Welcome to Trail Mix, a fun but nutritious snack for your election news diet. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at email@example.com.
This week, we look at the looming cash crunch in the GOP primary, Trump’s latest wedge issue against DeSantis, and a 2024 endorsement battle bringing some thunder to the Sunshine State.
In for a dime, in for a dollar
Former President Donald Trump’s sustained fundraising prowess among small donors is a problem the rest of the 2024 field will be stuck with for the foreseeable future, but especially for those vying for the first debate in Milwaukee in just over 100 days on Aug. 12.
Trump’s re-election campaign pulled in $14.5 million in the first quarter of this year, far ahead of any of his rivals, including the Nikki Haley campaign raising a still-impressive $8.3 million (even though it’s not the “more than $11 million in just six weeks” the Haley campaign initially claimed in a press release.)
Trump’s ability to turn his most toxic baggage into GOP primary gold, as one digital fundraising consultant told The Daily Beast for this edition of Trail Mix, means that campaigns are “gonna find out the hard way” that there are two small-donor marketplaces: one for the Teflon Don, and one for everybody else.
“There’s not much of an appetite out there in the grassroots, the small dollars, for people not named Trump,” the GOP fundraising hand said. “The country club Republicans, the folks that can go to a cocktail mixer and donate a thousand bucks, that’s not who we’re talking about.”
The small-to-medium-size donor landscape has been reshaped for a variety of other reasons not entirely unrelated to Trump, most notably the ideological MAGA purge of GOP voter rolls and the tens of thousands of Republicans who died from COVID-19 over the past three years.
While the RNC has yet to release the official donor threshold that campaigns will have to reach to land a spot on the debate stage—The Daily Beast has been told the polling percentage for the first contests will likely be around 1 percent—Trump’s 2024 rivals will be fighting for pennies.
“Donald Trump has just absolutely dominated the small dollar game, and he’ll continue to,” the fundraising strategist said, noting the Trump campaign identified around a quarter of his post-indictment contributions coming from first-time donors.
“He is back on Facebook, he’s on Instagram again. Donald Trump’s not having a problem finding new grassroots donors, but everyone else will,” this strategist said.
The closest 2024 might get to an actual policy debate
If the early stages have been any indication, the Republican 2024 presidential nomination will be more of a cage match marked by petty personal insults than policy disagreements in the marketplace of ideas.
But former President Donald Trump has found a way to briefly merge the two, forging a rare tool in his arsenal where the proverbial “wedge” in a wedge issue is actual public policy, not just a grievance or shared enemy.
After beating the drum for months that Republicans shouldn’t touch Social Security and Medicare—despite all of his White House budget proposals including cuts to those same programs—Trump has found a way to corner Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on the closest thing to a policy difference the 2024 GOP primary might see.
Even though Trump’s track record on protecting entitlement programs is rather shoddy, Republican strategists think he’s set an effective trap for DeSantis before he fully enters the race.
The DeSantis operation is in “a real pickle,” a former senior Trump campaign official and longtime GOP strategist told The Daily Beast, with regard to how the Florida governor addresses this issue. He has to somehow not alienate the MAGA base while also countering Trump attacks over DeSantis’ past votes and policy endorsements as a congressman.
“People forget we’re not in that old school Reagan era anymore,” the Trump alum continued, adding that the GOP base in this decade cares far less about fiscal conservatism. “The demographic has changed. So no, they don’t give a shit about that anymore,” this official said.
Read more on how Medicare and Social Security are at the heart of the aftermath of the viral “Pudding Fingers” ad—referring to an anecdote first reported by The Daily Beast—and how the DeSantis response left Republican observers befuddled.
Canary in the Flo mine
From the Panhandle to the Everglades, Trump has been mopping the floor with DeSantis when it comes to House GOP endorsements from the Sunshine State.
DeSantis appeared to have a solid, small win in the bag on Monday with his first congressional endorsement of the cycle—even though he technically isn’t in the race yet—from Rep. Laurel Lee, whose district sits just outside of Tampa.
Then, the same day that DeSantis was on Capitol Hill for a Sunshine State-oriented charm offensive, Trump picked up a pair of key Florida endorsements from Reps. Brian Mast and John Rutherford. They became the sixth and seventh House Republicans to back the former president over the seventh most popular governor in the country, according to Morning Consult’s tracker.
By the end of the week, Trump was up to 10 endorsements out of the 20 in the Florida House GOP delegation. The 10th was particularly stinging for DeSantis; it came from Rep. Michael Waltz, who represents the same district—around St. Augustine Beach—that DeSantis represented five years ago.
DeSantis’ trip to Capitol Hill wasn’t much more fruitful when it came to other states.
Of the nine Congressional Republicans who formally hosted DeSantis’ meet-and-greet event on Tuesday, only three were willing to call it an endorsement, according to Politico’s Sarah Ferris, Ally Mutnick, and Burgess Everett.
Multiple GOP sources told The Daily Beast that DeSantis sending a staffer to initially shore up the Florida delegation endorsements was generally not well received.
Image of the week
Ahead of DeSantis’ first visit to South Carolina on Wednesday, some unofficial merch was on sale for those waiting in line at the North Charleston Coliseum. The governor floated the idea this week of building a new state prison next to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
‘This is all on Dianne’
The debate over 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California has put Republicans and Democrats in an awkward position, The Daily Beast’s Ursula Perano reports, but for very different reasons under the incentive structure of Capitol Hill.
The Daily Beast’s Roger Sollenberger cracks open the latest FEC filings from Rep. George Santos (R-NY), which have been “truly mystifying watchdogs, as Santos made yet another seemingly inexplicable change” to his already messy finances.
Just a few notes
Donors and other key GOP players are “increasingly voicing worries that DeSantis has made unforced errors or embraced extreme positions that could hurt him in a general election,” Hannah Knowles, Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey and Maeve Reston of WaPo report.
Persona non Jenna
Former Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis has drawn the scorn of Trumpworld and the MAGA faithful, finding herself on the front lines of the cold war turned hot between the two Florida men, The Daily Beast’s Zachary Petrizzo reports.