Donald Trump’s push to route his supporters’ money through his own political apparatus, rather than traditional Republican campaign committees, has ignited fears among GOP donors and operatives that the former president could hamstring the party’s efforts to win House and Senate majorities in next year’s midterm elections.
Letters in recent days from Trump’s lawyers to the Republican National Committee and the party’s House and Senate campaign arms have warned against using Trump’s name to raise money.
And in tweet-like statements, he is urging his supporters to give money directly to his Save America political action committee – leaving the network of campaign committees and affiliated super PACs that typically lead midterm efforts in the cold.
“No more money for RINOS,” Trump said in a Monday evening statement. “They do nothing but hurt the Republican Party and our great voting base–they will never lead us to Greatness. Send your donation to Save America PAC at DonaldJTrump.com. We will bring it all back stronger than ever before!”
In another statement Tuesday evening, Trump repeated his insistence that donors give their money directly to his PAC – even as he claimed he was not at odds with Republican campaign committees that will be vying for many of the same donors’ dollars.
“I fully support the Republican Party and important GOP Committees, but I do not support RINOs and fools, and it is not their right to use my likeness or image to raise funds,” Trump said in the statement. “So much money is being raised and completely wasted by people that do not have the GOP’s best interests in mind.”
In an unusual joint statement, the chairs of the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee responded Tuesday night by saying they were “grateful” for Trump’s support, “both past and future.”
“Through his powerful agenda, we were able to break fundraising records and elect Republicans up and down the ballot. Together, we look forward to working with President Trump to retake our Congressional majorities and deliver results for the American people,” said the statement, attributed to RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, Sen. Rick Scott, and Rep. Tom Emmer.
Trump’s moves to consolidate his donors’ money behind his own causes shows that fundraising has become the latest front in the fight over the future of the Republican Party.
His appetite for primaries – especially against House and Senate Republicans who voted to impeach or convict him for inciting the January 6 riot at the US Capitol – is likely to place Trump at odds with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and other GOP establishment groups that typically seek to avoid costly and divisive intra-party fights and consolidate support behind candidates most likely to win general elections.
“If you control the money, you control the party,” Republican donor Dan Eberhart told CNN on Tuesday. “Trump has effectively stunted the RNC, NRCC and NRSC this cycle because they are going to have to spend an awful lot of time worrying about friendly fire from the MAGA crowd.”
“The MAGA endorsement is going to loom large this cycle for everyone. When Trump puts his finger on the scales, it may prove decisive in a lot of races,” said Eberhart, who said he is considering a Senate run in Arizona. “There is going to be a lot of consternation when Trump backs a different candidate than the NRSC and the NRCC in primary races. Serious people are going to get burned.”
‘Some natural tension’
Over the weekend, one long-simmering dispute over the use of Trump’s name and likeness in Republican fundraising appeals spilled over into the public. After Trump lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to three of the party’s fundraising committees, the Republican National Committee denied the request in a letter obtained by CNN.
The RNC’s chief counsel, J. Justin Reimer, told Trump’s lawyers the RNC has “every right to refer to public figures” in its political speech and will “continue to do so.”
Reimer also noted the “close relationship” between Trump and McDaniel. The letter added that Trump “reaffirmed to her over the weekend that he approves of the RNC’s current use of his name in fundraising and other materials.”
Politico first reported the RNC’s letter.
Trump’s lawyers also sent the same cease-and-desist request to the NRCC and the NRSC. A spokesman from the NRCC declined to comment and a spokeswoman from the NRSC did not respond to a request for comment.
The episode revealed how the former President is still gripping tightly to his valuable political brand.
“There’s some natural tension that exists between the president and a lot of these committees that predates the most recent situation where the president is unhappy about his likeness being used. That is something that they were very protective of during his time in office,” said one Republican operative who requested anonymity to discuss interparty dynamics.
The clash also shows how central Trump remains to the Republican Party’s own strategy, particularly as it relates to growing its small-dollar donor base. But the party’s reliance on Trump’s popularity with the Republican base conflicts with its need to expand its reach beyond the former President’s devoted supporters.
“The desire is to have it both ways, where you get the former president’s voters, not his baggage,” said a GOP campaign strategist who requested anonymity to speak candidly about Republican incentives.
Some Republican donors, eager to see the GOP win majorities in next year’s midterm elections, are dismissive of Trump’s fits. Lisa Spies, a veteran Republican fundraiser, said the major donors who fuel the GOP’s political apparatus don’t base their contribution decisions on whether fundraising solicitations feature images of Trump or other politicians.
As a consequence, Trump’s clash with party leaders “will have very little – if any effect – on major donors,” she told CNN in an interview Tuesday.
Those contributors “are more concerned about bringing back the majority in the Senate and getting to a majority in the House,” Spies said, “and major donors are going to follow what [Rep. Tom] Emmer does at the NRCC and what [Sen.] Rick Scott does at the NRSC.”
“They are less concerned about a former president’s agenda, or frankly, making him feel good,” she added.
Still, Trump and his considerable campaign war chest could intervene in contested primaries, particularly in swing districts and states, that would put the chance at taking back the House and Senate majorities in serious jeopardy.
“They’ve got figure out how to neutralize him,” the GOP campaign strategist said.
Paul S. Ryan, vice president for litigation and policy at Common Cause, said it became apparent months ago that Trump’s interest came first.
After losing the election last November, Trump amassed millions of dollars for his own political action committee as he promoted falsehoods about election fraud – instead of plowing funds into twin US Senate races in Georgia. In the end, the Republicans lost the runoffs in early January, along with their majority in the chamber.
“The party needed the money in Georgia in December,” Ryan said. “He diverted it with his lies about the election.”
“He’s all about himself. He’s not about building or supporting the party.”
CNN’s Dan Merica contributed to this report.