Eyeing national race, Trump moves on fundraising

Jonathan Lemire and Julie Bykowicz
Associated Press

New York — Donald Trump is taking his first quick steps toward raising the massive amounts of money needed for a national presidential race, aiming to broaden his primary insurgency into a full-fledged general election campaign and unite the fractured Republican Party behind him.

Trump is reaching out to party heavyweights, hoping to repair his at-times strained relationships with the Republican National Committee and big GOP donors whom he bashed repeatedly during the primaries.

On Thursday, his campaign named a finance chairman, Steven Mnuchin, who is chairman and chief executive officer of Dune Capital management LLC, a private investment firm, and previously worked at the New York bank Goldman Sachs. Mnuchin “brings unprecedented experience and expertise” to the fundraising operation, the campaign said.

Trump’s new efforts include taking pains to reassure party leaders that he wants to help Republican Senate and House candidates, some of whom have expressed major concerns that Trump at the top of the GOP ticket will be a drag on their own campaigns.

Meanwhile, don’t expect to see Mitt Romney at the Republican Party’s national convention this summer.

An aide to the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee confirms that Romney isn’t planning to attend the convention whereTrump is expected to become the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nominee. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal discussions.

Romney has been an aggressive critic of Trump. The former Massachusetts governor vowed earlier in the year that he’d rather write someone in than vote for Trump in the general election.

Earlier this week, Trump’s final GOP foes, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, suddenly dropped out, clearing his path to the nomination. But some of the party’s big names are still keeping Trump at arm’s length. An aide to Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee in 2012, said Romney was not planning on attending the national convention in July.

Members of the celebrity businessman’s campaign were to meet with the party’s national committee and enter a joint fundraising agreement needed for both his bid and for Republicans to maintain control of Capitol Hill, aides said.

“In order to really govern, we need majorities in the House and Senate. We’re going to work with the party to raise money for down-ballot races to be successful,” said Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, in an interview Thursday.

“We’re going to work with the RNC hand-in-glove,” Lewandowski said.

He said that a fundraising plan has not yet been set for Trump’s White House bid, a hugely expensive undertaking even for a billionaire real estate developer. Trump, who has said he paid for most of his primary campaign by himself, acknowledges he would have to sell some of his holdings to muster the hundreds of millions of dollars for a general election bid.

“I mean, do I want to sell a couple of buildings and self-fund? I don’t know that I want to do that necessarily,” Trump said on MSNBC Wednesday.

So, billionaire though he is, Trump starts out in a deep hole when it comes to fundraising.

As a primary candidate, he disparaged his GOP rivals for being beholden to special interests by taking their money. This approach now manifests itself as a problem, since Trump has decided to raise money and is likely to face off with Hillary Clinton, a Democratic fundraising powerhouse.

In addition to openly trashing the same donors he now needs, Trump never built a traditional fundraising operation with a finance team that can fan out across the country and raise quick cash. He’s poised to tap the RNC’s existing donor network, although some of the party’s big donors are reluctant to embrace him.

“High-dollar donors need to be convinced that Trump is going to be a serious candidate and won’t embarrass them,” said Charlie Spies, a veteran Republican operative with deep ties to party fundraisers.

Through the end of March, Trump had raised $12 million, mostly from fans who clicked the “donate” button on his website or bought wares such as the ubiquitous red ballcap emblazoned with his slogan, “Make America Great Again,” campaign finance documents show. He also made about $36 million in personal loans to his primary campaign.

That contrasts with Clinton, who has raised some $187 million so far and began her general election fundraising effort back in November by setting up a “victory fund” that can solicit huge checks for her campaign, the Democratic National Committee and state parties.

Clinton is spending the better part of this month on a fundraising, including stops in New York, Michigan, California and Texas. Trump, as of Wednesday night, had not a single fundraising event on the books.

The differences don’t end there. A pro-Clinton super political action committee that can take unlimited donations from wealthy individuals, companies and unions has already reserved some $90 million worth of advertising for the general election. Great America, which is shaping up to be the main pro-Trump super PAC, was almost $1 million in debt at end of March.

Ed Rollins, who ran Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign, hopes to change that. He joined Great America as a senior strategist and said on a super PAC conference call Wednesday. “We’re going to figure out what the Trump campaign needs and can’t do by itself,” Rollins told callers.

Trump’s lean campaign team will likely soon expand and lean heavily on the RNC infrastructure as he prepares for the national convention in July.

He will also name a transition team and a vice-presidential search committee. He says he has not truly begun the VP vetting process but will favor a Washington veteran.

Said Lewandowski: “When a complete outsider is picked to lead the ticket, it makes sense to have someone with government experience on it. He wants a strong executive who has a leadership role in D.C.”