Donald Trump’s last fundraising haul was smaller than his fingers.
In the final three months of 2015, the former reality television star raised just $2.64 million for his presidential campaign, a $1.17 million decline from the third quarter, when he took in $3.18 million. For perspective, Jeb Bush—who polls behind Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson, and whom Trump has called “dumb as a rock”—managed to raise $7 million in the same time period.
The erstwhile Republican frontrunner may not exclusively rely on his grassroots donors to power his vanity project of a campaign, but the money donated to him is a good bar by which to measure how solid his support is. A crowd of 20,000 coming out to see him in Biloxi, Mississippi, could mean anything. It could mean those 20,000 people love him and will vote for him, or it could mean he was the most interesting show playing that night. But money is different. Most people don’t have enough of it to send it to someone they don’t believe in.
Trump’s financial slump began in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses, where he lost on Monday night, coming in second place to Cruz, despite holding an almost consistent lead in the polls for months. In hindsight, signs of Trump’s impending failure could be gleaned in his collapsing grassroots support, evident in the fundraising numbers, as well as in his weak ground game in the Hawkeye State.
“It’s counterintuitive,” one experienced campaign finance attorney said. “He kept going up higher in the polls, but contributions are going down, which would seem to indicate that press reports and negative ads that are running were having an effect, at least in a nationwide basis.”
A spokesperson for Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but the candidate has long advertised the fact that he is “self-funding” his campaign. It’s the central part of his message: He’s really, really rich; therefore, he won’t ever be dependent on donors or special interests, because he needs nothing from them.
What that means, in practice, is that he’s cutting his own endeavor checks while no longer accepting money from super PACs. He also isn’t actively attending fundraisers and incessantly begging his supporters, via email, to give just $5 more. But that doesn’t mean he won’t take your cash. He’d be happy to.
On DonaldJTrump.com, in the top right corner, there is a large blue button that says “DONATE.” Interested parties are invited to select an amount—$10, $25, $50, $100, $250, $1,000, $2,700, or “Other”—and they’re also asked if they would like to “make this a monthly contribution.”
Trump’s donors are many and varied. From 9/11 truthers and people who believe their loved ones have been murdered by the Illuminati to those who just find Trump entertaining and appreciate his attitude, there’s no one trait that defines them, except maybe defiance. Many of them are retired, but there are also lawyers, CEOs, and bounty hunters. In one instance, a man who gave $500 to Trump told me he did it because he was drunk.
In the first month of Trump’s campaign, which began in June, he took in nearly $1 million from people like this. His numbers climbed steadily after that. Until now.
The campaign finance attorney said Trump’s meager contributions and his loss Monday night suggest that “the long-awaited awakening of the populace” wished for by the Republican establishment, who have been unable to control their party’s nominating process, may finally be here: “You have last night’s caucus results to go, ‘Hmm. Sounds like voters might be having second thoughts.’”
Rick Shaftan, an über-conservative operative who runs Courageous Conservatives PAC, a super political action committee supporting Cruz, said Trump lacking other people’s cash tells you everything you need to know about his campaign.
“They just don’t even care,” Shaftan said. “They don’t care about grassroots fundraising. It’s not a real campaign—it’s a reality show. I think Iowa reflects that.”
Trump, for his part, told a New Hampshire rally on Monday night that he is going to put more money into his campaign: “‘I’m going to start spending a lot, for two reasons: 1) I don’t want to take any chances; 2) I feel guilty Jeb spent so much.”