Trump supporter
Donald Trump supporters sign a petition calling for one-day voting and the eradication of voting machines in South Carolina ahead of Saturday’s primary © Reuters

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There are 257 days until election day and Donald Trump is looking a little shaky in terms of fundraising. That is just not where you want to be when your two-horse race is all but set with more than eight months to go until the finish line.

Last time around, Joe Biden raked in a record $1bn in donations, while Trump raised $775mn. This election could well cost more.

Trump, who will almost certainly be the Republican nominee, has turned his legal battles into a siren call, with his campaign making them an important part of fundraising strategy. Contributions from small donors — or those giving $200 or less — jumped after each of his four criminal indictments last year. His best small donation day came after he surrendered to Atlanta authorities on felony charges that he sought to overturn the 2020 election. But that base has started to crack.

Republicans are getting worried about Trump’s fundraising machine — it is propelled by those small donors — because fewer from the Maga horde are ponying up.

Trump’s campaign and affiliated Super Pacs (groups that can receive unlimited contributions) went into the election year with 224,000 fewer donors than four years ago, according to a Financial Times analysis of the latest data (free to read). Republicans will be feeling the need to make up the numbers ASAP amid flashing signs of donor fatigue.

They cannot have their fundraising base going numb so early in the race — Trump has to get his followers hooked on the “donate” button now so they keep giving closer to November 5.

Biden had fewer small donors than his rival in the second half of last year — 473,000 to Trump’s 516,000 — but was doing better than when he was duking it out with other Democrats for the 2020 nomination.

Trump relies more on small donations while Biden cashes in bigger cheques from wealthy Wall Street types. The president was in California this week to collect from celebrities and Hollywood moguls.

When the Trump campaign slapped his Georgia mugshot on to merch, it pulled in about 10 times the typical daily contribution tally with 85,000 donations totalling almost $4.3mn. But Trump groups also shelled out $52mn for the former president’s legal fees last year. Those bills will only continue to pile up and it remains to be seen whether the court sagas will still get his donors to open their wallets.

Meanwhile, Biden is sitting pretty atop a record Democratic cash pile.

Campaign clips: the latest election headlines

  • Nikki Haley continues her Sisyphean quest to stop Trump from being the Republican presidential nominee (free to read)

  • Trump has said some former rivals for the Republican nomination are on his vice-presidential shortlist (Politico), including governor Ron DeSantis, who later said he was not interested (New York Post)

  • Trump keeps comparing himself to Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition activist whose death the west has blamed on Vladimir Putin (Washington Post)

  • A new poll has found that 67 per cent of voters think Biden is too old to be president again (Quinnipiac University)

  • A conservative group is becoming a haven for the right in Washington and wants to come up with policy ideas for Trump (NYT)

Behind the scenes

The South Carolina Republican primary will take place on Saturday, and all eyes will be on Nikki Haley, the state’s former governor, as she fights on against Trump even though she will probably get crushed at the polls.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former chief of staff who used to represent South Carolina in Congress, told the FT’s Lauren Fedor that Haley’s impending loss would not reflect on her as much as on Trump.

South Carolina is Trump country,” he said. “The message that he is selling, and has been selling this entire cycle of — look what they are doing to me, if they could do it to me, imagine what they could do to you, vote for me — you are not going to find more fertile soil for that message than South Carolina.”

Opinion surveys have Haley down 30 points, and even her supporters now admit that Trump has his grip on the state’s Republican voters with his populist, America First battle cry. It was only about a dozen years ago that they elected her to statewide office for the first time, rejecting three seasoned politicians — oh, how that Myrtle Beach tide has turned.


For his part, Biden started the election year with more small donors than at the same stage in the 2020 race.

The president had almost 135,000 more small donors in 2023 than he did in 2019. And he finished last year with more small donor money in his campaign war chest than his rival: $202mn to Trump’s $189mn, though from fewer contributors.

The Democratic party also went into 2024 having outraised the Republican party by more than $70mn last year, a substantial cash advantage. And then Biden brought in a blockbuster January money haul, as everybody frets about his age.

Biden has been shrugging off the age concerns on his fundraising trip to California.

While posing for a selfie in a Los Angeles café in a shopping centre yesterday, Biden switched a patron’s phone to selfie mode. The phone’s owner was surprised that the president even knew how to do that.

“After the last guy, the bar’s on the floor,” Biden responded.

(The café served Mexican and soul food, and the president ordered a breakfast burrito, in case you were wondering, though his salsa choice was unclear.)


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