Among the 20-plus candidates vying for the presidency, the incumbent’s campaign has raised the most money: In the first quarter of 2019, President Trump raised a self-reported $30 million, with an additional $46 million thrown in by the Republican National Committee.
Still, Trump family members are reportedly frustrated that the party’s major donor class isn’t stepping up and they’re worried that the campaign won’t reach manager Brad Parscale’s goal of $1 billion by Election Day. In May, Donald Trump Jr. reportedly called a big-wig donor, sharing his fear that his father was trailing where Obama was at the same point in 2011. Jared Kushner has reportedly expressed similar frustrations to RNC chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel.
According to a report by Vanity Fair, some of Trump’s biggest financiers from last cycle, the Mercer family, have scaled back their political donations considerably since 2016. “It’s like they’ve disappeared,” a White House official told VF’s Gabriel Sherman. “Crickets. They’re gone,” a prominent Republican strategist added.
In 2016, former co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies Robert Mercer provided $15.5 million to several different organizations backing Trump, in addition to a $1 million gift to the inaugural committee. More vital than that spending was the Mercer family’s considerable donations to Breitbart, an early and vocal unofficial mouthpiece for the president’s campaign. Including the money routed to Steve Bannon’s former online home, the family spent over $49 million on political activities in the last election. (That sum doesn’t include the $15 million Robert Mercer spent on Cambridge Analytica, an investment that doesn’t look so great in hindsight.) After Trump won, he appointed Mercer-approved strategists like Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to high-level positions, and Rebekah Mercer — responsible for the most frightening game night of all time — made it onto the transition team as a senior member.
But last year, the Mercers donated just $400,000 to the Great America PAC, a key pro-Trump group, as their total political spending dipped to $2.9 million. Vanity Fair reports two reasons for the step back: The family, notorious for its desire to influence politics without being exposed to media attention, felt anxious about the notice that the power their purse has brought. “They’ve been destroyed,” a former West Wing official told Vanity Fair, while a former Renaissance executive added, “Bob views all his political spending as a bad investment.” The second reason, closer to home, is that Rebekah Mercer is reportedly going through a divorce.
At this point, it would be a severe mistake for Democrats to assume that because Trump might have a major donor problem, the campaign is financially vulnerable. It’s not. Not only did the president lead all Democratic candidates in the first quarter, he reportedly has raised $150 million since the inauguration. In 2016, Trump needed only $531 million to secure the Electoral College, compared to Clinton’s $969 million. Even if the campaign falls short of Brad Parscale’s billion-dollar goal, the campaign won’t have to waste money on the primary, where candidates spend tens of millions of dollars to secure the nomination.
And if there’s concern about the Mercers getting out of dubious conservative philanthropy, that’s premature as well. Vanity Fair reports that the family is still donating to the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, co-founded by a climate skeptic whose research focuses on delaying human aging.