President Trump and Democratic presidential candidates are almost in agreement on one point: The partisan need to impeach him has turned into a fundraising bonanza.
Trump’s campaign, his super PAC and pro-Trump groups have raised $164 million in 2018, according to a recent tally, making it the most successful election cycle for outside groups since 2012. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Senate Democrats have raised more in the process.
Americans for Prosperity, the nonprofit arm of the billionaire Koch brothers, has turned the idea of impeachment into a prodigious fundraising opportunity for its political action committee. Through October, AFP had $92 million cash on hand after raising $76 million for 2018.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, two of the top Democratic 2020 contenders, have also raised money that focuses on impeaching Trump.
A Harris spokesman said on Tuesday that the idea of the election cycle being about a potential Trump impeachment, and how it has helped, was not intended to imply that it was a definitive part of her agenda.
“[T]he idea is not to talk about impeachment,” the spokesman said. “It’s to talk about the threat of impeachment.”
Warren spokesperson Corry Bliss responded with a similar statement: “The goal of our 2018 Swing Left ad buys was to talk about a Democratic House and the kind of House that we’re building to impeach Donald Trump. We are not, nor will we be, talking about impeachment.”
While outside groups have been finding success in fundraising from a government shutdown-related fundraising push, their top-level donors have continued to look for a savior from the White House. That has set off speculation about who could emerge from a potential 2020 field to move the needle in Democratic fundraising.
From there, the question is: Do candidates have the cash to withstand the budget-busting financial disasters that Trump and the Republicans plan to inflict on the Democratic candidates? That is a big question.
In recent cycles, Democratic candidates have struggled in closing out Election Day with higher-than-expected funds. Senate candidates turned to super PACs to get through 2016. Senate Democrats used their partisan advantage to turn 2016 into a ground-game bonanza, pouring in millions of dollars in digital advertising that poured down the same fundraising rabbit hole that has existed throughout this cycle.
But independent groups have generally focused on to deflect Democratic candidates’ spending.
“Once the shoe is on the other foot, Democrats have not done well in those cycles,” said a senior Democratic operative involved in previous partywide efforts.
It is also unclear how much money candidates will need — much less need — to compete during a close midterm election cycle. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales projects Republicans will control the House by roughly 25 seats. Democrats have only about half of the incumbents up for reelection on top of all of their House and Senate candidates.
“In 2018 we certainly did see a lot of down-ballot candidates needing money,” the operative said. “But the game is even more important in 2020, when only a handful of their incumbents are up for re-election. They are going to need a lot more money in 2020 to be competitive.”
A number of dark-money groups have announced plans to bankroll the efforts of candidates or have already turned the idea of impeachment into a prominent fundraising tool.
Neither AFP nor the GOP super PAC American Action Network, whose chairman, Michael Gerson, is a prospective presidential candidate, would disclose how much they had raised through late August.
The American Future Fund, another GOP super PAC, has put every fundraising pitch it has sent to donors into a chart touting its role in pursuing a possible impeachment.
In the past year, Trump has soldiered on at his namesake event in Iowa, raising at least $60 million for his 2020 reelection campaign, his 2020 super PAC and to be used to pay more contributors. He’s also fired off a stream of executive orders in an effort to add thousands of dollars into the coffers of GOP challengers.