With Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich bowing out of the Republican presidential race, Donald Trump now stands alone as the party's presumptive nominee. The real estate magnate / reality TV star / somehow-now-politician's quick rise to frontrunner status has led to a prolonged stunning of the Republican establishment and a substantial portion of the electorate. We all know that, unfortunately, money plays a big role in politics. It thus might be easy (not to mention comforting) to point to Trump's wealth as a reason for his success. However, this one fact about his campaign puts that rationale to rest: Trump has spent significantly less than several other candidates in this race, and less than Mitt Romney did in 2012.
Up through April, Trump spent about $50 million throughout his primary campaign. No small chunk of change, for sure, but it pales in comparison to what many of his competitors spent. Cruz and his donors invested about $112 million into his bid. Sen. Marco Rubio shelled out $111 million on his presidential run, which fizzled out after he lost his home state of Florida in March. Kasich only spent $33 million. On the Democratic side of the aisle, both candidates have spent well over $150 million.
The Daily Mail offers an interesting breakdown of how much each candidate spent per vote and delegate earned. In that context, Trump's campaign has been the most cost-efficient, having spent under $5 per vote and just over $50,000 per delegate. Jeb Bush got the least for his money; each vote he earned cost him over $500, and each delegate over $34 million. (Oh, Jeb!) The candidate to come closest to Trump is Hillary Clinton, who has spent just over $84,500 per delegate and just under $15 per vote.
Trump has also spent significantly less than Romney did during his 2012 bid for the Republican nomination. By the end of March that year, Romney had put in over $76 million. Each vote had cost him $18.50, and each delegate $126,000.
For all that, money could still be a significant component of Trump's success. For one, being wealthy might make him seem successful and powerful to some voters. Also consider the crucial fact that one of the things money gets you in elections is exposure. And Trump didn't need money to get that. His celebrity status, combined with the amount of media attention his bizarre bid has garnered, have him covered on that front. In mid-March, The New York Times reported that Trump had spent significantly less on media than his main contenders, and he had earned about $2 billion in free media coverage. That's about six times more than Cruz, his main rival.
Still, Trump's low amount of campaign spending is unsettling, showing how easily a rich man with a big mouth and a loose grasp on policy can rise to a position of potential political power.