In this edition: A first look at the fundraising quarter, a guide to the growing number of Trump administration think tanks, and candidates pile into swing state Senate races.

The great thing about campaign fundraising is that it only makes reporters do math four times per year, and this is The Trailer.

Not every fundraising quarter starts with a riot. 

The first campaign money-chase of the 2022 cycle began on Jan. 1, with Republicans narrowly in control of the Senate, Democrats more narrowly in control of the House, and the quadrennial certification of the electoral college vote expected to last a few hours longer than usual. 

One week into the year, Democrats had flipped the Senate, the Capitol was invaded by protesters trying to overturn the election, and a number of corporations swore off any donations to the Republicans who, they argued, had enabled it. 

We’re only now getting a picture of fundraising in post-Jan. 6, all-Democratic Washington. The vast majority of campaign finance reports have been published. A few more will be squeezed in by tonight’s midnight publication deadline. Former president Donald Trump’s Save America PAC, like other PACs, doesn’t have to report its fundraising until this summer.

Most of the data is in, more is coming, but here are the first takeaways and the first big surprises.

Republicans who impeached Trump did fine, but so did challengers. The 10 Republicans who sought to remove Trump from office after Jan. 6 came from a mixture of safe and swing seats, and none of them saw money dry up. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois led the pack with more than $1.1 million, not counting hundreds of thousands of donations to his new PAC, which will support like-minded Republicans. Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina, the most surprising of the 10 House impeachment “ayes,” raised more than $400,000 — far better than his average quarter last cycle, when he raised a total of $1.4 million. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming raised more than that, $1.5 million, more than she ever had in a single quarter.

Every Republican who voted with Cheney, Kinzinger and Rice has drawn a challenger, and some already look serious. Rep. Tony Gonzalez of Ohio raised more than $616,000, but Trump administration vet Max Miller, his first challenger, raised more than $500,000, more than enough to fuel a year-long primary campaign.

What happened to the corporate PAC money that used to go more broadly to Republicans? It did dry up a little, but not completely. The Koch Industries vehicle KOCHPAC, for example, gave to 43 candidates, but that included five Democrats, and the GOP money went disproportionately to Republicans who voted to accept the election results. Corporations that had pledged to cut off Republicans who challenged the results largely stuck to it; for example, reporter Judd Legum found that the sole Pfizer donation to a Republican who sought to overturn the election was an error, and rescinded.

Vulnerable Republicans fixed their fundraising problem. In 2018 and 2020, the GOP bemoaned a “green wave” of money flowing over Democrats, both from small donors who began spamming ActBlue contributions to whoever had a good story, and from megafunders such as Mike Bloomberg who could move late into close races.

Republicans aren’t having the same problem this cycle, so far. In Texas’s 23rd District, Rep. Tony Gonzales was outspent by a better than 2-to-1 margin as he won his seat, one of several Latino-majority districts that swung hard away from Democrats last year. Gonzales raised $557,003 in the first quarter, more than his predecessor, former Rep. Will Hurd, raised in his first three months in Congress.

There were no obvious slackers among the House Republicans whose paperwork was released by Thursday afternoon, and a few stars. On paper, Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s Texas district could be competitive, and Joe Biden lost it by just a few points; Crenshaw raised $2.1 million. Democrats last year targeted Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, one of the more conservative Republicans in a swing seat, after some weak fundraising quarters; Perry raised more than $310,000, ahead of his 2018 pace and keeping with his busier 2020 pace.

MAGA celebrities cleaned up. With hours left to go, the strongest non-leadership fundraiser in the House GOP conference was the most infamous: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who was pulled off her committee assignments after the Jan. 6 riots because of extremist beliefs. 

She put up $3.2 million, more than she raised in her entire 2020 campaign, which included a six-figure personal investment. (Greene’s Democratic opponent quit the race, but had no real chance against her in the safely GOP seat.)

As we’ve seen since early 2017, the Republicans most closely associated with Trump have the greatest fundraising appeal, and it has only increased as campaigns moved to the GOP’s WinRed donor portal. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio raised more than $2.1 million, and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York raised $1.1 million as she settled into her role as one of the party’s best fundraisers and recruiters. (Stefanik also raised more than $170,000 to help two colleagues, both female, whose races ended in lengthy recounts.)

Democrats facing their first competitive races are lagging behind. The red shift in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley erased the big margins some Democrats were used to, margins built when Republicans gerrymandered the area to create a few safe seats. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, in the 15th District, raised $181,030; Rep. Henry Cuellar, in the 28th District, raised $263,332. 

In Wisconsin, where Rep. Ron Kind survived the closest race since his current seat was drawn, he raised just around $222,000 — not the kind of money that will encourage speculation about a statewide run. Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, who is considered a potential Senate candidate in the state, quadrupled that total.

