Politics & Policy

The Money Race: The Fundraising Favors Cruz

Cruz speaks at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition in September. (Steve Pope/Getty)

As of now, Ted Cruz (and maybe Donald Trump) lead the GOP field, Ben Carson is going nowhere, and Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabeee aren’t making a comeback.

Note: See the first part of this story for important data and explanatory information.

WHY TED CRUZ (AND MAYBE DONALD TRUMP) ARE THE GOP FRONT-RUNNERS

If you believe in the predictive validity of fundraising numbers, Ted Cruz is actually the front-runner in this race, with Donald Trump his only serious competition. Cruz is the only candidate who has shown that he can extensively raise hard dollars from both large and small donors, ranking second in hard dollars to Carson and second in total dollars (including from Super PACs) to Jeb Bush. Cruz’s fundraising is almost evenly balanced between small and large donors. Furthermore, toxic as his relations are with some parts of the party establishment and Congress, it is notable that he has endorsements from the largest number of elected officials of any candidate except Bush.

Cruz has won endorsements from some of the most influential grassroots voices in the movement, including “soft” (unofficial) endorsements from Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, who have on several occasions called him the most conservative candidate in the race. He is the one candidate who has the strongest support from the traditional grassroots but who also can speak to big donors without scaring them off. He will have to overcome a lot to manage poisoned relationships with some in the D.C. establishment, but with Trump as his most likely competition for the nomination (see below), the establishment may decide the devil they know is better than the devil they don’t know.

Trump is certainly the wild card in this race, and he’s the one candidate we can’t tell that much about by looking at fundraising numbers.

And that brings us to Trump. He is certainly the wild card in this race, and he’s the one candidate we can’t tell that much about by looking at fundraising numbers, because he hasn’t really done any fundraising. Nonetheless, given the social circles he runs in, it seems very likely that he could raise big-donor money; and given the grassroots enthusiasm for his candidacy, it is clear that he can also raise small-donor money. (Indeed, without actively fundraising, he has raised twice as much small-donor money as Jeb has). Yet the GOP establishment is terrified of him, both because they are worried he will hurt the party with emerging electorates, particularly Hispanics, and because he dissents from GOP orthodoxy on policy issues from abortion to taxes. It is safe to say that the establishment will pull every trick in the book to deny him the nomination, and the establishment knows a lot of tricks. Trump polls well but has had a hard time breaking his polling ceiling and has high negatives even among GOP voters. While a candidate with his polling results and self-funding ability can’t be ruled out as the nominee, he will have to overcome a minefield that the party, and many other candidates, will set out in front of him.

WHY BEN CARSON AND BERNIE SANDERS ARE GOING NOWHERE

Bernie Sanders has built one of the most impressive grassroots fundraising machines in American political history. Sanders has raised massive grassroots funds of $26 million, almost as much as Clinton. Given the general momentum of grassroots fundraising, I expect him to outraise Clinton in the fourth quarter of 2015. It won’t matter — because he won’t be the nominee. Sanders’s ratio of dollars raised from the grassroots vs. major-donor ($2,000+) dollars is a staggering 40 to 1. Even Obama, with his famous grassroots army was just 3:1 at this point in 2012. No other nominee has exceeded a 1 to 1 ratio this early in the campaign. What Sanders lacks is establishment donors, evidenced in his almost total absence of endorsements from elected officials. This indicates that he doesn’t have the institutional support to win — the relationships with elites that ultimately will determine who is mainstream and acceptable.

