WASHINGTON, D.C. -
With less than 50 days until Republican voters begin the process of determining their nominee to take on President Joe Biden, a storm is brewing within the GOP. Donald Trump’s iron grip on the party and the polls remains unquestioned, but GOP super-donors are rapidly aligning behind surging candidate, Nikki Haley.
Long-time mega-donors, including banking titan Jamie Dimon and billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, are using their financial might and influence to corral other elite donors to back the former South Carolina governor in her quest to become the Republican standard bearer.
This financial realignment signals a break with the mercurial 45th president, even as Trump remains firmly entrenched atop the GOP. More troubling for the former commander-in-chief, donors closing their wallets to his presidential aspirations portends a looming cash crunch just as the voters are preparing to make their choice.
Latest figures paint very different financial pictures for the political arms assisting their respective nominees. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) currently holds a nearly two-to-one money advantage with US$17 million cash on hand. Its counterpart, the Republican National Committee (RNC) currently has US$9 million in cash on hand as of the latest quarterly reports.
Additionally, in the latest filings to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Biden campaign reported raising nearly US$72 million. A number that closely matches fundraising totals of all GOP presidential candidates combined, including Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
Without a (credible) primary challenger and taking full advantage of the privileges incumbency affords, President Biden is winning the vaunted money race for 2024. A stark contrast to a GOP frontrunner whose astronomical burn rate is already leading to massive deficits even before the first ballots are cast.
When asked about these fundraising numbers, DNC National Press Secretary Sarafina Chitka issued a statement, saying in part: "The American people are watching the implosion of the Republican Party on the campaign trail and in the House every day, and then chipping in for Democrats so that we can continue to build up the operation that will reelect President Biden and Vice President Harris and elect Democrats up and down the ballot in 2024…”
The RNC and the Koch Brothers SuperPac, Americans for Prosperity, did not respond when asked about its fundraising efforts.
Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley addresses a gathering during a campaign stop at a brewery, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Meredith, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Meanwhile, surging Nikki Haley has locked up industry leaders and establishment dollars hesitant to support a Trump candidacy due to his mounting legal and criminal exposure. If the former South Carolina governor can translate her massive donor backing into actual voter success, it is quite possible she could force Trump's hand, putting pressure on the perennial frontrunner to choose between spending on his mounting legal cases or financing his political campaign.
Haley has seen her polling position rise as she is seeking to overtake Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to become the clear choice for second place in many national and state polls. Should her recent surge continue, it could put her within striking distance of her former boss.
However, Trump's decision to forgo participation in the last GOP primary debate, just weeks before voters convene, suggests his lead is secure (for now). Yet, what is not secure, is Trump's ability to viably finance a presidential campaign through a general election against well-financed candidates both during the primary and general election, all the while mounting effective defences in multiple courtrooms across multiple jurisdictions.
In fact, history has a way of repeating itself and for the Trump team, it is deja vu all over again. In 2020, even with the tremendous advantage of incumbency and a four-year head start, the Trump campaign's billion-dollar war chest evaporated long before votes were cast in November of that year. This gaping financial hole left then-President Trump scrambling to stay afloat.
Now, with Haley and Democrats awash in campaign contributions heading into next year, the Trump campaign has no obvious money advantages to stay solvent against these financial juggernauts. The spectacle of criminal trials will certainly earn the real estate mogul copious amounts of free media, but it is unlikely to boost him beyond the roughly 35%-44% base of support he already receives from his adoring political fan base.
According to filing data, the Trump campaign has approximately US$35.5 million cash-on-hand. It’s certainly more available resources than any other Republican candidate remaining in the field. However, Haley’s financial fortunes are changing for the better. Add her newfound financial disposition along with President Biden continuously outpacing the entire GOP field and Trump is facing steep demand for campaign cash.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a Commit to Caucus rally, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Ankeny, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)
Still, President Biden or even Nikki Haley are not Donald Trump's immediate concern. After a careful review of federal election reports, the ex-president is spending 30 cents of every dollar on legal fees and criminal-related investigations. According to FEC records, US$27 million raised by the various political action committees and campaign entities connected to Trump have gone to lawyers.
More alarming, through August of 2023, all Trump-controlled political entities raised a combined US$67 million, but spent about US$90 million over the same period. Meanwhile, deep-pocketed Republican donors are preparing an avalanche of spending between now and January on someone not named Trump. This, as President Biden continues to raise and stockpile tens of millions for a fall showdown with the eventual Republican presidential nominee.
Donald Trump’s adroit control of the political narrative has fuelled his rise and made him competitive in the race for the White House. Yet, like all Trump-related narratives, it’s largely driven by smoke and mirrors. He projects confidence through demonstrations of bravado and strength, yet just beneath the surface reveals a dystopian operation severely hampered by the growing and persistent problems plaguing the man at the top.
The “fake it ‘til you make it” maxim has served Trump well, but the maniacal rate he is going through cash brings another mantra to mind; one that could bring this entire house of cards to a stunning and climactic end: “burn baby burn.”
Eric Ham is a bestselling author and former congressional staffer in the U.S. Congress. He served as a contributor to TheHill.com and The Washington Diplomat. He resides in Washington, DC.