Trump Courts Palm Beach Billionaires as Power of His Rallies Fades

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump is being forced to turn to the rich and the elite as his rallies fail to whip up enough small-dollar donations to fund his campaign.

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A Saturday event in Palm Beach hosted by billionaire John Paulson is expected to generate $30 million for Trump from contributors writing six-figure checks. That’s likely to dwarf the haul from a sea of loyal less-wealthy supporters who the ex-president rallied on Tuesday evening in Wisconsin.

The contrast highlights a stark reality for the presumptive Republican nominee: His rallies, which aren’t generating fundraising boosts like they used to, have taken a back seat to other efforts to narrow the large cash advantage enjoyed by President Joe Biden.

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In 2019, Trump’s rallies unleashed on average a 38% fundraising bump from the surrounding region in the week ahead of the event, according to a Bloomberg News analysis using Federal Election Commission data.

This time around, Trump’s biggest days for raising campaign cash have come from texting and emailing his loyal army of small-dollar donors after high-stakes moments in his criminal and civil cases. Still larger totals come from more exclusive gatherings like the one planned later this week, when hedge fund manager Paulson will play host to deep-pocketed donors.

So while the theatrics of Trump’s latest rally were the same as ever – “God Bless the USA” blaring from the speakers, grievance-filled remarks, derogatory nicknames – money woes are forcing him to be more deliberate about when and where to hold them.

Slower Pace

As Trump embarks on the longest general election in recent history, his campaign has shifted to a slower pace of roughly an event a week at least until the early summer, Trump’s senior adviser Chris LaCivita said to reporters last month. Since Super Tuesday, Trump only hosted a rally for several thousand attendees in Georgia and appeared as a special guest speaker in Ohio, until his campaign stops in the Midwest on Tuesday.

Trump’s rallies can cost as much as $500,000 per event, according to a person familiar with the events. A Trump aide said the cost of rallies vary based on size and location.

His campaign has closely monitored its spending this cycle, opting for smaller venues to bring costs down and keeping its staffing at lower levels than in 2020, underscoring its financial dilemma following a lengthy primary and increasing legal fees.

Biden is trailing Trump in many polls but has tens of millions of dollars more campaign cash on hand, giving the Democrat the resources to blitz airwaves and deploy on-the-ground staff in key states.

Read More: Biden Raised $53 Million In February, Boasting Record War Chest

Those dynamics have fueled something of a role reversal for the two candidates. Biden spent much of the primary campaign off the trail, whereas Trump packed his schedule — at one point hosting four rallies in four days — to fend off challengers.

Short Remarks

On Thursday, the same day Biden attended a high-dollar New York City fundraiser, Trump gave short remarks outside of a funeral home to pay his respects to police officer Jonathan Diller, who was killed during a traffic stop. Like many of the Republican’s recent appearances, that one offered him exposure without the costs associated with his rallies.

Even official Trump events are sometimes more low-key, such as an appearance Tuesday afternoon in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that his campaign billed as “remarks” rather than a rally. The event was less produced – and had a smaller crowd – than the Wisconsin one later that evening.

The campaign did not respond to a request for comment about its rally strategy.

There are early signs that Trump’s plan to deemphasize rallies may be working. His campaign and the Republican National Committee raised a whopping $65.6 million in March and ended the month with $93.1 million in the bank, a haul that helps them gain on the large lead Biden and the Democrats have amassed over several months.

Because Trump is now the presumptive nominee, he and the party can accept checks up to $814,600 per donor, where previously his campaign could only legally take in $6,600 per person. That makes events like Paulson’s fundraiser potentially much more lucrative than those held earlier this year. Mega-donors Rebekah and Robert Mercer, hotel developer Robert Bigelow and oil tycoon Harold Hamm are among the dozens of wealthy individuals slated to attend Saturday’s event.

Court Commitments

Strategists remain divided on the impact that Trump’s court commitments will have on his electoral prospects. While they will leave him with less time and resources to hold campaign events, they have sparked donations and could allow him opportunities to appeal to voters who wouldn’t attend his rallies.

“Much of grassroots turnout is done on the ground, person by person, voter by voter, at the doors and on the phones. Trying to silence President Trump makes people want to hear from him more,” said Republican strategist and CampaignHQ President Nicole Schlinger.

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That may be especially true among his most loyal devotees.

Sharon Anderson, a 67-year-old retiree from Etowah, Tennessee, has attended 50 Trump rallies since 2016 and leads a group of mega-fans called the Front Row Joes who try to attend as many of the carnival-like events as possible.

Repeat attendees like these could be limiting the effectiveness of his rallies as a fundraising tool. Now that he’s consigned to smaller venues, these Trump enthusiasts may be taking seats that might otherwise have gone to new potential donors.

Trump recently told a crowd in Georgia that his groupies have taken up significant space at his events.

“The problem is I’ve got Front Row Joes over here. And I’ve got the most beautiful women in the world,” Trump said, adding that the campaign tried to get a bigger venue. “And here’s the problem. I feel I have an obligation to the super-fans.”

--With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs and Hadriana Lowenkron.

(Updates with Trump’s latest fundraising figures)

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