On the presidential campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump often mentioned the amount of money his opponent Hillary Clinton had made giving speeches. He disparaged who had paid Clinton for her speeches, and that her husband, former president Bill Clinton, had given speeches to groups with business before the government while Hillary Clinton served in the Barack Obama administration. It was all evidence that she was “crooked,” in his telling.
Not to mention that she was so vastly overpaid.
“The special interests pay her for speeches,” Trump said at a Michigan rally in September 2016. “And she’s not a good speaker! Not a good speaker. They pay her a lot of money. … Who would want to hear Hillary Clinton speak and pay her $200,000, $300,000, $400,000, $500,000? Who?”
As with so many things Trump criticized on the campaign trail in 2016, he eventually came around to the idea that the post-government-service speaking tour was worth his time. In a financial disclosure made public this week, Trump reported making millions of dollars in fees for speaking engagements — often to political allies and, it seems, not infrequently at his own properties.
To put the Trump’s numbers in context, let’s look at other past presidential contenders. We can start, fittingly enough, with Clinton.
In her 2016 disclosure, she listed 22 speeches for which she was paid $5.25 million.
That was in 2015 dollars, mind you. If we adjust those figures to account for inflation, she made the equivalent of $6.7 million in 2023 dollars. The most lucrative speech was one given to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
This was already a big increase over the Republican nominee in 2012, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. He reported four speeches that year, for which he made less than $260,000 in 2023 dollars.
Clinton’s 2016 speeches were also far more lucrative than what Joe Biden was pulling in right before he was elected president. In Biden’s 2020 disclosure, he listed four speeches for which he made a bit over a half-million dollars in total.
He also listed three speeches from his wife, Jill, bringing the family total to about $660,000 in 2023 dollars.
Hillary Clinton’s speeches listed above were by no means her only ones. She and Bill Clinton made tens of millions of dollars in speaking fees after she’d left the Obama administration. But they did so in a number of relatively small chunks.
Trump, of course, came into politics as a celebrity. So while he didn’t have many speeches listed on his 2016 disclosure, he did have one, for the multilevel marketing firm ACN, that made him $450,000 — or nearly $600,000 in 2023 dollars. That easily exceeded Clinton’s most lucrative speech in the same period.
Upon leaving office, though, Trump learned just how much money there was to be made. In his disclosure made public this week, he listed 11 speeches that made him more than his ACN speech. That includes three speaking engagements of $1 million or more: commentating on a boxing match in Florida, speaking to the firm Cardone Enterprises and addressing the Universal Peace Federation World Summit. He also reported more than $1 million from his speaking tour with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
Adjusted for 2023 dollars, 11 of Trump’s 14 reported speeches were more lucrative than Clinton’s highest-paid speech reported in 2016. He made nearly twice as much in 2023 dollars as Clinton reported that year.
And that was just Trump. His wife Melania also gave several speeches that made her more than $1 million cumulatively.
For both Donald and Melania Trump, a lot of the speeches were close to home. Five of the speeches, netting the couple nearly $2 million, were listed as having taken place in Palm Beach, Fla., (where Mar-a-Lago is located) or Bedminster, N.J., (site of the club where the Trumps spend the summer).
The Trumps’ speeches were also often to groups within their broader political universe. Were someone to ask the question Trump posed about Clinton in 2016 about his own speeches, there’s a clear answer. Who would want to hear Trump speak and pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars? His political supporters and, it seems safe to assume, some who’d like to build a robust relationship with a guy who once again is running for the presidency.
In December, after he’d announced his 2024 presidential candidacy, Trump made $900,000 from WHIP Fundraising, a group that hired the Trumps for nearly $2.3 million to speak at events, according to the new disclosure. There are unlikely to be complaints from Trumpworld about the optics of such a deal.