Trump’s Biggest Candidate Bet Was a Bust

·3 min read
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

Donald Trump rarely gives money to candidates. So it was notable this year when he put more than $3.1 million into two PACs backing former GOP Sen. David Perdue’s gubernatorial bid in Georgia.

That was a bet that didn’t pay off.

Perdue flamed out, losing to Gov. Brian Kemp in Tuesday’s Republican primary by a spectacular 50 points. And now he’s more than $3 million lighter.

To put that money in perspective, Trump’s flagship fundraising committee, Save America, has contributed a total $205,000 to 42 individual candidates since Jan. 2021.

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And ahead of the 2020 election, Trump gave less than $40,000 to candidate committees. Then, with Republican control of the Senate on the line, Trump contributed zero dollars to the twin Georgia runoffs. Those also featured Perdue, who failed there as well.

Over the same period, the Trump campaign spent $1.5 million at his own properties.

Trump’s Perdue donations this year even outstripped his largest single political gift ever, $3,000,000 to the Republican National Committee weeks ahead of the 2018 midterms.

In other words, Trump pays out for spite, not support. His generosity seems more based in selfishness and vengeance.

To wit, Save America’s second-largest beneficiary this year was a PAC opposing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), an official who—like Kemp—drew the former commander-in-chief’s wrath after opposing his efforts to illegally overturn his 2020 defeat. The anti-Cheney PAC, called “Wyoming Values,” saw a $500,000 windfall last month.

For a man who prizes loyalty, Trump didn’t show it for Perdue. Last week, Trump saw the writing on the wall in Georgia and reportedly cut bait early. To Republican insiders, the whole idea was a fool’s errand from the jump.

As one of the most profligate spenders in U.S. politics, if not the most, Trump’s parsimony towards his political allies has long frustrated GOP bigwigs. That frustration was particularly acute last year, as the party scrambled to cobble together some semblance of unity in the wake of the schismatic Jan. 6 insurrection.

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Instead of opening his arms, and wallet, the de facto leader of the Republican Party chose instead to build out his own sprawling fundraising apparatus—and then walled it off from his own allies. He saw an edge: Far and away the biggest money draw in GOP politics, Trump lorded his financial clout in an attempt to lock down control while the central party was weak.

But money isn’t everything. And it’s maybe not worth much at all. While a number of Trump-backed candidates have met with major successes over the last year, the licking they took on Tuesday set him back.

Perdue got trounced. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whose post-election integrity also earned him a target on his back, knocked out Trump-endorsed Jody Hice. The Alabama primaries saw an inversion, where Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who ultimately lost Trump’s confidence even after bending over backwards to overturn the election, eked out a run-off in his bid to move up to the Senate.

The Pennsylvania Senate race is also an outlier. Trump’s man there, television doctor Mehmet Oz, is still awaiting the results of a recount, after a choppy three-way primary race against businessman David McCormick and upstart right-winger Kathy Barnette fractured the MAGA electorate. But unlike Perdue, Oz—who is pouring millions of dollars into his own campaign—hasn’t seen a dime from Trump. He did, however, receive a little under $50,000 in consolation from the Trump-endorsed Make America Great Again, Again! super PAC.

There was one silver lining in Georgia. Herschel Walker, former NFL star and Trump’s longtime friend, sailed through his Senate primary. In December, the former Olympic bobsledder shelled out $135,510 for a holiday fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago. Trump has given him nothing.

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