Trump squeezed by cash crunch in final election sprint
President Trump’s campaign faces a significant cash deficit against Democratic nominee Joe Biden less than two weeks out from Election Day, a stunning reversal of fortunes for a campaign that was once awash in cash.
Biden’s campaign came into October with more than $177 million in the bank, while the Trump campaign entered the final month with only $63.1 million. That’s a massive turn of events for the Trump campaign, which has raised and spent more than $1 billion this cycle. Trump started the year with more than $100 million in the bank, compared to less than $10 million for Biden.
The president’s grassroots fundraising and cash position once looked insurmountable, but now the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will enter the final stretch with more cash on hand than the incumbent president’s campaign.
Biden has been pressing that cash advantage in recent weeks, swamping Trump on the television airwaves. The president’s campaign simply cannot compete against Biden in paid media at a time when the president trails in a number of national, state and district level polls.
“You come into the final two weeks of a campaign, those numbers really tell you a story,” said Democratic National Committee member Robert Zimmerman. “It shows you who has the energy, the grassroots support, and the momentum.”
“The reality is that the emperor does [not] only not have any clothes, the emperor has no campaign budget,” he added.
The Trump campaign, under previous campaign manager Brad Parscale, spent enormous sums early in the year before Democrats had even nominated Biden.
Parscale boasted about flipping on the Trump campaign’s “Death Star” as he laid out money in ways that presidential campaigns never have before, including a $10 million Super Bowl advertisement that ran in February to match then-Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s own Super Bowl ad.
More recently, under new campaign manager Bill Stepien, the Trump campaign has spent millions on some of the priciest digital real estate on the internet, including a takeover of the YouTube homepage during the Democratic and Republican conventions in August.
Since 2019, the Trump campaign has directed more than $200 million to American Made Media Consultants. The campaign has not disclosed who owns the firm.
The Trump campaign has spent nearly $1 million at Trump-branded properties since the beginning of last year.
“A lot of that money [is] going to various consultants with exorbitant fees of which we will not know the sum total until after the election,” GOP strategist Doug Heye said. “It is not your typical campaign funding and it is not your typical consultant driven campaign.”
Heye said financial irresponsibility and spending too much early on in the campaign are the root of the Trump campaign’s cash problem.
Between April and July, the Trump campaign outspent the Biden campaign by $30 million. In August and September, with the clock ticking down to Election Day, the Biden campaign has outspent the Trump campaign by $215 million.
“If he is getting outspent in key states and the Biden campaign still has more resources that they can put in … that puts Trump at a disadvantage,” Heye said.
The Biden campaign has outraised the Trump campaign every month except for one in 2020 and they’ve been more frugal with their resources. The Biden campaign was slow to staff up and build out its digital team, causing some Democrats to worry they were falling too far behind. They also waited until later in the cycle to spend big on the airwaves.
Now Biden is outspending Trump by a nearly 2 to 1 margin on television ads, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, which found the Biden campaign running 80,000 spots over two weeks in late September and early October, compared to 32,000 for Trump.
While Trump’s splashy Super Bowl ad landed almost nine months ago, now it’s the Biden campaign creating expensive and buzzworthy content with a 60-second, slickly produced ad narrated by actor Sam Elliott that ran during the first game of the World Series this week.
“Although the impact of ads in presidential races tends to be fairly small, Biden’s consistent ad advantages of 2 to 1 or even 3 to 1 in the battleground states has to account for at least some of his expanding lead in the polls over the past few weeks,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.
The Trump campaign brushed off the notion the campaign was strapped for resources, telling The Hill they were ready for the final stretch of the campaign.
In conjunction with the Republican National Committee, the Trump campaign has invested heavily in its ground game, sending out volunteers to knock on doors throughout the pandemic at a time when the Biden campaign took their operations online.
The Trump campaign has also invested heavily on Facebook and Google, outspending the Biden campaign by $50 million since mid-April, according to data from the Wesleyan Media Project. Still, the two campaigns have spent a roughly equal amount on digital advertising in recent weeks as Biden has built up his cash advantage.
“We’re running a comprehensive campaign that incorporates our massive ground game, travel to key states, and ads on digital, TV, and radio,” said the Trump campaign’s national press secretary Samantha Zager. “Joe Biden has no field program to help rectify lagging Democrat vote-by-mail returns or erase the significant Republican voter registration gains we’re seeing.”
“As Hillary Clinton proved when she outspent us 2-to-1 in 2016, no amount of money can buy the presidency – voters have to be enthusiastic about casting their ballot for a candidate, and that’s only happening for President Trump,” Zager said.
Trump faces a larger deficit in the polls against Biden than he did against Clinton four years ago, making the final stretch of the 2020 race a greater climb for his campaign.
Democrats say Biden’s strength at this point in the campaign is in large part a result of a unified Democratic Party and a fervent base of liberal donors eager to see Trump chased from office.
“Even when we were all fighting for the same slice of the pie, we were outraising Trump every month and every quarter as a group,” said Mike Nellis, founder of Authentic Campaigns and a former senior adviser to Sen. Kamala Harris’s (D-Calif.) presidential campaign.
“Unifying the Democratic Party so quickly after Super Tuesday was really key to this,” he added.
The financial story at the presidential level appears to be reflected in down-ballot races, particularly at the Senate level, where a number of Democratic challengers have outraised Republican incumbents by huge margins.
“It is a tsunami of money coming in for Democrats, and it’s not the big checks,” Heye said. “It’s somebody who is giving $10 to seven different Senate races, and then giving another $25 two weeks later.”