It might surprise you to know that most of these candidates are not, in fact, winners. The real fundraising winner of the past three months? Donald Trump. This chart, courtesy of my friends at NBC News, shows why:
Of the major candidates, Trump spent the least. Sure, it's true that some of Trump's low spending has to do with the fact that, unlike anyone else on that chart, he is almost entirely self-funding his campaign. Without the need to hold fundraisers (or employ fundraising consultants) you can keep costs down.
But, even with that caveat, the fact that Trump has spent so little to get SO much is remarkable. He is in first place in every single national and key-early-state poll I have seen and he continues to dominate the conversation about the race. Not only is he dominating the conversation about the race, but he has also started to dictate the terms. Twenty-four hours after Trump floated the idea of skipping the next debate, sponsored by CNBC — because, among other things, it was too long — CNBC announced that the debate would run only two hours.
The return on Trump's investment — if you judge returns by winning, which he, of course, does — at the moment is astronomical. He spent roughly a third as much as Jeb Bush did over the past three months even as the former Florida governor watched his polls numbers sink, both nationally and in places such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
There is an argument to be made that although Trump might have won the fundraising battle, he will eventually lose the war. This is because unlike, say, Clinton or Bush who are investing heavily in early-state organizations, Trump is not doing anything of the sort. (Trump's biggest expenditure of the past three months — $825,000 — was on gear with his "Make America Great" slogan on it.) Trump might be getting a lot of bang for his buck at the moment, his detractors will argue, but when it comes to putting together an apparatus to turn out voters, he's nowhere.
I won't argue that Trump has anywhere close to the field operation of Bush or even Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. What I might argue is that field and turnout operations might be overrated for a celebrity like Trump who seems to draw huge crowds wherever he goes and has a knack for hoovering up free publicity.