President Donald Trump predicted last week in Manhattan that House Democrats’ impeachment proceedings would be a “positive for me, for the election.”
His campaign began testing the theory Tuesday just minutes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an official impeachment inquiry.
“WITCH HUNT! I need you on my Impeachment Defense Team,” read a text promising to double-match contributions, the first in a flood of impeachment-themed fundraising appeals to Trump supporters.
Trump and the Democratic presidential candidates both have seized on the historic step toward his impeachment to imbue their text, email and social media solicitations with a sense of urgency. The president and the Republican National Committee, in particular, are trying to cash in on Pelosi's push by framing it as an attempt to undermine the will of Trump voters.
Trump's re-election campaign and Trump Victory — his operation with the RNC — jointly raised $13 million in the days following Pelosi’s announcement, a Republican official said -- $5 million in online small-dollar donations in the 24 hours after she launched the impeachment inquiry and $8 million from two New York City fundraisers that Trump attended Wednesday and Thursday.
Democrats, too, have begun focusing their fundraising efforts on the impeachment inquiry and actions by Trump that precipitated it, though some of their outreach asked supporters to weigh in via petitions and polls rather than to donate. The Democrats’ campaigns did not immediately release fundraising figures from last week.
The political moment is without precedent. Trump seeks re-election while under investigation as only the fourth president in U.S. history to face impeachment. The revelations that led a surge of moderate Democrats to back impeachment proceedings involved Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate his potential 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.
To top it off, the events have unfolded just before the third-quarter fundraising deadline of Sept. 30.
“To be very clear: as a 2016 candidate, Donald Trump openly encouraged a foreign adversary to hack a political opponent and attack our elections. As President, he’s doing it again in broad daylight,” Sen. Kamala Harris of California wrote in an email urging supporters to add their names to a petition calling for impeachment.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont asked backers via email to respond to a poll on impeachment and noted that he called three months ago for an impeachment inquiry. “I believed then and I believe now that in Donald Trump we have the most corrupt president in the modern history of this country,” he wrote.
Biden used a fundraising appeal that evoked a phrase from the partial transcript of the July 25 conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. According to the White House memo, Zelensky said he’s ready to buy antitank missiles from the United States and Trump responded, “I would like you to do us a favor, though.”
A Biden fundraising email Wednesday used the subject line: “I’m asking YOU for a favor.” It said Trump “asked a foreign leader for a favor in an attempt to manufacture a smear campaign against me.”
Biden as vice president had pushed for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor widely seen as complicit in the country's corruption. Biden’s son, Hunter, at the same time was working with a Ukrainian energy company being probed. Trump alleges that Biden was shielding his son from investigation. The prosecutor general who replaced the dismissed official said the probe found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
Biden had his best week of fundraising since his second week as a candidate, according to a campaign official, who did not disclose how much he had brought in.
Ashley Koning, a Rutgers University professor of politics, said Trump's implication in the Ukraine call that Biden is the Democrat to beat could help the former vice president against Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as she surges in polling.
"The impeachment talk especially puts Biden in an interesting — and potentially very favorable — position as the target of Trump’s pressuring, enabling him to fundraise off a situation that is a personal and direct attack on him," Koning said.
The campaigns of the other two top-polling Democrats, Sanders and Warren, who has called for Trump to be impeached but hasn’t recently fundraised on the prospect, did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, continued late into the week to urge donors to his “Official Impeachment Defense Task Force" and offer a 100 percent match of their contributions.
“Through this impeachment farce, Democrats are trying to deny Americans the opportunity to vote to re-elect the president,” campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told Newsday, “because they know they can’t beat him fair and square.”
The response from donors is "stronger than ever," Murtaugh said.