Donald Trump has one gigantic advantage heading into this year’s presidential election. It’s one the sitting President has thoroughly earned.
There is one thing Donald Trump indisputably does far better than his opponent in this year’s presidential election, Joe Biden.
Come up with juvenile yet incredibly catchy nicknames.
Actually, I lied. There are at least two things he does better than Sleepy J-, ahem, Mr Biden. And the second one will play a crucial role in determining who wins in November.
I’m talking about fundraising. Mr Trump is astonishingly good at raising money.
The latest reports filed with America’s Federal Election Commission show Mr Biden and the Democratic Party started May with about $US100 million in cash reserves, according to CNN. Mr Trump and the Republican Party, meanwhile, had $255 million.
That is a monstrous advantage, and it’s one the sitting President has thoroughly earned.
Mr Trump may have been slow to react to the coronavirus compared to other world leaders, but when it comes to his re-election campaign, he has been more proactive than any other president in history.
He essentially started to run for re-election as soon as he was sworn into office, back in January of 2017.
In the same week as his inauguration, Mr Trump applied for a trademark on the slogan for his 2020 campaign, “Keep America Great”. To say that was a sign of things to come would be quite the understatement.
Mr Trump held eight of them during his first year.
He started to build up his resources for 2020 two years before any Democrat even announced they were running.
No opportunity for monetisation has been wasted since. For example, in 2018 Mr Trump’s campaign enticed donors by promising their names would be displayed during a livestream of Mr Trump’s State of the Union address.
The State of the Union! The President’s team was creative enough to turn the dullest, stodgiest, most self-serious tradition of US politics into a cash cow. And it worked – the campaign ended up raising a million bucks, off about 75,000 different donors.
That, by the way, is another advantage Mr Trump has over Mr Biden – the breadth of his donor support.
The FEC filings show almost half of his contributions last month – 45 per cent – came from small donors. For Mr Biden, the figure was 37 per cent.
Why does that matter? Because those small donors can contribute again, and again, and again as the election draws closer.
Under US fundraising laws, there is a cap on the amount any one person can give directly to a campaign. That cap is $2800.
So, if a donor has already given Mr Biden $2800, that’s it. They’re done.
But if they have given $200 to Mr Trump, his campaign can go back to them and ask for more. It already has the donor’s details, so making that request is as simple as firing off an email – something the Trump campaign has been doing often.
Its fundraising emails are nothing short of incredible. Most of them are essentially extended versions of the President’s tweets, which means they’re littered with hyperbole, conspiratorial nonsense, hatred for the media, and words in all-caps shouting at you from your computer screen.
“Joe Biden is GUILTY of using the federal government to ILLEGALLY SPY on my 2016 campaign so that he could further the Russian Collusion Delusion,” screams one such email, sent this week.
“Now that Sleepy Joe is a proven CROOK, I want to send a message that our movement is STRONGER and more UNITED than ever before.”
“You’ll never hear it from the Fake News media, but I am TOUGH ON CHINA and Sleepy Joe is WEAK ON CHINA,” says another recent example.
“That’s why I’m calling on YOU to stand with me against Sleepy Joe’s corrupt China First, America Last Agenda.”
Another one leads with a riff on Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” gaffe from four years ago.
“First, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they call you DEPLORABLE. THEN YOU VOTE AND WE WIN THE ELECTION,” it roars triumphantly, before inviting the recipient to activate their supposedly exclusive Trump Life Membership.
“There are a limited number of open spots on our Life Member Roster, but because you’re one of my TOP supporters, I’ve requested that YOUR invitation be made a priority. This offer is only for a select group of true Patriots and is non-transferable. Do NOT share this with anyone.”
I should point out that the recipient of these particular emails, addressed as one of Mr Trump’s TOP supporters, has never given him a cent.
And here we see the other truly fascinating aspect of the Trump campaign’s emails; the one thing other than their hilariously unhinged tone that distinguishes them from other examples of the genre.
