The pundits are going nuts over Donald Trump’s anemic fundraising.
They are stunned, shocked and horrified that his campaign raised just $3.1 million last month, and he had to lend the enterprise $2 million to cover costs.
“Trump Starts Summer Push with Staggering Money Deficit,” says the New York Times.
“Trump Getting Crushed by Clinton Money Machine,” says Politico.
“The real estate mogul's meager cash flow spotlighted the urgent need for him to dramatically ramp up the fundraising he is doing in conjunction with the Republican National Committee,” says the Washington Post.
So: The numbers are bad. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The split in the party means Republican donors are sitting on the sidelines.
Now the media usually overestimate the importance of money in politics. If big bucks were the determining factor, Jeb Bush, with his $100-billion campaign, would be the nominee.
Much of the money that general election candidates raise goes to TV ads. But the primaries showed that commercials mattered less this cycle than in decades, and with such well-defined nominees, that could again be the case.
And given Trump’s uncanny ability to dominate news coverage, I believe he could beat Hillary Clinton while raising half as much money.
But not while raising one-tenth as much money. His tiny campaign outfit was victorious with a media-driven primary campaign, but you’ve got to have a basic infrastructure to compete in a 50-state election—even on such basics as turning out your voters.
Trump began June with just $1.3 million cash on hand, according to federal reports.
By that measure, Clinton is $41 million ahead. And she raised more than $28 million in May. Her 700-person staff is 10 times the size of Trump’s. Of course, the real estate mogul has boasted to me and others that this means his operation is more efficient.
Trump told the “Today” show that he spent $55 million of his own money in the primaries and “may do that again in the general election,” though it would be “nice to have some help from the party.”
But Trump at one point was talking about having to raise a billion for the general election. He can’t foot that bill himself, even if he has mused about having “to sell a couple of buildings” to come up with some cash. And if he suddenly wrote the campaign a mega-check, wouldn’t that discourage donors from opening their wallets?
Here’s the difference between Trump’s ultra-lean staff, with campaign manager Corey Lewandowski now out, and Clinton’s sizable machine.
The Hillary camp barrages reporters with emails every day, often including negative excerpts about Trump from Republicans and from media reports. Trump, who doesn’t have a communications director, sends occasional emails that sometimes contain statements from the candidate but are mostly about scheduling.
When Clinton decided to give a speech yesterday ripping Trump on the economy, here’s what she did in advance.
Her campaign notified the press of a new website (“Art of the Steal”) with an elaborate attack on Trump’s business record, and posted an online video, which got some cable airtime, attacking that record.
Then the Hillary camp leaked details of the speech, and made Jake Sullivan, her top policy adviser, available to such outlets as the Times, the Post and Politico. Campaign manager Robby Mook previewed the speech on Sirius XM.
That’s what a big campaign apparatus does for you. Trump often seems a one-man band by comparison.
But this time, for the first time I can recall, Trump had a rapid-response operation ready. He fired up a tweetstorm and responded with an Instagram video. And his campaign sent out a barrage of releases.
More important, these statements weren't just insults from Trump, but contained policy arguments on his behalf and against his Democratic opponent. They had titles such as “THE CATASTROPHIC ECONOMIC RECORD UNDER CLINTON-OBAMA POLICIES” and “TRUMP ECONOMIC PLAN WILL CREATE MILLIONS OF JOBS & TRILLIONS IN NEW WEALTH.”
Maybe the campaign is turning a corner. Although the contrast was stark when Trump wanted to promote an address planned for today, doing so with a single tweet: “I will be making a big speech tomorrow to discuss the failed policies and bad judgment of Crooked Hillary Clinton.”
In the end, money isn't all that matters in winning elections. But Trump’s challenge now is to make sure a lack of money doesn’t cripple his campaign.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.