WASHINGTON ― In an election where Republican House candidates were outraised and outspent, their party’s leader spent $77 million on his own campaign, even though his re-election was two years away.
Donald J. Trump for President and two related campaign committees raised a total of $130 million over the past two years, according to new filings with the Federal Election Commission, with $26 million of that transferred to the Republican National Committee.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, was outraised $90 million by its Democratic counterpart. Republicans, who held the House since the 2010 election, lost 40 seats and control of the chamber.
“Trump darkens the sun. There is nothing else out there,” said Rick Wilson, a GOP consultant and longtime Trump critic, adding that Trump’s targeting and “bleeding” of small donors meant congressional candidates were less likely to get those contributions.
“Small donors, those giving $20 or $50, are donors on a limited budget,” Wilson said. “Trump has decapitated the party. This is just another example. The money has to go to the cult leader first. It has to go to the king first.”
Trump’s campaign did not reply to HuffPost’s request for comment. In previous remarks, Trump has boasted of how hard he worked for GOP candidates with dozens of rallies last summer and fall.
“This vigorous campaigning stopped the ‘blue wave’ that they talked about,” he said the morning after the midterm elections while calling the results “very close to complete victory.”
Trump has claimed frequently that his rallies around the country helped Republican candidates, even though the candidates typically appeared on stage with Trump for only a few minutes of an hourlong event at venues that featured primarily Trump signage and placards.
One Republican official familiar with the House campaigns said that Trump’s insistence on making the focus of the election himself, both in terms of fundraising as well as the themes, was not helpful.
“We got a lot of the backlash of Trump without getting much of the benefit,” the official said on condition of anonymity, pointing to Trump’s hammering on illegal immigrants forming caravans to “invade” the United States as particularly problematic.
Republicans lost and nearly lost races in California, Texas and Florida because of Trump, the official said. “There’s no doubt that immigration hurt us in a bunch of places.”
In a news release Thursday night, the campaign boasted that it had raised $21 million in just the final three months of 2018. “These totals continue a record fundraising streak for a president’s first eight quarters in office,” the release stated.
What the release failed to state was that Trump holds the “record” because no previous candidate was raising money for re-election so early in his term. President Barack Obama did not start his re-election campaign until April 2011. President George W. Bush opened his re-election account in May 2003.
Trump, in contrast, opened his re-election campaign account the day he was inaugurated in January 2017 and began staging rallies almost immediately. Previous presidents spent their first two years raising money for their parties, for their parties’ congressional committees and, at times, for individual candidates.
“Most presidents help raise money for candidates,” said Al Cardenas, once the state Republican Party chairman in Florida and a close ally of the Bush family. “Is there really justification to suck all the oxygen out of the room so quickly?”
Trump did donate $2,000 each to 106 House and Senate candidates in July, but with House campaigns today often costing millions of dollars, those were of token benefit at best. Trump could have, had he wanted, spent far more money on “independent expenditures” to benefit candidates in tight races, had he done so without coordinating with the campaign in question.
He did not, however, and instead most of the money he raised went toward fundraising costs, staging rallies around the country and selling Trump-branded campaign gear. Hundreds of thousands more went to Trump properties that he personally profits from ― $150,167 in the final three months of 2018 to Trump Tower alone, where he rents office space from himself.
“He had all the money in the world,” Wilson said, adding that some of that could have made the difference in races that were lost by thousands or even hundreds of votes. “I’m not surprised that he wouldn’t and he didn’t.”
Trump did headline fundraisers for both the NRCC and the National Senatorial Republican Committee as well as help raise $325 million for the Republican National Committee, which helps Republican candidates up and down the ballot.
That help, though, comes with strict rules and limits attached, and is not as beneficial to the candidates as money raised by the candidates themselves, officials agreed.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, held their own against Democrats, raising $152 million for the NRSC, $3 million more than their Democratic counterparts. Yet, despite having their most favorable state map in decades, they picked up only two seats in November after hoping to gain as many as four or five earlier in the election cycle.