Carson suffers from a similar problem. While he has a slight lead over Cruz as the hard dollar GOP fundraising leader, his ratio of 10:1 small dollars to large dollars is reminiscent of failed GOP candidates such as Ron Paul. With respect to his fundraising, his campaign looks a lot like that of Paul, who raised far more money than any other GOP candidate in the fourth quarter of 2007 and then went nowhere. Carson’s large-donor funding is just one-quarter of Ted Cruz’s, despite riding high in the polls in a way that should make it easier to raise money from donors who want to bet on a winner. He also has very few endorsements from elected officials. Carson has generated tremendous grassroots enthusiasm, and his strong early polling and evangelical support mean his chances can’t be entirely dismissed. He’s a smart and impressive guy who is learning politics on the job. But if a candidate with his funding profile and lack of establishment support became the GOP nominee, it would be absolutely unprecedented. He’ll probably do better than Ron Paul at the polls (though recall that Paul took 22 percent in Iowa and 23 percent in New Hampshire in 2012), but he’s far more likely to be a notable also-ran than the nominee.

 

WHY RICK SANTORUM AND MIKE HUCKABEE AREN’T MAKING A COMEBACK

Those GOP voters who believe in grassroots candidates and who do not support Cruz, Trump, or Carson (the three leaders among the grassroots) might point to Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. In previous elections seasons, each ran campaigns on a shoestring. Each surged late before the Iowa caucuses, which they eventually won. And each became a factor in the nomination process.

But the key phrase there is “a factor.” They didn’t win, and frankly neither came particularly close, taking 250 or so delegates, dwarfed by the 1,350 to 1,550 taken by the winner. While each raised substantially more funds after their Iowa victory, neither could put in place a campaign infrastructure to compete nationally, and neither could hire a top-tier campaign team so late in the process. And frankly neither had the appeal to win nationwide, rather than in primary states dominated by social conservatives. This year, Huckabee’s and Santorum’s fundraising haul is as dismal as it was in their 2008 and 2012 runs, respectively.

There is no precedent for a candidate with no money to overcome that hurdle and win late in the process.

There is no precedent for a candidate with no money to overcome that hurdle and win late in the process. Even John McCain (who surged late to the nomination after being counted out by many pundits) and John Kerry were in a totally different world of fundraising, support, and seriousness than Santorum and Huckabee. McCain had raised $30 million by the end of the third quarter in 2007, and Kerry had raised $20 million by the end of the third quarter in 2003. They ranked third and second, respectively, in fundraising in their fields. Huckabee and Santorum have currently raised $4 million combined. The most likely effect of their staying in the race is reduced support for Ben Carson and Cruz, who are well positioned to pick up their evangelical supporters

#share#

OTHER CANDIDATES (RANKED BY TOTAL FUNDRAISING)

RUBIO

Outside of Trump and Cruz, Rubio may have the strongest profile. But that is not necessarily high praise. Rubio, despite his reputation as an establishment darling, has raised less big-donor money than Jeb or Cruz. And his campaign raised just $5.7 million last quarter, a drop of more than one-third from the previous quarter, at a time when a fundraising effort with strong momentum would have been growing. His small-dollar donations fell even more sharply than did his major-donor donations in the last quarter: They were about $1.2 million, which is a fraction of Carson’s or Cruz’s. The grassroots deeply distrusts Rubio when it comes to immigration, which is a make-or-break issue for many grassroots voters. (Rubio’s struggles with the grassroots on immigration echo Paul’s problems with the establishment on foreign policy.)  Rubio’s fundraising went the wrong way, despite his having hit the fundraising trail very hard in in the third quarter of 2015. His ratio of large donors to small donors is 1.7 to 1. This is good and indicates balanced support, but judging by his fundraising numbers, he doesn’t have all that much of it. His endorsements from elected officials are solid, but not as good as Cruz’s and not all that much better than Fiorina’s. Is he too young and too much like a Republican Obama to be the nominee? He looks like the only plausible nominee except for Trump and Cruz, but he has his own challenges, and he will need to show strong momentum in Iowa and New Hampshire if he is going to become the nominee.

