Donald Trump’s May fundraising numbers are awful. Here’s why he can’t shrug it away

Donald Trump raised only $3.1 million in May, a startling number for a presumptive presidential nominee.
Donald Trump raised only $3.1 million in May, a startling number for a presumptive presidential nominee. AP

Donald Trump’s campaign raised $3.1 million in May.

He ended last month with $1.3 million cash on hand.

How bad is that?

Hillary Clinton had $42 million on hand after raising $27 million in May. At least a few of the Republicans whom Trump beat in the primaries have more cash on hand right now. Dozens of congressional candidates do, too.

How troubling should all this be to GOP leaders?

Look at it this way: Trump clinched the nomination on May 3, the night he beat Ted Cruz in the Indiana primary. Historically, that’s when the party – and importantly, its donors – rally around you. Instead, he managed to raise an inconceivable $100,000 or so a day.

(Trump did, however, manage to spend more than $1 million in May paying his own companies and family for campaign and travel expenses, according to the Washington Post. That looks bad.)

Here’s what did happen in May: Trump began his racist attacks on the “Mexican” judge hearing the Trump University lawsuit. He speculated that the Democratic nominee and her husband might have been involved in a murder. He was exactly the candidate he’s always been, instead of pivoting in a serious-minded way toward the general election, as his campaign suggested.

Donors big and small have responded by putting their wallets away. It’s another signal of the deep unease in the party about Trump, and it’s a reminder how little work he’s done toward building the kind of viable national campaign apparatus needed to compete with Clinton’s mega-operation.

It’s also a messaging problem. It’s harder to campaign as the rich, successful guy when your campaign is urgently pleading for money.

Trump waved all that off this morning, telling Fox & Friends that his is a lean campaign on purpose and that he has raised a lot of money recently. That’s difficult to believe, given the awful few weeks Trump has had on the trail, which even he acknowledged this morning. A better gauge of how behind he might feel: Trump sent out his first fundraising email this morning.

Trump has maintained all along that he doesn’t need much money, thanks to all the free publicity he gets from media. But that attention has sharpened now that the primary is over, and campaign money is about more than spending on ads. As Barack Obama showed and Clinton has clearly learned, it’s about having a robust and technologically modern state-by-state campaign operation. She has that. Trump doesn’t.

It’s one more thing for party leaders and down-ballot Republicans to worry about, along with new battleground polls and a growing delegate insurrection.

All campaigns experience highs and lows on the road to November. But Trump’s lows, including this latest news, are historically low. How much are Republicans willing to bear?

Peter St. Onge