Donald Trump’s campaign schedule is being driven by his fundraising needs, prompting him to appear in heavily Republican states like Georgia and Texas and diverting his attention from battlegrounds where Hillary Clinton is spending her time.
Trump’s aides, scrambling to raise money to compete against Clinton’s cash juggernaut and extensive donor network, have scheduled fundraisers in places like Georgia, North Carolina and Texas this week. The private events for donors were often scheduled first, followed by his campaign rallies, according to two people involved in Trump’s fundraising who insisted on anonymity.
Even some of Trump’s appearances in battleground states have been tied to fundraisers: A New Hampshire rally Monday night was planned in conjunction with a fundraiser in Boston, but both events were canceled after the deadly shooting in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday.
Trump has informed people raising money for his campaign that he is not interested in traveling to states for donor events unless there is a rally scheduled as well, according to the people involved. Those rallies have often garnered Trump national cable news coverage, the type of news media attention that fueled his primary campaign.
But the result for now has been that Trump is campaigning in states where he has far less risk of being defeated by Clinton than states that are likely to be competitive, like Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, Rust Belt states with large numbers of the white working-class voters who have been most receptive to Trump’s message.
“A travel schedule driven by fundraising needs that takes you away from battleground states is one that’s full of missed opportunities,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist and former Mitt Romney adviser.
With Trump in the South, Clinton has been spending her week in Ohio and Virginia, two of the most crucial states for winning the presidency. She was also in Pennsylvania, another state where Trump’s brand of populism could be effective, but where he has spent little time since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.
Madden noted that Trump was uniquely able to generate national television coverage and newspaper headlines wherever he happened to be. “But he needs to flip states like Colorado, Ohio, Virginia and Florida in order to win,” he added. “I’d rather be driving national coverage from those locales than not.”
Clinton’s campaign is also beginning an advertising blitz in battleground states this week, on top of commercials that have been run in those places by the super PAC supporting her, Priorities USA.
Trump remains confident that he can flout conventional campaign practice by relying on a small staff and heavy news coverage. But even so, and despite his reliance on assistance from the Republican National Committee, his campaign faces heavy potential costs for television advertising, polling and building operations in key states.
Raising money to pay for those items through the campaign is difficult: Donors may give no more than $5,400 a person through the party convention in July. After that, they are limited to donating $2,700.
At this point in the presidential cycle in 2012, Romney was raising more than $1 million a day for himself and the party. There is no indication that Trump is approaching that pace.
Moreover, while Trump lent his campaign more than $43 million in the primaries, he has shown little inclination to self-finance his general election campaign in a large-scale way. Yet many Republican fundraisers have openly questioned why they would donate their money to a candidate who has claimed a net worth of $10 billion.
Hope Hicks, Trump’s spokeswoman, called his fundraising operation “a tremendous success,” adding that “the money is pouring in for the party.” She declined to answer specific questions.
Trump’s campaign has carefully guarded information about his fundraising: His aides telephoned attendees for the Boston event to call it off, rather than emailing them, the people involved said, and have closely held lists of coming fundraising events; another candidate might distribute those dates widely to help build interest.
Unlike Clinton, who has been able to tap into a long-established network of allies and donors, Trump is trying to build one from scratch and on the fly. But he has struggled to sign on some of his party’s top donors. Local party figures in different cities have declined to add their names to his invitations, meaning many have been sent out without lists of co-hosts, a standard practice, according to veteran fundraisers in both parties.
That has kept Trump in New York raising money, as he did last week, or heading to California for fundraising events. While he has said he will put both states in play, neither has been in reach for a Republican presidential candidate in decades.
Other concerns have been the potential for protests outside the fundraisers, prompting organizers to choose out-of-the-way sites. An Arizona fundraiser for Trump on Saturday will be held at the home of Sen. Barry Goldwater, the conservative firebrand and Republican nominee in 1964 who is often blamed for exacerbating racial tensions.