They are full of weirdly blatant lies.
Many of them claim that Mr Trump himself, the President of the United States, has made time in his presumably busy day to take a specific, personal interest in the recipient.
“We wanted to reach out because we just got off a call with President Trump to review the most recent list of Patriots who contributed to our critical $5,000,000 April end-of-month goal, and he noticed your name was STILL MISSING,” says one email, sent on April 30.
“There’s only one more day left to contribute to our end-of-month goal, and President Trump is counting on his BEST supporters, like YOU, to step up.”
Another, sent the day before, purports to be from Mr Trump’s former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“I just got off the phone with President Trump. I don’t email you often, so you know this is critical,” says Ms Sanders, or whichever campaign staffer actually wrote the email.
“The President specifically asked me to check in with you because the April end-of-month goal is coming up and we are pacing a little behind.
“President Trump is counting on you to help us CRUSH our goal, and he’s asked me to let him know the moment that you make your contribution. Your support is so important that he’s even agreed to extend your TRIPLE-MATCH offer until 11:59pm TONIGHT.”
The chances that Mr Trump himself “specifically” instructed Ms Sanders to contact the donor in question, and to inform him the moment that exact person made a contribution, is of course beyond preposterous.
I know what you’re thinking. These emails are balls-to-the-wall insane, they look like they belong in the deepest recesses of your spam folder, and there is no chance they would actually convince someone to give their money away, least of all to a politician.
But when they do land in the inbox instead, they are amazingly effective.
“What annoys you the most in your inbox is probably what’s doing the best for a candidate,” email consultant Liz Zaretsky, who has written emails for presidential campaigns in the past, told The Wall Street Journal.
“The campaigns don’t love everything they send, but it’s hard to argue with what’s raising money.”
While Mr Trump has been bombarding voters with these wildly successful emails and steadily compiling a humungous war chest, Mr Biden’s campaign has been lagging behind.
There’s a whole bunch of reasons for that. I already mentioned the years-long headstart Mr Trump had. And of course, until March, the Democratic presidential candidates were spending all their cash attacking each other.
Even in that context, however, Mr Biden had a problem. After finishing fourth and fifth respectively in Iowa and New Hampshire, he almost ran out of money. His fundraising was dwarfed by such political luminaries as Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of a smallish city who entered the race even though no one had ever heard of him.
It was not an encouraging performance for a frontrunner, particularly one who happened to spend eight years as Mr Obama’s vice president.
Mr Biden’s fundraising has improved significantly since he won South Carolina, which caused the Democratic Party’s establishment to swing in behind him. He almost matched Mr Trump last month, bringing in $60 million compared to the President’s $62 million.
Which would be fine, if they were coming off the same base, but they are not. Mr Biden is $150 million behind, and it doesn’t seem possible for him to close that gap before the election in November.
This scenario hasn’t come out of nowhere. Party operatives have actually been warning of it since late last year.
“Democrats will never catch up. It’s just too much money,” political strategist Chris Lippincott told Politico in October.
“Take away (Mr Trump’s) craziness, and he has an extremely professional operation,” warned Rufus Gifford, who presumably knew what he was talking about, given he was the finance director for Barack Obama’s successful re-election campaign in 2012.
There are, of course, limits to what money can accomplish. Just ask Michael Bloomberg, who spent more than a billion dollars on his campaign for the Democratic nomination and didn’t win a single state.
Mr Biden himself pulled off an incredible revival to claim the nomination, despite being heavily outspent by pretty much everyone else.
And Mr Trump actually spent far less than Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Money is, however, one of the most important factors in an election. Money lets campaigns hire more staff, buy more ads and crucially, focus their efforts on more states at once.
Without it, a presidential candidate is limited to running ads and building a turnout machine in a handful of swing states. With it, they can expand the map and attack their opponent all over the place.
The candidate with more money has a huge advantage. And in this election, that candidate is Donald Trump.