When it comes to fundraising, the RNC has blown its Democratic counterpart out of the water in the past 18 months. In fact, the RNC raised twice as much as the DNC in 2017, and Republicans started 2018 equally strong. Meanwhile, individual Republican congressional candidates aren't seeing the same success, with many raising sums so anemic that campaign handicappers have put them on notice.
Why is the national party performing so much better than its candidates?
For a big reason, let's go back to the summer of 2016, when Brad Parscale and his digital team became the Trump campaign's de facto outreach arm. One of the goals of their highly automated and ruthlessly targeted Facebook outreach: to build a powerful army of small-dollar conservative donors, which Trump tapped for the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to finance the last months of the campaign. After Trump won, the RNC assumed command of the list and integrated it into their email fundraising program (Trump donors may have been recruited via Facebook, but they regularly donate via email).
While Republicans have long cultivated a grassroots donor base via direct mail, Trump's list represents the first significant, sizable small-dollar digital fundraising operation I can remember on the right since Ron Paul was an internet darling in the 2008 cycle.
Most importantly, small-dollar givers rarely run into donation limits, meaning that the party can go back to this well again and again before November. In fact, Republicans are counting on Trump donors' sustained support to build a field and data operation to help hold on to the House this year.
If the RNC is rolling in clover, why aren't the Democratic Party and individual Republican candidates? The DNC's problem seems classically Democratic: disorganization, with a dash of questionable strategy. Meanwhile, Democrats' congressional campaign committees are doing fine, and Trump has mobilized millions of Americans to support just about anyone with a "D" next to their name and a semblance of sanity.
Some individual Democrats have built their own fundraising machines, like Beto O'Rourke in Texas, but many more benefit from a loose and extended network of organizations steering money to down-ballot and congressional candidates.
The Daily Kos community helped put Jon Ossoff on the map last year, for example, and groups like the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America regularly drop moneybombs on little-known candidates for state and local offices — a contributor to Democratic wins in special elections across the country.
A related factor: ActBlue, the Democratic fundraising site that allows for quick, secure donations and also serves as a validator for third-party donation drives. Democrats giving via ActBlue can feel confident that their money's going where it's supposed to.
Republican fundraising seems likely to pick up over the next few months, as panic sets in at the possibility of losing the House, and possibly the Senate. In key districts, the RNC and outside PACs and organizations will spend millions on the air and on the ground, and their work will surely save at least a few otherwise vulnerable incumbents.
But with voter enthusiasm running against them, and without a robust and trusted set of institutions to funnel grassroots donations their way, some Republicans in districts long considered safe are likely to find themselves out spent and in trouble. In 2018, the Democratic wave may have a tint distinctly green.
Colin Delany is founder and editor of the award-winning website Epolitics.com, a twenty-year veteran of online politics and a perpetual skeptic. See something interesting? Send him a pitch at firstname.lastname@example.org.