President Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale was running the reelection effort like the captain of the Titanic, heading straight toward an iceberg.
He had hoped for a stunning amount of money to arrive during the 2020 home stretch that would cover equally shocking spending.
But that would have left the re-election effort dead broke by the start of October, three Republicans close to the president’s campaign told Business Insider.
Parscale had been banking on campaign donations to miraculously double in October by about $200 million more than other recent months.
Trump’s new campaign team, led by Bill Stepien, had to rush to cancel the spending approved by Parscale to salvage the president’s bid for a second term.
Trump and his chief adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, ultimately demoted Parscale in July and launched an internal investigation of spending under him which turned up big ticket items like a personal driver for Parscale, extensive Air Force One travel for campaign staff and more.
Stepien and other top Trump campaign staff first noticed the potential cash shortfall after they got access to the financial documents Parscale had been keeping.
Parscale didn’t maintain a campaign budget, but he did lay out big estimates of how much money he thought the president’s reelection effort would raise.
Since Parscale’s demotion, the Trump campaign has scrambled to save money with the clock ticking fast on the 2020 race.
“There’s been a tightening of the belt,” said one Trump adviser. “They recognized pretty quickly there wasn’t going to be enough dough.”
Trump advisers say they still believe the president can win a second term even while they also acknowledge his chances are dwindling with just three weeks to go before Election Day.
Trump’s standing in national polls and critical battleground state surveys dropped significantly after his rambunctious debate performance on September 29 and following his early-morning announcement on Twitter that he had contracted the coronavirus.
The combination of a cash crunch and Trump’s own failings as a candidate has left the campaign to pick which states it targets and which ones to write off.
For example, Trump was forced to pull campaign ads in the critical battleground states of Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin.
What’s perhaps most surprising for the Trump campaign is that it has been raising record amounts of cash — even if the numbers don’t hit Parscale’s overly-optimistic estimates.
Trump raised a whopping $210 million in August, according to FEC reports.
Parscale was banking on almost double that amount to come in this month.
Entering September, Trump’s campaign committee boasted a cash reserve of more than $121 million — about two-and-a-half-times more than what it had at the same point in 2016 when Clinton’s campaign enjoyed a sizable financial advantage.
Mega-donors who have privately expressed frustration with Trump’s official super PAC, America First Action, also have swept in with their own effort to buoy the president.
Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson launched “Preserve America”, which has spent $76 million since forming in late August, according to Federal Election Commission spending records.
But Trump’s institutional advantage as the sitting president has been overtaken by the surprising momentum behind Biden’s fundraising.
The Democratic nominee’s campaign entered September with more than $180 million cash on hand, and political observers fully expect Biden to later this month report significantly better fundraising numbers than Trump for the month of September.
Republicans say that Trump’s own COVID-19 diagnosis further hit their ability to rake in money.
“I’m not going to spend $500,000 to get coronavirus from the president. Would you?” a former Trump 2016 adviser said.
Trump’s campaign in 2020 is also without one of its most notable donors from the 2016 election cycle.
Robert Mercer has refused to reprise his role as a campaign rainmaker, even though his millions would have assuredly helped Trump in this moment.
Close associates of Mercer told Insider earlier this summer the reclusive billionaire has soured on Trump and won’t come to his rescue.
Republicans had also been banking on a new online fundraising machine, named WinRed, and enthusiasm for Trump, to generate big money for them.
But the left’s own long standing digital fundraising juggernaut, ActBlue, has consistently outpaced them — spurred by big events like the first presidential debate and Sen. Kamala Harris’ turn last week on the vice presidential debate stage.
Money has been so tight that Trump himself had to attempt to beat back stories that his campaign is on the rocks and float, again, that he would open up his own checkbook to keep it running.
“I keep reading Fake News stories that my campaign is running low on money. Not true, & if it were so, I would put up money myself,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday morning. “The fact is that we have much more money than we had 4 years ago, where we spent much less money than Crooked Hillary, and still easily won, 306-223!”
But a former GOP fundraiser familiar with the campaign’s efforts said Trump’s campaign is treading water financially.
“They don’t have enough money to close out the race,” the former fundraiser said.
Trump has been livid with Parscale for the better part of the year, screaming at him repeatedly when he was campaign manager and blaming him for his woes since then.
He’s dubbed Parscale the “$10 million man” for the amount he believes Parscale took from him.
On September 26, Parscale began telling friends and campaign staff that he was under federal investigation.
Two days later, Parscale had a meltdown at his $2.4 million Florida home and his wife called the police, fearing he was suicidal.
Local police detained Parscale and later filed to remove 11 guns he kept at his house, citing him as potential danger to himself and others.
Parscale stepped down from the campaign entirely a few days later.