Finley: Big GOP bucks won’t go to Trump

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

It’s the second Sunday in December and Donald Trump hasn’t gone away. The Republican money is starting to plan what it will do if he never does.

Since Trump began his domination of the polls last spring, the political know-it-alls have been predicting his inevitable collapse. Conventional wisdom is that a candidate with his propensity for outrageousness is bound to self-destruct. Or that voters who found his “I Am the Greatest” schtick amusing in the meaningless summer months would get serious with winter’s approach.

But with just six weeks until the first ballots are cast in Iowa, Trump’s numbers are still getting stronger. After last week’s despicable anti-Muslim tirades, the TV showman enjoyed another uptick in the polls. It’s almost as if he’s mocking the process, testing how far he can push before the public realizes it’s all a big joke.

The people who write the fat checks for the GOP aren’t laughing. They’re coming to a grim conclusion: as crazy as it seems, Donald Trump actually may win the Republican nomination. And then what?

I spoke with several of the largest GOP donors in Michigan last week, people who contribute millions of dollars to Republican-supporting Super PACS, and raise millions more. To a person, they said the same thing: “We won’t write checks for Trump.”

“I will never vote for the guy, and I will certainly never give him a penny,” says a Metro Detroit businessman who was one of George W. Bush’s biggest fundraisers in Michigan. “In fact, as hard as it would be, if the choice is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I’ll vote for Clinton.”

Not all of the money guys went so far as to pledge a Hillary vote. But not one was wishy-washy about not supporting Trump with either their cash or their votes. So where do they put their money?

A movement is underway to convince the most reliable and generous donors to keep writing checks as they would in any other election year, but to direct them to the Republican Party instead of the superPACs that normally would form in support of the party’s presidential candidate.

The panic among the GOP leadership is that if Trump ends up atop the ticket, he’ll get so thoroughly thrashed by Clinton that he’ll wash out Republicans all down the ballot. Plans are being made to flood money to House and Senate candidates to preserve the GOP congressional majorities.

The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee is quietly advising its candidates to remain a safe distance from Trump, but without antagonizing either him or his fanatical followers.

While it’s no longer beyond reason that Trump could win the nomination, it’s hard to see how he could defeat Clinton, who will run the most expensive campaign in American history, without the backing of the party’s deep pockets.

Trump has spent very little beyond fuel for his plane, relying instead on the free media generated by his obnoxious Peter Pan act.

But when Clinton starts carpet bombing him, he’ll have to decide how much of his personal fortune — if it’s really as large as he claims — he’s willing to spend to keep this political reality show going.

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