The rich men fall in line. Of course.
“It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it" --- Donald Trump
Sure he's a criminal. But he's their criminal...
Deep-pocketed Republicans who snubbed Donald Trump in 2016 are going all in for him in 2020, throwing their weight behind a newly created fundraising drive that’s expected to dump tens of millions into his reelection coffers.
The effort involves scores of high-powered businessmen, lobbyists and former ambassadors who raised big money for George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney — and who are now preparing to tap their expansive networks for Trump after rebuffing his first presidential bid.
The project, which is closely modeled after the famed Pioneers network that helped to fuel Bush’s 2000 campaign, is slated to be formally unveiled on May 7, when well-connected Republican fundraisers from around the country descend on Washington for a closed-door event with Trump 2020 aides. Under the plan, which was described by more than a half-dozen party officials, high-performing bundlers who collect at least $25,000 for Trump Victory, a joint Trump 2020-Republican National Committee fundraising vehicle, will earn rewards like invitations to campaign-sponsored retreats, briefings and dinners.
Party officials have been reaching out to top fundraisers in recent weeks and wooing them with the prospect of joining “raiser clubs,” with names like 45 Club, Trump Train and Builders Club.
The push illustrates how Trump, who once took a sledgehammer to rivals for their supposed fealty to big donors, has come to rely on a GOP establishment he once repudiated. And it’s a sign of just how closely the lean, ragtag operation that stunned the political world in 2016 now resembles a traditional presidential campaign. Yet it also underscores how the elite Republican money class, which waged an aggressive, but ultimately unsuccessful effort to stop Trump in the 2016 election, has come to accept and accommodate a president it once scorned.
Roy Bailey, a prominent Dallas-based fundraiser who is helping to spearhead the Trump Victory program, said around 150 people had so far signed on — some of whom had been fervently opposed to Trump in 2016. “There were still a lot of people who were trying to lick their wounds and hadn’t quite gotten over the fact that he had whipped everybody. They were slow to come on board,” said Bailey, who recently left his post as finance chair for a pro-Trump super PAC to take on the new role.
“I’ve had a couple of people that in 2016, they just weren’t on board with candidate Trump at all and they said, ‘Look, Roy, he has won me over. I’m all in,’” he added.
Advising the Trump team in its effort to win over traditional givers is Jack Oliver, a stalwart of the Republican Party establishment who helped lead fundraising for the presidential bids of George W. Bush and his brother, Jeb. Oliver’s involvement, senior Republicans say, is partly intended to send a signal to the traditional GOP donor set that the campaign is eager for their support.
“I think you’ll have a significant number of Bush and Romney veterans that were on the sidelines or didn’t get overly involved in 2016 but will be involved in the 2020 campaign,” said Oliver, an architect of the Pioneers program who became known as “Bush’s brigadier of bucks.” Oliver himself sat out the 2016 general election.
The campaign is aggressively wooing those who backed other candidates in 2016. Among those signing on is Geoff Verhoff, a lobbyist at the Washington firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld who bundled more than $1 million for Marco Rubio.
Verhoff, who sat out the remainder of the 2016 presidential race after Rubio dropped out, predicted that Republican fundraisers across the spectrum would mobilize for the president because they were happy with his agenda. And he pointed to another motivating factor: fear of a Democratic 2020 field that includes liberal figures like Bernie Sanders.
“All you have to do is look at what the other side is gearing up for and this is a pretty easy decision for a lot of people,” said Verhoff. “From a policy standpoint, there’s virtually nothing they disagree with, then layer on top of that the choice that the other side is presenting to the country and it’s a no-brainer.”
Trump aides are especially keen to make inroads with Jeb Bush’s massive funding network — even though the former Florida governor pointedly declined to endorse Trump in 2016 and said last month that “someone should run” against the president in 2020 “because Republicans ought to be given a choice.” A pro-Bush super PAC raised over $120 million during the 2016 race, but many of its donors never came around to the eventual nominee.
A thaw, however, appears to be underway. Anthony Gioia, who served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to Malta and sat on the sidelines after donating to Jeb Bush and Rubio in the 2016 race, is expected to fundraise for Trump. So, too, is Rick Hohlt, a veteran Washington lobbyist and Bush family benefactor who has fundraised for Republicans going back to the 1980 presidential race.
“I think people are totally impressed by how the campaign is being set up, efficient and focused like a business,” said Hohlt, who later on became a Trump 2016 donor, adding that the Trump team was identifying bundlers “at all kinds of levels.”
Not everyone is getting behind the effort. Some establishment donors are turned off by a chaos-ridden White House and a smashmouth president they see as demolishing norms. Others contend that with Trump developing a formidable small-dollar machine that has already raked in $30 million this year, there is little need for a traditional bundling program.
And to others, the typical rewards associated with bundling big dollars for a president — including appointments to posh ambassadorships and ceremonial committees — are less appealing in an unconventional administration where access works differently. Some fundraisers who’ve been contacted say they have little to gain by joining the effort.
Yet winning over mainstream givers — including some former strident Trump critics — has emerged as a priority for the campaign. Vice President Mike Pence has been wooing an array of well-heeled former Trump critics in recent weeks. During a gathering of major givers at the iconic Pebble Beach golf course last month, the vice president lavished praise on hedge fund manager Paul Singer and huddled privately with investment banker Warren Stephens, both of whom donated millions to a super PAC devoted to stopping Trump from winning the Republican nomination in 2016.
And from his perch at party headquarters, Todd Ricketts, the Republican National Committee finance chairman, has been burning up the phones of major fundraisers who bankrolled an array of 2016 candidates.
“I’m really hoping to make sure we get every person that was a Rubio or Bush supporter in ’16 or Cruz and so on and make sure that they’re working for the president and even going back to a lot of the Romney people from 2012,” said Ricketts. “It’s in that same pool.”
The behind-the scenes bundler recruitment effort has been aggressive ahead of the May 7 rollout. Late last month, party officials invited would-be fundraisers to a New York City briefing featuring Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and White House chief economist Larry Kudlow.
Those in charge of the president’s reelection are carefully looking for indications that once-chilly establishment givers are warming up to Trump. On Wednesday, RNC Co-Chairman Tommy Hicks Jr., whose father purchased the Texas Rangers from an ownership team that included George W. Bush, attended a fundraiser in his native Dallas that was filled with longtime supporters of the former president.
“I saw,” said Hicks, “a lot of familiar faces.”
No doubt Trump is very excited. He'll be skimming a nice taste for himself. He always does.