Since July, we’ve been tracking some of the key metrics in the race for the presidential nominations of both major parties and third-party candidates. The latest update shows few surprises except for the money. It was big news when the FEC reports came out and showed that Trump had spent roughly $50 million in legal fees out of his various campaign committees. The full picture from the FEC is even more dramatic. As the following table below shows, President Biden raised about $10 million more than Trump and Trump has spent at a higher rate. Consequently, Trump goes into this election year with substantially less cash on hand than Biden.
If Trump were an ordinary candidate this would be even bigger news than it was. But that’s not the case. Money is usually critical to building name recognition. But as a former president, Trump already has enormous name recognition; he’s probably the most famous man in the world. His myriad of legal problems—91 indictments—would sink any mortal but the “orange Jesus” as some have started calling him, has only gotten more popular as his legal woes have mounted. All this mounts up to the fact that having less cash on hand than his opponent may not be as consequential as it usually is.
After Biden and Trump, Nikki Haley has the next most cash on hand. Although she has yet to win a contest, she has picked up some delegates and seems intent on staying in the race at least through Super Tuesday. While everyone is declaring the race over in Trump’s favor, Haley may be playing a different game. Should something dramatic happen to Trump—a conviction and a jail sentence—or a physical breakdown (he’s not the only old man in the race) and the Republican convention opens up—the person who has a block of loyal delegates is in a good position to be kingmaker or even king. In 2016, Senator Ted Cruz held the largest block of delegates after Trump and became the center of the ill-fated “Never Trump” movement. Once again, if this were a normal year or, Trump a normal candidate, Haley would probably have gotten out by now. But it’s not.
The only other candidate with more than a million dollars in cash on hand is Robert Kennedy Jr. who is running as a third-party candidate. He has raised substantially more than any of the other long shot candidates but his spending, $17 million in the past year, has left him with not very much cash on hand. Nonetheless and to the surprise of many, a Super PAC ran a very expensive Super Bowl ad on his behalf—something neither Trump nor Biden did. This seems to indicate that there’s money out there for Kennedy and he may be the third-party candidate to watch.
So, here’s what the money tracker comes down to. Trump has less money than Biden, but it probably doesn’t matter. Haley has enough money to keep going for a while and try to accumulate a block of delegates—just in case. And Kennedy probably won’t win the presidency, but he could sure spoil someone else’s chances of winning—probably Biden’s.