Democrats who got to office in swing seats fared far better. Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, whose 2020 reelection was far closer than either party expected, was the state’s top fundraiser for the first time, raising more than $923,000. There were no stragglers in the party’s 2018 class, and Rep. Katie Porter of California raised more than $2 million, dwarfing most of her colleagues. Liberals gave strategically in at least one swing race, too, with Colorado state Sen. Kerry Donovan raising nearly $650,000 for her challenge to freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert, whose red-tinted seat will be redrawn and could get bluer.

Justice Democrats are raking it in; other liberal challengers, less so. The four-year old liberal group, which focuses on winning primaries in safe blue seats, backed two challengers at the end of the quarter: Tennessee’s Odessa Kelly and New York’s Rana Abdelhamid. Both candidates got splashy announcements, launch videos and buzz, pushing them to six-figure hauls within days ― in Abdelhamid’s case, within hours. And before that, Justice Democrat-endorsed Nina Turner, running in a special Ohio congressional election, raised nearly $1.6 million, lapping her opponents.

Without a similar strategy, other challengers struggled. Maryland’s McKayla Wilkes, who launched a rematch against House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in two months ago, raised just $32,190 for the quarter. For now, Democrats have quieted their base, and the president has intraparty approval ratings above 90 percent, limiting the interest in primary challenges. There are many, many more targets for Democratic donors, and the donors have found them.

Reading list

It's a bad year to be Rhode Island.

The struggles of Scott Stringer, the New York mayoral candidate with the most time spent in elected office.

A shake-up for a party that hasn't elected a successor to a GOP governor for a very long time.

What a silver bowl and a pile of no-comments say about the former president's clout.

Goodbye, split-ticket voters.

A user's guide to Trump think tanks

When a president leaves office, most of the thousands of people he hired have to scatter. After Bill Clinton left the presidency, he founded a family foundation, while his former chief of staff founded the Center for American Progress; after George W. Bush and Barack Obama wrapped up, each founded an eponymous foundation, keeping some of their staff on the payroll.

The diaspora of Trump administration veterans puts all of that to shame, with a crop of new think tanks that can be hard to keep track of. One explanation is simple: Trump was the first president in 24 years to forfeit a second term. That meant no traditional second-term exodus, no trickle of staffers to private-sector jobs ― and after Trump's attempt to overturn the election results, outright hostility by some corporate boards in hiring Trump veterans.

The Trump-related start-ups began two years ago, when former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley launched Stand Up America; a PAC of the same name was started this year. The rush didn't really start until Trump left office, though, and Trump had little to say about it until this month. Here's a rundown of what has come forth so far, roughly in founding order:

The Center for Renewing America. Trump's final budget director, Russ Vought, launched this think tank with a Jan. 26 column in the Federalist, arguing that Trump represented the “first real counter assault to the left in decades, by a champion who had the stomach and the strength to sustain the withering fire of his adversaries.” Vought was focused in particular on social conservatism, though he closed his six-month tenure in the budget gig by refusing to help with the transition of the incoming Biden team.

“I don't think that there is an organization that does what we're attempting to do,” Vought told the conservative Steamboat Institute in an interview a few weeks later. “We don't talk about God anymore in our public square.

Vought started the project as the Center for American Restoration, changing the name after the little-known conservative group Restoration Action Inc. sued in Virginia's Eastern District, arguing that Vought was infringing upon its trademark. Vought's operation has produced no research yet.

American Cornerstone Institute. Former HUD secretary Ben Carson announced it with a Feb. 3 column in RealClearPolitics, pledging to “empower local communities” and “promote the value of self-sufficiency and the idea of creating equality of opportunity,” combating liberals who he said demanded equality of outcome. 

It's off to a slow start, producing five videos, each attracting fewer viewers than the last since the launch, including two “cornerstone conversations. One put Carson together with Heritage Foundation scholar Lindsay Burke, a critic of extended coronavirus-related school shutdowns; one brought on another Heritage Foundation expert, Hans von Spakovsky, to discuss conservative doubts about the 2020 election.

“Don't let anybody distract you from the goal of pursuing election integrity,” Carson advised a few hundred viewers. A March 18 video challenged viewers to write about the Declaration of Independence's meaning in modern American politics, with the think tank promising a discussion of the topic in the next few weeks.

Advancing American Freedom. Founded by Mike Pence on April 7, a few weeks after the former vice president joined the Heritage Foundation, it's focused on three general areas: religious liberty, economics and foreign policy. “Advancing American Freedom plans to build on the success of the last four years by promoting traditional conservative values and promoting the successful policies of the Trump Administration,” Pence said in his official announcement.

