And Trump’s fundraising machine got a boost in recent days as House Democrats endorsed an impeachment inquiry. It brought in $8.5 million dollars online in the two days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formalized the impeachment push. Since last week, the reelection campaign has sent out millions of emails and texts asking small-dollar donors to help fight back. The campaign said it had attracted 50,000 new givers in the same 48 hours.
The party’s cash-on-hand total is particularly substantial: Republicans pointed out that the $156 million figure is more than twice as much as former President Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee had at the same point before the 2012 election.
The RNC has consistently outraised the DNC by large margins this year, and the GOP committee had $53.8 million on hand at the end of August, compared with the DNC’s $8.2 million. Four Democratic presidential candidates have released third-quarter fundraising numbers so far: Bernie Sanders ($25.3 million), Pete Buttigieg ($19.1 million), Kamala Harris ($11.6 million), and Cory Booker ($6 million).
Trump’s eye-popping third quarter shocked some Democrats who have been arguing that their party needs to do more to prepare for the general election, especially online. The president regularly pours millions into advertising on the internet, especially on Facebook: Trump spent $4.4 million on Facebook advertising alone over the past 90 days. The biggest Democratic group countering Trump online, Priorities USA Action, spent a quarter as much as the Trump campaign on Facebook during that time; other major Democratic organizations did not have major ad campaigns running on Facebook.
“They’re spending a lot of money to rally their base and keep them engaged. This is the thing that makes me lose sleep at night — that we do not have a counter effort to combat that,” said Tara McGowan, CEO of the progressive nonprofit ACRONYM. “It’s scary to think about how much groundwork he’s laying this early in the race.”
While most party insiders are focused on the primary, a faction of Democrats argue that more money and attention needs to go toward early anti-Trump spending that has failed to materialize thus far.
“Democrats — especially Democratic outside groups — need to fill the void especially before we have a nominee, so that Trump does not use his massive war chest to define himself and the nominee before we know who that person is,” said Patrick McHugh, executive director of Priorities USA.
The impeachment debate, McHugh said, will only make it more difficult for Democrats to break through to voters on messages that depart from the news of the day in Washington. “It makes it all the more imperative for us to continue communicating with voters in these states around health care and taxes and the economy. Because otherwise voters are not going to hear about the harm that Trump has done,” McHugh said.
The bulk of Trump’s online spending thus far has focused on acquiring new donors, not persuading voters to support his reelection in 2020. But Trump has built a highly sophisticated online fundraising machine, and Democrats fear he will soon spend the record sums he’s raised on courting undecided voters in swing states — all before the Democratic Party decides on its nominee.
Republicans are also using their cash advantage to start a national field program now, with staffers being deployed to an array of swing states. The party is also investing in traditionally blue states the president is hoping to put into contention.
The Trump campaign and RNC have also begun a $10 million TV advertising effort aimed at highlighting former Vice President Joe Biden’s ties to Ukraine and pressuring swing district Democrats who backed the impeachment inquiry.
In a statement, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said “boycotts from Hollywood liberals and Democrats’ shameful attacks on private citizens” boosted GOP fundraising.
“We are investing millions on the airwaves and on the ground to hold House Democrats accountable, highlight their obstruction, and take back the House and re-elect President Trump in 2020,” McDaniel said.