Trump Embraces the Traditional Fund-Raising He Once Shunned

WASHINGTON — About 200 bundlers from across the country are expected to gather Tuesday at the Trump International Hotel for a series of meetings and workshops about the campaign’s new fund-raising program. Vice President Mike Pence will address the group. Brad Parscale, President Trump’s campaign manager, will play host. Stephen A. Schwarzman, the Wall Street billionaire, has R.S.V.P.’d yes.

The group will be divided into tiers, based on their success in raising money. The “Trump Train” donors, who raise $25,000, will be given access to a national retreat, leadership dinners and a lapel pin. “Club 45” members, who raise $45,000, will get monthly conference calls with party leaders on top of that. And the “Builders Club,” those bundlers who raise $100,000 or more, will also be given access to Trump Victory national events.

It is the kind of traditional campaign fund-raising apparatus that Mr. Trump thumbed his nose at during his 2016 campaign. And it involves some of the donors who only grudgingly accepted him once he was the Republican nominee.

“I don’t need anybody’s money,” Mr. Trump said after announcing his candidacy in June 2015. “I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.” That fall, he wrote on Twitter, “This whole Super PAC scam is very unfair to a person like me who has disavowed all PAC’s & is self-funding.”

Mr. Trump did not solicit cash for his bootstrap campaign until a year later.

The tiered bundler system that Mr. Trump’s campaign has built — modeled after President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign and complete with “super PACs” supporting it from the outside — is the most tangible example yet of Mr. Trump’s ceding to the reality of his second presidential race. This time, he is a candidate of the establishment, complete with bundlers who are lobbyists, even while he tries to run as if he is still the marauding outsider at the gates.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton and her super PACs raised a total of $1.2 billion. Mr. Trump raised about half that, mostly from small donors. The fund-raising operation he now has in place, run by people he once attacked for attacking him, wants to make sure that kind of gap is a thing of the past.

“We’d be foolish as Republicans to say we could do that again and win,” said Todd Ricketts, the finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. “We have to be competitive in our fund-raising with whoever the Democratic nominee is going to be.”

Mr. Ricketts is all in for Mr. Trump. But in 2016, Mr. Trump lashed out at the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs, threatening to run ads about how they were doing a “rotten job” managing their baseball team, after the family spent money opposing him.

And Mr. Ricketts is not the only former critic now on board.

“I’ve seen heavy momentum from Bush, Romney and McCain people who are all circling up with the president because they want to be on board and have influence with the administration,” said George Seay, a Dallas investor who served as the Texas finance chairman for Rick Perry’s 2012 primary race. “There’s a huge trove of people who want to be ambassadors, and they’re all going to belly up to the bar, so to speak.”

Some donors are moving slower than others, Republican operatives say privately. While Mr. Trump raised more than $30 million in his first quarter of 2019, they worry that the pace will lag behind President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign for the same period. And those operatives say the Trump team tends to be forgetful about who has been helpful to its efforts.

And Mr. Trump’s aides conceded that it has taken the “I alone can fix it” president a while to come around to the idea. Mr. Trump prides himself on emerging from the crowded Republican 2016 primary without anyone’s help. But aides said he has slowly “warmed” to accepting newcomers to his campaign who want to financially support him.

The Bush model involved a deep donor network spread out across the country and across industries. And while his campaign did not invent bundling, it made it the focus of its fund-raising efforts, enlisting prominent Republicans to use their networks to solicit donors and combine their efforts. Bush Pioneers bundled $100,000 or more for the campaigns in 2000 and 2004, and additional tiers such as Bush Rangers, Super Rangers and Bush Mavericks were later added for supporters who collected even more money.

Mr. Parscale has consulted extensively with Karl Rove, the former Bush adviser, on how to build out a high-dollar fund-raising operation across states, even putting him in touch, at times, with Mr. Trump. That is a contrast from 2016, when Mr. Trump met covertly with Mr. Rove, who had earlier described him as “graceless and divisive,” at the Manhattan home of the casino magnate Steve Wynn.

Mr. Parscale has also sought advice from Jack Oliver, the former national finance vice chairman for Mr. Bush’s 2004 race. Mr. Oliver sought to downplay his role, describing himself as a “volunteer,” but said that so far the Trump effort had been “strategic, focused and on point on this additional aspect of this campaign.”

The campaign has yet to decide whether it will publicly release the names of its bundlers, something it declined to do during the 2016 general election, when it started to raise money. But so far, it is including lobbyists in the bundler ranks. Jessica Tocco, a lobbyist who served as a special assistant to Mr. Rove in the Bush White House, said in an interview that she had already raised more than $100,000 for the Trump campaign.

On the super PAC side, which by law is separate from a campaign, the hope is that Linda McMahon, who left her post as head of the Small Business Administration to lead America First Action, the pro-Trump super PAC, will recruit other chief executives to the big-dollar fund-raising efforts.

But for the most part, Mr. Trump has been hesitant to load his schedule up with campaign travel and has left much of the donor hand-holding and maintenance to Mr. Pence, whose chief of staff, Marc Short, has been dialing up the vice president’s fund-raising activities.

In the past two months, according to his office, Mr. Pence has raised $6 million at closed-door fund-raising events in New York, Houston, Chicago, Phoenix and other cities.

The campaign views Mr. Pence as a surrogate valuable for his ability to move Mr. Trump’s numbers on the margins by talking about issues like trade in Michigan, a key state in play for the Trump campaign, to moderate voters, and by making donors feel close to the administration.

Richard Hohlt, a veteran consultant who has spent decades raising money for Republicans and who eventually joined the Trump team in 2016, said that people tended to forget that the president is not campaigning in a vacuum and that Democrats — those running for president as well as in Congress — will also help him with fund-raising among conservatives.

“Candidly, the Democrats have positioned themselves to be the gift that keeps on giving,” Mr. Hohlt said. “With their debates, every month, starting in June, it will be the gift that keeps on giving in steroids.”

Source: NYT

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