The nonprofit group consists of a website touting Trump administration achievements, with a supportive quote from Pence. (A quote from Pence about “defending the police” is four times longer than the policy description: “Continue to stand with law enforcement, as we always did during the Trump-Pence years, which means safer communities.”) Its advisers include some Trump policy veterans such as former U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer, perhaps the Trump official most respected by Democrats; it also included Vought and former Trump adviser Larry Kudlow.

America First Legal. Former Trump adviser Stephen Miller launched it on April 7, getting a different kind of attention from Pence, thanks to his plan of action: Connecting Republican attorneys, and attorneys general, for lawsuits to stop various Biden administration policies.

“Anything the president does that we believe to be illegal is fair game,” Miller told the Wall Street Journal. Miller is not an attorney, but it's not necessary for “lawfare” groups to be led by attorneys. Judicial Watch's Tom Fitton is not a lawyer; neither is Faiz Shakir, who led the ACLU's political work before joining Sen. Bernie Sanders's 2020 campaign.

The group has only commented so far on Biden decisions, though groups of GOP attorneys general are already suing the administration over, for example, language in the American Rescue Plan that prevented states from using stimulus money for tax cuts.

America First Policy Institute. A 35-member nonprofit group that debuted in Axios on April 13, and quickly got a stamp of approval from Trump, AFPI is easily the largest Trump diaspora group; its touted $20 million budget would make it about one-fourth the size of the Heritage Foundation, and a bit smaller than half the size of the Center for American Progress.

“The freedom warriors at AFPI have my full support as they work not only to preserve the historic accomplishments of my Administration, but also to propel the America First Agenda into the future,” the ex-president said in a statement, naming a few of its founders, including ex-Small Business Administration administrator Linda McMahon, Kudlow (pulling double duty), former energy secretary Rick Perry and former Domestic Policy Council director Brooke Rollins. In the think tank's launch video, Rollins praised the Trump record and said only an “outsider” approach could restore it.

“We keep the mission going,” Rollins said. “We build an infrastructure that is unlike anything the country has seen before.”

Trump himself is not associated with any of the think tanks ― that, too, is a function of his single term, and his rumination over whether to run again. (There's little progress on a presidential library for the same reason.) Trump founded Save America, his own PAC, after the 2020 election; it collected more than $85 million, but has yet to spend it on campaigns.

Ad watch

Republican State Legislative Committee, “Cancel Cancel Culture Before the Left Cancels You.” The GOP's campaign group for down-ballot races is running this spot in New Jersey and Virginia, warning that the economic damage to Georgia from Major League Baseball's decision to move the All Star Game could hurt voters in these blue states. “The left canceled our jobs,” says a narrator, after images of happy game attendees and blue-collar workers disappearing. “Yours could be next.” The ad doesn't mention the Georgia voting law that MLB protested, the fact that only one game was moved, or that the game ended up going to a blue state, Colorado; corporate decisions to protest new laws this year have been focused in deep-red states where election changes or anti-transgender legislation has passed. 

Jennifer Carroll Foy, “My Grandmother.” One of three Black candidates running for governor of Virginia, and one of two Black women, Carroll Foy is emerging as the best-funded competitor to former governor Terry McAuliffe ― but with a fraction of his support. Here, as in the field's first televised debate, Carroll Foy describes growing up with real struggles, with her family once being “forced to choose between a mortgage and medicine,” leading up to the expansion of Medicaid under Gov. Ralph Northam. Although Medicaid expansion wasn't possible during McAuliffe's term because of a GOP majority's opposition, Northam has endorsed McAuliffe.

Brian Harrison, “Biden's Border Crisis.” A veteran of Trump's Department of Health and Human Services, Harrison's ads continue to portray his campaign for Texas's 6th Congressional District as a MAGA restoration project. This ad focuses on the most resonant example of what Republicans miss: Trump's immigration policies. “Joe Biden created the crisis on our border,” says Harrison, who filed a high-profile lawsuit against the administration's immigration changes in February. Every Harrison spot so far, like his speeches and interviews, focuses on a concrete way he has challenged Biden, a contrast with more generic conservative messaging in the race.

Poll watch

Job approval of political leaders (Monmouth, 800 adults)

Joe Biden
Approve: 54% (+3 since March) 
Disapprove: 41% (-1)

Congress
Approve: 35% (+5) 
Disapprove: 56% (-3)

Public and private polling has been fairly consistent this month: Steady approval ratings for the president, low approval ratings for his immigration policy. Republicans are predicting an inevitable backlash against Democrats for enacting the agenda they ran on; in remarks published by RealClearPolitics, for example, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie told House Republicans that they should be more adamant in accusing Democrats of lying about the impacts of their plans, and “let them overreach.”

