Trump’s Truth Social merger throws curveball into presidential race

A merger deal involving former President Trump’s Truth Social platform is the latest financial twist in the White House race as he looks to close the fundraising gap with President Biden.

Biden’s campaign operation has been significantly outraising Trump’s a couple of months into 2024 even as polls show a close race nationally with Trump leading in key states. Trump is also facing significant financial hurdles as his criminal cases drain millions of dollars that could be used to help his campaign. Meanwhile, he faces a Monday deadline to put up almost half a billion dollars for a bond in the civil trial involving his business.

Trump, for his part, has pushed back on reports of his financial struggles. On Friday, he said he has more than $500 million in cash, conflicting with his attorneys who said he doesn’t have enough to cover the $454 million bond he must submit. However, he indicated he doesn’t intend to use it.

“That doesn’t mean I’m going to give money to a rogue and incompetent judge — the puppet of a corrupt attorney general who’s failing with violent crime and migrant crime and whose only purpose in life is attempting to get Trump,” Trump told Fox News Digital in an interview.

The multibillion-dollar merger deal announced Friday raised questions about whether it could generate money for Trump to both catch up to Biden in the cash race and help with his legal expenses. While it’s unclear exactly how the development will unfold, there are regulations that will limit how much it will improve the former president’s financial situation in the near future.

Provisions in the merger between Digital World Acquisition Corp. and Truth Social prevent major shareholders from selling their stock for at least six months, so the $3.5 billion that Trump — who will be the majority shareholder — could make from the deal would likely not be available in time for when the bond is due. However, Trump could try to get a waiver to allow him to sell his shares if the board of the company, which largely comprises his allies, agrees.

The merger comes as Trump faces potentially dire straits financially just as the general election campaign is getting underway. The former president has been using much of his intake over the past year to deal with his legal battles because he is facing four criminal indictments in separate jurisdictions.

Trump’s fundraising committees spent almost $30 million on legal expenses throughout the second half of 2023, bringing his total spent on legal fees last year to about $50 million. His leadership PAC, Save America, spent nearly $3 million in legal consulting fees in January and another $5.6 million last month, leaving it with just $4 million cash on hand to start this month.

Civil judgements against him have been even more financially costly. He needed to post a bond of roughly $91 million this month as he appeals the ruling that found he defamed writer E. Jean Carroll in saying she lied about him sexually abusing her.

But the largest financial hurdle is the $454 million he needs to post in his civil fraud case. Trump’s lawyers said in a court filing on Monday that securing the full bond was a “practical impossibility.”

At the same time, Trump is being outpaced by Biden in how much he is raising. In the last quarter of 2023, Biden raised $33 million, well ahead of the $19 million Trump did.

That disparity has continued into the start of this year. Biden’s campaign apparatus raised $42 million in January, while Trump’s main committees only brought in $13.8 million. Trump stepped up his fundraising in February with just more than $20 million overall, but Biden’s operation took in $53 million.

Some Republican strategists attributed the significant difference to Trump just emerging from an active and seriously contested Republican primary, while Biden faced little opposition to securing the nomination.

“Republicans didn’t have to nominate Trump. Democrats had to nominate Biden. If Trump had been the sitting president in this scenario, he’d outraise Biden, no questions asked,” said Republican strategist Zachary Moyle.

“The simple answer … is the fact that Republicans had a choice, Democrats did not. Nikki Haley has not been out that long, and that’s the fundraising difference,” he continued.

Haley, who emerged as the last remaining Trump alternative by the New Hampshire primary in January, maintained significant financial backing even as Trump continued to win the first primaries and caucuses. She attained a number of traditional Republican mega-donors, including billionaire Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and the political network of Charles Koch.

That was the first time that Koch’s American for Prosperity Action endorsed a Republican presidential candidate in a primary.

Significant funding also went to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), especially earlier in the race when he was seen as the candidate mostly likely to potentially top Trump.

“If you take all that money and throw that back in Trump World, and Trump would raise a ton,” Moyle said. “A big question for the folks that were hoping for a different match-up on the Republican conservative side, are they going to kick in at some point or are they going to stay out?”

Democrats said the financial difficulties facing Trump will give Biden an advantage as the race goes on and argued it shows stronger enthusiasm for Biden than polls suggest.

Strategist Clay Middleton, who is a member of the Democratic National Committee, said an observer would not expect the amount of money raised to be possible based on the polls.

“It is better to be us than them,” he said, referring to the GOP. “They’ll take our poll numbers and our fundraising numbers any day of the week vs. their fundraising numbers and polling.”

He said the financial advantage will allow Biden’s campaign to organize on the ground to establish voter contacts and “deep organizational relationships” sooner, going beyond digital and television ads.

“We’re peaking at the right time, and it’s going to get better from here,” Middleton said.

Democratic strategist Crimson MacDonald said she believes polls are better at indicating discontent among voters. Among Biden’s supporters, they understand the importance of money in politics but are a quieter group of backers than supporters of former President Obama, who were more openly enthusiastic, she said.

“He’s not someone that people are going to just spout to the world I love [Biden], but … the people that donate, that care enough to know he needs to be president, or they need to invest some way, they’re donating,” MacDonald said.

But Republicans said the disparity may not make Trump as vulnerable as it would other political candidates, noting Trump won in 2016 despite Hillary Clinton outraising him.

GOP strategist Justin Sayfie said Trump doesn’t need to raise more money than his opponent, only enough to win. He added he is not yet concerned about Biden’s fundraising advantage.

He also pointed to Democratic Senate candidates who outraised Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in 2020 and went on to lose.

“Those dollars didn’t translate,” Sayfie said.

He said the joint fundraising committee that Trump and the Republican National Committee set up should help the numbers improve by giving the campaign the infrastructure of the party, just as Biden has been able to work with the Democratic National Committee.

“I think you’ll see a consolidation amongst Republicans, and I think that his fundraising numbers will go up as a result now that he’s the de facto nominee of the party,” Sayfie said.

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