to Trump, is now awash in a potentially powerful list of new givers — the energy and money is for the anti-establishment candidates.
So what does all of this mean? For one thing, a great deal of power comes with the ability to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from small donors. The oligarchs that control and essentially write most government legislation through their lobbyists, obviously don’t want candidates raising a lot of money from average Americans since that reduces their power. Indeed, the willingness and ability to fund his campaign from small donors was a huge part of the appeal of Bernie Sanders, and why he was able to capture the hearts and minds of tens of millions of Americans.
Taking it one step further, the larger the percentage of total campaign funds that come from small donors, the more autonomy a President-elect has once in power. He or she won’t owe as many favors, and can truly stick it to the corrupt, unethical oligarchs who deserve it most.
As such, the billion dollar question is…