Money spurt reshapes GOP presidential race
The 2024 presidential election is just beginning – and the campaign is already raging faster, louder and more expensively than ever.
Republican candidates and groups have already spent nearly $30 million on ads in the party’s primary this year, according to data from ad tracking firm AdImpact. When they cross that threshold on Saturday, it will be 50 days before Democrats hit that spending threshold in their open presidential primary four years ago, and 137 days before it took Republicans to cross. the $30 million threshold during their last presidential open. race, in October 2015.
The bulk of the spending comes from super PACs, with former President Donald Trump’s MAGA Inc. spending to blast Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and DeSantis’ Never Back Down PAC posting positives. And the accelerated pace underscores the key dynamic shaping the Republican race for the White House.
Super PACs and megadonors are playing a bigger role than ever. Candidates took advantage of loose campaign finance laws to prepare for this race — and pocket money to use or send to allies — for years before announcing campaigns. Above all, the competition between Trump and DeSantis promises to be an all-out brawl like never seen before.
“It’s a very competitive race on the Republican side to be Trump’s challenger — the dynamic is just different than in 2016,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist who served as communications director for the Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Florida Senator Marco Rubio. .
“This time Trump is trying to weed out some of his competitors early, the ‘kill them in the cradle’ strategy,” Conant continued. “And some of the potential challengers are trying to establish that they belong.”
The pace of the 2024 GOP primary is a massive escalation since the last time Republicans had an open presidential primary. Prior to 2016, the first dollar was not spent on advertising until April 3, 2015. Spending reached $1 million in June, $10 million in August, $20 million in late September, and $30 million in october.
This year, Republican presidential ad spend hit the $1 million mark on March 25, $10 million in late April, $20 million in early May, and is expected to hit $30 million on May 27.
“Inflation also exists in politics,” Conant said. “It’s increasingly expensive to reach voters, but it’s also easier to fundraise than before.”
Indeed, DeSantis enters the 2024 race with the backing of a $20 million donor already: hotel magnate Robert Bigelow, according to Time Magazine. It could end up being the biggest super PAC donation ever in a presidential primary – except tech billionaire Larry Ellison gave $35 million to a super PAC aligned with Sen. Tim Scott in recent years and is expected to pump more more in 2024.
In terms of candidates officially announcing campaigns, the primary has only just begun, but these examples illustrate just how much competition has really been going on for months, if not years. Before launching his bid, Trump seeded his super PAC with tens of millions of dollars raised by one of his fundraising committees, largely from small donors, in 2021 and 2022. DeSantis seems poised to bolster his super PAC with more than $80 million that was widely raised as he ran for re-election in Florida.
It’s not just Trump and DeSantis either. Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley incubated a list of small donors at her political nonprofit for years before uttering the words “I’m running for president.” Scott racked up nearly $22 million in his Senate campaign account, all transferable to a presidential campaign, before officially launching his 2024 candidacy with launch plans that included a multimillion-dollar ad buy.
All the pre-planning helps explain why the presidential campaign was able to ramp up so quickly compared to the last two. Candidates who can only raise a few thousand dollars at most from each donor need time to build funds, and the Democratic presidential field in 2020 was very much opposed to the PAC.
The ad war hadn’t really started at this point in the 2016 GOP race either. By the end of May 2015, the biggest spender was a nonprofit, the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America, which had spent less than $400,000 to attack Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul.
But much of the early 2024 spending has its roots in tactics that have been field-tested in previous campaigns, as politicians and political operatives explored the loosely defined limits of campaign finance law.
Former Florida GOP Governor Jeb Bush revolutionized presidential campaign fundraising in 2015 with a new strategy: Before officially announcing he was a candidate, he raised $100 million in a super PAC who would continue to support his candidacy. Now, super PAC pre-fundraising has become a regular feature of campaigns, despite questions about whether the strategy adheres to the spirit of the law limiting the amount candidates can raise from donors.
Former business executive Carly Fiorina’s campaign has outsourced much of its campaign operations to a super PAC supporting her candidacy. This election cycle, DeSantis’ campaign is expected to start with more than adequate resources, but Never Back Down signals his intention to create a grassroots organization — traditionally the purview of the campaign proper — to augment campaign operations.
The maturing of those strategies meant the Trump and DeSantis teams were ready to do battle right away this year. And it’s not going to slow down anytime soon.