But a backlash to the Democrats' big-spending agenda isn't visible, not yet. Monmouth found Biden's approval dipping in early March and recovering here in the wake of the American Rescue Act's passage. Support for that bill is at 63 percent here and at 53 percent among white voters without college degrees, Biden's worst demographic in the election last year. The question is whether House passage of more ideological bills, such as a study of reparations or an expansion of the Supreme Court, dilutes Democrats' focus on their popular spending.

Opinion of Biden infrastructure plan (Quinnipiac, 1237 adults)

Do you support or oppose the $2 trillion infrastructure plan?
Support: 44%
Oppose: 38%

Would you support the $2 trillion infrastructure plan if it was funded by raising taxes on corporations?
Support: 53%
Oppose: 39%

The infrastructure package came out of the gate with less support than the coronavirus-related American Rescue Plan, and with a Republican fight back that resembles the one that didn't stop that bill: Accusations that the legislation included too many extraneous liberal goals. This is the sharpest public polling on the GOP's biggest challenge, making a case against how the bill would be paid for — a 7 percentage point hike to the corporate tax rate — by citing industry group estimates that businesses would shed jobs. The initial corporate tax cut of 2017 wasn't popular, and the idea of raising it now is popular. 

Sixty-two percent of voters support higher corporate taxes in general, including 34 percent of self-identified Republican voters, and 53 percent of white voters without college degrees. Support is even higher, 40 percent and 58 percent respectively, for raising taxes generally on people with more than $400,000 of annual income. Republican messaging has targeted the bill's tax hikes without specifying who would be affected; the popularity of ignoring “user fees” such as a gas tax, in favor of taxes that most voters wouldn't see, keeps the bill afloat.

Money watch

Wisconsin Democrats got a third contender in next year's Senate primary, with state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski joining the race to challenge Sen. Ron Johnson, a perennial target who may or may not run again. She's the only statewide elected official in the running, joining Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, with Nelson staking out territory as the reliable liberal in the race, the only one who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders's presidential bids.

“We're — how do I put it nicely — different,” Sarah Godlewski said in her launch video, hitting Johnson over both his opposition to the last round of coronavirus relief funding and his conspiracy-laced commentary on the Jan. 6 riots. “The truth isn't really his thing.” Godlewski narrowly won her office in 2018, months after Democrats defeated a Republican-backed ballot measure to eliminate it altogether. 

In Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman continued to get hit over a 2013 incident when he pursued a Black man whom he suspected of fleeing a crime scene, brandishing his shotgun until police arrived to interview the suspect. The story has dogged Fetterman for years, but Collective PAC, which seeks to elect Black candidates, for the first time put it on the air in a paid ad; its radio spot urges voters to “finally hold John Fetterman accountable.” State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who is Black, has already picked up some support from liberal groups skeptical of Fetterman in part because of his opposition to a fracking ban.

In North Carolina, former governor Pat McCrory jumped into the open Senate primary, his first race since losing a 2016 reelection bid to now-Gov. Roy Cooper. Republican opponents hit him not over the anti-transgender bill that arguably sunk him that year, but over the fact that he was vetted for a Trump administration job and didn't get it.

“If Pat wasn’t good enough for Trump’s administration, he’s not good enough for NC,” tweeted former congressman Mark Walker, one of the first candidates to enter the race.

In the states

On Wednesday afternoon, the chair of the Republican National Committee celebrated a “big GOP win in a blue state,” one that hadn't gotten much national attention. “Congratulations to Republican Tony Scott for winning the special election in the 112th district in Connecticut!” tweeted Ronna McDaniel.

It was a surprising reaction, because Scott had held onto a Republican seat, and by a smaller margin than his predecessor, in a fairly low-turnout race. Drawn in 2011, the 112th District gave 66 percent of the vote to its first Republican incumbent in 2011, 54 percent to a new candidate in 2014, and was preemptively conceded by Democrats for the next three cycles. Scott held on with 53 percent of the vote, but Republicans were mildly encouraged because the district, like much of Connecticut, had swung further left from 2016 to 2020. 

Republicans also held onto a state House seat in New Hampshire this week, with Bill Boyd retaining the seat of the late Dick Finch, who died of covid-19 complications shortly after being elected speaker of the House. As of now, no seats have changed hands in a special election since Biden took office; Republicans came closest in a safe Democratic seat in Virginia, in a race that got lost amid the higher-profile Senate runoffs in Georgia. (Both elections were on Jan. 5.)

Countdown

… nine days until the runoff in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District
… 16 days until the special primary in Texas’s 6th Congressional District
… 23 days until the GOP nominating convention in Virginia
… 47 days until the special election in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District
… 54 days until primaries in New Jersey and Virginia
… 68 days until New York Citys primary
… 110 days until the special primary in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District