Donald Trump’s donors want to know where all the money went. The president raised — and spent — nearly $1 billion since 2017, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. Now a candidate famous for his performative wealth is at a disadvantage. Joe Biden and the Democrats are about to outspend the Republicans “by more than 2-to-1” on advertising, according to the AP. Trump is canceling ads in battleground states, including Wisconsin, and appears to hope that his rallies will make up the difference.
So where did all that money go? To the Trumps and their friends, with a few ill-advised major ad purchases along the way. The Republican National Committee spent almost $100,000 on Donald Trump Jr.’s magnum opus, Triggered; $35.2 million went to unspecified “Trump merchandise”;
$7.4 million covered stays in and trips to Trump-owned properties. Private jets cost money, as do lawyers, especially when you are being impeached and also when you are being sued by multiple people at the same time. Ex–campaign manager Brad Parscale even had a car and driver, the New York Times recently reported. Meanwhile, the campaign bought advertising that often made little sense, such as $1.6 million in the Washington, D.C., area, a media market inhabited mostly by liberal voters.
But Trump lives in D.C., and he does love his screen time, as the AP story notes. The president’s whims likely won out over other, more practical considerations, like winning an election. “They spent their money on unnecessary overhead, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous activity by the campaign staff, and vanity ads way too early,” a Republican consultant, Mike Murphy, told the AP. “You could literally have ten monkeys with flamethrowers go after the money, and they wouldn’t have burned through it as stupidly.” A colorful quote, but not particularly insightful. We are talking about Donald Trump — everyone should know what they’re getting by now. We know a lot about monkeys, and nothing suggests they ought to be entrusted with weaponry.
Trump was always profligate and too incompetent to compensate for his poor impulse control. He repeatedly wasted his father’s money, much of it on bad business deals. In the absence of real business acumen, a simulacrum must suffice, so Trump invested in his brand image. Remember Trump steaks, and Trump wine? Trump University? Ivanka Trump’s “luxury” clothing brand? I don’t think anyone ever figured out what was going on with the steaks, but the wine sucks. Trump University turned out to be a scam that defrauded hundreds of hopeful students. Ivanka’s name-brand clothes and shoes were poor quality, stitched together by sweatshop labor. What you got was never what he promised; the Trump name was never as good as its reputation.
Buying a Trump product was an optimistic if gullible gesture, the equivalent of buying something from a midnight segment on QVC. His voters and donors make a similar mistake. He is the QVC president, a dupe for a higher-quality product. Yes, donors who bet on Trump in 2016 got four years of deregulation, along with two, possibly three, Supreme Court justices. But there’s a ceiling on how much Trump can actually deliver. He is what his nature dictates. He was racist enough, and self-interested enough, to give his wealthy, white donors much of what they wanted, but his innate incompetence limited his longevity as a useful tool.
Trump’s donors bought garbage and got garbage. The real risk is that they’ll eventually make a wiser investment. Whoever that candidate turns out to be, the last name probably won’t be Trump.