Trump Shadow Hard to Escape as 2024 Hopefuls Seek Spotlight
(Bloomberg) -- Republicans are converging on Florida this weekend at events to woo donors and celebrate former President Donald Trump while a new group of potential presidential candidates tries to emerge from his shadow.
Some Republican donors and consultants say they’re concerned that Trump’s own ability to fundraise could create competition for hard-to-win campaign cash and he might use it to fuel battles within the party that could hamper its effort to regain control of Congress in 2022.
Trump is dangling a possible 2024 campaign to regain the White House that could freeze fundraising and hiring for the dozen other possible contenders, who are attending the Republican National Committee donor retreat in Palm Beach with the hopes of gaining future support.
The former president spoke on Thursday at his Mar-a-Lago resort to a two-day fundraising meeting of the Conservative Partnership Institute, a nonprofit think tank led by former Senator Jim DeMint that includes former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. DeMint has also signed on to a new conservative advocacy group launched by former Vice President Mike Pence that would promote Pence’s agenda for a possible 2024 presidential bid.
Trump is also expected to speak Saturday night at the RNC’s annual spring donor retreat, which is meeting in Palm Beach but will trek to the resort to hear Trump.
The American Opportunity Alliance, a network of wealthy, pro-business donors similar to the one started by Charles Koch and his deceased brother, David Koch, are also meeting in Florida. Hedge fund manager Paul Singer, who founded it, and broker Charles Schwab are hosting a reception.
There are also separate fundraisers and meetings scheduled with prominent donors in Palm Beach, including one at Mar-a-Lago for Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whose bid for reelection Trump endorsed Friday, headlined by former Secretary of State and potential 2024 presidential candidate Michael Pompeo hosted by Brian Ballard, a Trump fundraiser.
And Women for America First, a group that helped stage the Jan. 6 rally in Washington that preceded the mob of Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol, is holding a three-day “Save America Summit” at Trump National Doral Miami golf club. Speakers include Trump allies like Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who is under a federal sex-trafficking investigation, and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who adheres to QAnon conspiracy theories.
While Republican party committees continue to tap Trump’s overwhelming popularity among GOP voters to solicit small-dollar donations, some say they are concerned that the focus on Trump could create a tight market for contributions. And Trump’s vows to back primary challenges to GOP incumbents who voted to impeach him could complicate with the party’s plans to hold on to the seats in Congress it has and add to them in 2022.
“It’s a conundrum,” said GOP strategist Mike DuHaime, a former Republican National Committee political director. “Their greatest asset -- raising money -- is also the thing they’re worried the most about. They’re the same thing; they’re Donald Trump and his team.”
Whether Trump ultimately helps or hurts the party’s efforts “is dependent on Donald Trump being a team player, and it seems pretty clear that the only team that Donald Trump is a player for is his own,” said Doug Heye, a former RNC communications director and Trump critic.
Trump is actively soliciting contributions for his Save America political action committee and this week relaunched an online store to raise money from the sale of red “Make America Great Again” hats, merchandise with the saying, “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Trump,” and other “Save America” gear.
The former president has clashed with the Republican National Committee and the party’s House and Senate fundraising arms. He has demanded that they stop using his name and likeness without his permission -- and encouraging his followers to donate only to his committee and not to those he calls RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only.
“No more money for RINOs,” Trump said in a March 8 statement issued through his PAC. “They do nothing but hurt the Republican Party and our great voting base—they will never lead us to Greatness.”
Nevertheless, the GOP fundraising committees continue to use Trump’s name to raise small-dollar donations, including a National Republican Congressional Committee solicitation that encourages donors to make their contribution automatic each month or “we will have to tell Trump you’re a DEFECTOR & sided with the Dems.”
Republican donor George Seay, co-founder of Annandale Capital, said despite the public discord, Trump got the committees to be more cooperative in their fundraising, which is a plus for the party.
In March, the GOP launched United to Win, a joint fundraising committee that benefits the RNC, the NRCC and the NRSC, which can accept contributions of as much as $876,000 each year from individuals.
“He really unified them,” Seay said, adding that all three committees will be hitting up donors at the retreat. “All these people are running around with their hands out all the time. That’s what they do.”
But Trump himself is endorsing candidates he considers loyal or are challenging Republicans he considers disloyal. Besides Rubio, Trump has endorsed 18 other incumbent senators, congressional candidates, state GOP party chairmen and state-level candidates so far this year. Trump adviser Jason Miller has said his PAC already has more than $80 million.
Some of the party’s financial backers have worried he’ll jeopardize the party’s efforts if he diverts time and resources for safe Republican seats or helps nominate weak general-election candidates.
“The NRCC is going to have to worry about friendly fire or score-settling from Trump,” said Dan Eberhart, a longtime GOP donor, who also expressed concern about the competition for cash, which “could throw a wrench into its effort to take control of Congress,” he said.
That worry extends to the 2024 presidential field, where those who criticized Trump after the Jan. 6 riot, such as former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, have faced criticism, Seay said.
Besides Trump, the RNC retreat is also featuring potential 2024 candidates including Pompeo; Florida Governor Ron DeSantis; South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem; Florida Senators Rubio and Rick Scott, who’s also chairman of the NRSC; and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton.
Other prominent Republicans expected to participate include House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.