 

PAUL

Having raised just $2.5 million in the last quarter Paul is down dramatically from a fairly unimpressive first-quarter take. He is struggling hugely. Just as important, he probably holds certain views that make him fundamentally unelectable in a GOP primary. His ratio of small donors to large donors is 1:3, along the lines of Obama’s, but of course, he’s raised only a fraction of Obama’s money. It’s entirely possible that he will have a late surge, because many of his libertarian voters will be loyal, but given the implacable opposition from some in the establishment, combined with bad polling and fundraising, he does not seem to have a plausible path to victory.

 

FIORINA

She has never held elected office and badly lost her only previous election. Major donors have given her less than $2 million despite the fact that she is a long-time corporate CEO in the wealthiest part of the country. Her record at HP was either awful or mixed, depending on who you talk with. It is notable that businesspeople and major donors who know Carly’s record aren’t supporting her. Nonetheless, she’s been impressive in the debates, she’s raised some grassroots money (and outraised Rubio last quarter), and she certainly has room to grow with establishment donors. Her small-donor to big-donor ratio of 2.4 to 1 is high but within Obama’s range. She has quite a few endorsements from elected officials (more than Carson has), which is notable given her lack of experience. Overall, though, she has still raised less than one-third of the money that Bush, Cruz, and Carson each have raised. Given her strengths and some grassroots support, it’s not impossible to imagine Fiorina as the nominee, but putting her forward would be a true act of desperation by the establishment.

 

KASICH

He raised $3 million from big donors, and half of his total fundraising has been from Ohio, much of it from people who want to stay in his good graces. Still, his overall fundraising is a minimal amount compared with that of Bush, Cruz, and Rubio. His small-dollar donations are similar to Lawrence Lessig’s. His ratio of large donors to small donors is a bearable 6:1, but he doesn’t have much of either. He may have his day in the sun in New Hampshire, à la Huntsman, whose strategy he is inexplicably copying, but he has no chance to be the nominee.

 

CHRISTIE

Did you know that there are investment bankers in New York and New Jersey who want to maintain a good relationship with the governor? Good thing Chris Christie knows that. $3.3 of his $4.1 million raised overall comes from $2,000+ donors, meaning he’s only raised $750,000 from folks who haven’t maxed out. Half of his money comes from the Republican stronghold of New Jersey. Even Lindsey Graham has twice the small-donor dollars that Christie has. He is not competitive in the top tier with the big-money donors, and he’s totally non-existent with small donors. His 22:1 ratio of large donors to small donors means that he is the only candidate who makes Jeb Bush look like a man of the people. It appears that the only enthusiasts for a Christie candidacy are some New York Times readers and a few folks in the Hamptons.

 

GRAHAM

What has been most impressive about Lindsey Graham’s campaign is that a candidate who ranks behind even George Pataki in the polls, at 0.2 percent, has raised three times as much money as 2012 Iowa Caucus winner Santorum raised, and he’s raised as much money as 2008 caucus winner Huckabee has raised. Needless to say, you or I probably have as much chance of being the GOP nominee as Graham does, but his fundraising, given his nonexistent standing in the polls, is impressive.

 

JINDAL

A sad state for a campaign that had great promise and for a candidate with a lot of talent: He’s raised a pitiful $1.15 million, and $900,000 from that is $2,000+ donors, mostly from Louisiana. He has a great bio and a reasonable large-to-small donor ratio of 6:1, but there is no path to the nomination with that kind of fundraising or with $200,000 cash in the bank.

 

PATAKI

Coffee is for closers only.

— Lawrence Brinton is the pseudonym of a policy analyst who has informally advised several 2016 campaigns.

Most Popular

National Security & Defense

A New World Disorder

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (But not Allegra Budenmayer, may she rot in Hell), Some of you may recall that my favorite essay by the late Tom Wolfe is “The Great ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Bad Judgment from Scott and Rubio

Tim Scott and Marco Rubio, two estimable conservative senators, have treated an appeals-court nominee unjustly. Having raised no concerns earlier in the process and having voted to proceed to a final vote on the nomination of Ryan Bounds to the Ninth Circuit, Senator Scott (R., S.C.) announced that he could ... Read More