Haley’s money surges after debates. Trump’s spikes when he’s indicted. - Living Strong Television Network
Haley’s money surges after debates. Trump’s spikes when he’s indicted.

Donations to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley surged in late August after her standout performance in the first GOP primary debate. The following day, Aug. 24, was her single best online fundraising day of the year.

There was just one problem for Haley: Former President Donald Trump got his mug shot taken in Georgia that same day.

Trump was booked at an Atlanta jail after facing his fourth indictment, this time on conspiracy charges related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results. And that image — quickly emblazoned on T-shirts, mugs and other campaign merchandise — fueled a massive fundraising boon for Trump’s campaign.

Trump had his biggest online fundraising day right after Haley — and his brought in nine times as much money as hers had.

Haley and Trump are now the only major candidates left in the GOP primary. And fundraising data from the campaigns and the Republican online donation platform WinRed, filed with the Federal Election Commission this week and analyzed by POLITICO, underscores the significant advantages the former president has thanks to his enthusiastic base. Haley is drawing new, small donors to her campaign. But she’s coming nowhere close to competing with the small-dollar army invested in Trump.

Trump’s strongest fundraising days followed his legal troubles, and the hauls are huge

The fundraising numbers demonstrate just how tightly Trump’s legal problems are intertwined with his presidential campaign.

Trump used each indictment as a major fundraising opportunity for his 2024 campaign and a chance to hammer his claim that he is being unfairly targeted by the justice system. And his base of supporters responded.

The mug shot produced Trump’s best online fundraising day of the year in terms of both unique contributors — more than 65,000 — and dollars raised. Trump’s six top fundraising days of the year were all around either the time of the mug shot or his first indictment in New York in early April.

The spikes in fundraising around Trump’s indictments were, in part, by design.

After news broke of Trump’s first indictment by a Manhattan grand jury — for his alleged role in hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election, which he denies — Trump’s team pushed out fundraising emails. And as Republicans rushed to defend the former president, Trump’s team orchestrated a cable news spectacle for his arraignment in New York that helped generate even more attention and donations. The timing of the first indictment also lined up with the end-of-quarter fundraising push by campaigns.

“We are living through the darkest chapter of American history,” Trump Save America joint fundraising committee said in an email at the time. “Please make a contribution — of truly any amount — to defend our movement from the never-ending witch hunts and WIN the WHITE HOUSE in 2024 — for 1,500% impact.”

His campaign also capitalized off of the visuals from each event. Right before Trump entered his plea in New York in April, his campaign sent an email showing a T-shirt with a fake mug shot saying “NOT GUILTY” as part of its appeal to his supporters. There was no mug shot in New York. But there was the one in Atlanta. And that image — of Trump scowling at the camera — spurred a record-breaking 24 hours for the Trump campaign, during which he raised $4.18 million.

For Haley, strong debate performances drew new fundraising

Haley’s strong debate performances propelled her out of the single digits in early state polling.

They also drove more dollars into her campaign.

In Haley’s best online fundraising day, the day after stepping on her first presidential debate stage, she received more than $468,000 through WinRed. Debates so fueled her fundraising that she raised more money after the third and fourth GOP primary debates than on the day she launched her campaign.

It wasn’t all organic interest driving the cash flow. Haley’s campaign touted her debate performance in fundraising emails and text messages the night of each bout and on the day after.

“This message is catching FIRE” read the subject line of one fundraising email on Aug. 24, which included a clip of Haley speaking during the debate and asked readers to “RUSH a donation” to help amplify her message.

Ultimately, Haley’s debate stage tongue-lashings of Vivek Ramaswamy and foreign policy flexes over Ukraine and Israel proved far more financially beneficial to her campaign than what was arguably her biggest campaign trail coup: winning the endorsement of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. The popular Republican governor’s nod sent Haley surging in polls in the state and helped narrow the field.

But Haley raised about $168,000 online the day Sununu endorsed her. She raised nearly $380,000 in a single day just six days earlier — the day of the fourth Republican debate in Tuscaloosa.

And as Haley’s star rose in and outside of surveys, she surpassed Trump in one important fundraising metric: She began to regularly get more donors giving to her campaign for the first time than his.

Trump built up a firewall of returning donors who continue to power his campaign

Even as Haley started to bring in new donors at a faster clip than Trump — a shift that happened in the final two months of the year — Trump continued to raise far more money than she did. And he still had far more daily donors overall.

His strength lies in returning donors — people who have given to his campaign before, and do so again, either because they set up an automatic recurring donation or actively chose to send more money his way.

By the end of the year, donors who had previously given to Trump’s campaign accounted for more than 90 percent of the WinRed donations coming his way each day. Most days, these returning donors collectively gave more than $100,000.

That large base of loyal donors provides Trump a significant baseline of support that continuously fills his campaign coffers.

Returning donors helped Trump in particular in the last few months of the year, when he did not see as large of a donation bounce from new legal troubles, like a Colorado court’s decision to temporarily remove him from the GOP primary ballot in late December.

And it’s a source of support that is likely to continue for Trump, cementing his financial advantage as the year continues.

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