CLEVELAND – Donald Trump is generally not thought of as poor or friendless. But by the standards of a modern-day presidential candidate, he is both, and the Republican National Convention that nominated him for president proves it.
Many of the loyal Republican fundraisers who have fueled the campaigns of recent decades, such as Buffalo’s Anthony Gioia, are nowhere to be found. Neither are most of the lobbyists for banks and hedge funds who typically celebrate Republican conventions by throwing lavish parties for denizens of the 1 percent.
And as a result, Trump is likely to continue to be exactly what he has been since he entered the race for the White House a year ago: a dynamic candidate with a threadbare, underfunded campaign, one without the army of staff members who work hard to prevent mistakes such as, oh, plagiarized words in a speech by Melania Trump.
Of course, you can look at Trump’s lack of big-money ties as a plus. As of the end of May, 72 percent of Trump’s campaign cash had come out of his own pocket. Nobody can say he is bought.
But this is presidential politics, a zero-sum game where the players can’t declare bankruptcy and start all over again right away. Instead, they have to wait for four years.
That fact prompts Gioia, a key fundraiser for the last three Republican nominees who is sitting out this year’s race, to offer a prediction about Trump. “If he doesn’t raise money, he can’t win,” he said.
If you don’t think the Trump campaign is short of cash, just look at the hard numbers, which, for Trump, are very, very hard.
As of the end of May, Democrat Hillary Clinton had raised $229.3 million – while Trump raised only $63.1 million. Complete fundraising figures for June are not yet available, but the Trump campaign has said it raised $26 million, compared to the $40 million the Clinton campaign reported.
As of the end of May, pro-Clinton super PACs had outraised their pro-Trump counterparts by more than 25-to-1.
By the looks of things around Cleveland, Trump’s bottom line isn’t likely to get any better anytime soon.
Gioia is back in Buffalo, sitting out the presidential election and worrying about everything from Trump’s stance on trade to his tendency to change his mind as often as he changes his tie.
David and Charles Koch, the Lennon and McCartney of GOP donors, are nowhere to be found, either, four years after David Koch proudly held court in the middle of the New York delegation. Even though the Kochs have backed Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, there’s no sign that his selection on the ticket will change their decision to focus their funds on Senate races this year.
Big banks such as Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase – routine sponsors of conventions past – refused to support this year’s GOP gathering, just as most Wall Street donors are shunning Trump, partly because of his promise to reinstitute the law that long ago prevented banks from selling securities.
So how bad are things for Trump on Wall Street, which is traditionally a money spigot for Republican presidential candidates? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the 2012 Republican nominee – former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – raised 100 times more from Wall Street than Trump has so far.
Of course, Trump has some friends with deep pockets. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson is supporting him, as is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and PayPal founder Peter Thiel.
That being the case, Trump will raise enough money to be credible and competitive, said a GOP source who has been involved in presidential campaigns in the past. Given Trump’s massive name recognition and the media coverage he garners, that GOP source said, Trump could even be outraised by 4-to-1 but still have a chance of winning.
But given that a good, modern turn-out-the-vote effort – which Trump probably won’t be able to afford – can make all the difference in a close race, it’s also possible that Trump’s cash shortfall could cost him the election.
“It’s going to be hard for him to get through the general election without the support of high-end donors,” said one longtime Republican fundraiser who isn’t involved in the Trump campaign, because so many donors are just plain uninterested in giving.
In fact, it’s possible his cash shortfall already cost him.
An employee of the Trump Organization, Meredith McIver, said Wednesday that she worked with Melania Trump on the speech that included words from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. McIver took the fall for the error, but a staffer on past presidential campaigns said that such an error would never happen on a fully staffed campaign. The Trump campaign, of course, is by no means fully staffed. Federal records show that Clinton’s campaign had nearly 700 employees at the end of May, while Trump’s had only 70.
In other words, in politics, as in the rest of the free market, you usually get what you pay for – and trouble can come on the cheap.