Hard to argue with his logic. If, like Cuban, you suspect that Trump’s wealth (especially his liquid wealth) isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, what choice does Trump have but to do his donors’ bidding? A billionaire who really was self-funding would write one check to his campaign for $500 million and would then be free to run however he likes. A billionaire who either can’t or won’t pony up that kind of cash is stuck depending on fatcats, and as Trump himself so often reminded primary voters, taking money from the rich means you dance to their tune. If the tune is “shut your fat mouth about the ‘Mexican’ judge,” you either shut it put on those tapdance shoes or you do without an ad campaign this fall. Why else do you think Reince Priebus’s phone call yesterday urging Trump to pipe down was so surprisingly effective? The RNC’s running this show now.
As I say, hard to argue with. But not impossible.
How far behind Hillary’s will Trump’s fundraising be? Potentially pretty darned far:
Mr. Trump’s tardy fundraising start has some Republicans concerned he won’t be able to match the robust finance operation of Mrs. Clinton, who raised more than $240 million through May on top of $60 million for her joint committee with the Democratic National Committee. She has held at least 20 fundraisers for her campaign and joint committee since the start of May.
Mrs. Clinton had $42 million on hand at the end of May, her campaign said. Mr. Trump hasn’t reported his May figures but had $2.4 million at the end of April. The Democrat also has a super PAC that has raised more than $76 million…
Fred Malek, the finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a leading fundraiser for past GOP nominees, called Mr. Trump’s fundraising disadvantage “huge and not widely understood.” He added: “Unless he’s willing to write a huge personal check, which is unlikely, I believe Trump will have a financial disparity of $300 million to $500 million.”
It’s not just his campaign’s fundraising that’s lagging. It’s hard to get one’s mind around this disparity between the rival Super PACs:
Total reservations from Trump super PAC so far: $1.2 million.
Total reservations from Clinton super PAC so far: $108 million.
— Teddy Schleifer (@teddyschleifer) June 8, 2016
As I’m writing this, by pure coinkydink, CBS is reporting that Trump will meet with donors and Priebus tomorrow in New York. You don’t say. What do you suppose they’ll talk about?
I can think of three counters to Cuban. One is that Trump’s faith in his own ability to dominate the media is so absolute that he’ll conclude he doesn’t need much donor cash. That logic will be self-serving to some degree (“You don’t want to donate? Fine, I didn’t need your money anyway!”) but not entirely. It’s possible that, come September, Trump will be doing cable-news interviews literally eight hours a day to counter Hillary’s ads. But even if I’m right and he decides he doesn’t need donors, Cuban’s right that downballot Republicans do — a lot. If Trump concludes that he can’t be bothered cultivating the GOP’s money men, it’ll be entirely on Priebus and RNC to shake loose the cash needed to help hold the Senate. If donors walk away from the party, not just Trump, in annoyance at his antics and his coolness to them, that’s big trouble for the Republican Congress.
Another counter is that Trump may decide that his pride is worth more to him than kowtowing to the country-club set, whatever that may mean for his chances this fall. Many Trump critics have accused him outright of not wanting to be president; their theory is that he wants to show the beta males in the Republican establishment that he’s smarter than they are by winning, but that he’s uninterested in the hard work of the job himself. If there’s any truth to that then doing without the donor class’s support is win/win/win for him. He won’t have to dance to their tune and can continue to let it rip on the stump; their financial boycott may end up costing him the election, which will spare him the ordeal of holding the world’s most difficult job; and he’ll have a universally reviled scapegoat available to him to explain away his defeat. (“I wouldn’t suck up to the bankers and the elites so they made Hillary president instead.”) Cuban’s assuming that Trump wants to win badly enough that he’ll do virtually anything, including blowing up his image as financially independent, to do so. I think he does want to win, but “badly”? I don’t know. Then again, the fact that he’s willing to make a joke out of his protectionist message by bringing on a fundraiser who once outsourced jobs from California to Mexico suggests that, yeah, maybe Cuban’s right. Maybe Trump is prepared to spend the rest of the campaign betraying his fans to make an establishment buck.
The last counter? Maybe Trump just can’t help himself. It could be that he agrees with the CW that it’d be better for him to shut up about the “Mexican” judge and stick to attacking Hillary instead. If you believe Politico’s sources, Paul Manafort’s been begging him to respond to questions about Trump University by noting Bill Clinton’s record with the for-profit Laureate Education instead. That’s obviously a smarter play than going after Curiel, so why hasn’t Trump done it? Shrug. He doesn’t like Curiel and he’s reveling, I’m sure, in the global media platform that his primary win has given him to reach his adversaries. It could be that he just can’t pass on the chance to punish an enemy even though doing so hurts him at the same time. That indiscipline is precisely the sort of character flaw that makes #NeverTrumpers blanch at the thought of him as commander-in-chief: He’s going to get even, even when he’s apt to do more damage to his own interests than to the target’s. Cuban seems to allow for that possibility too. Note in his first tweet above that he says he thinks Trump will “try” to tone it down, not that he’s sure to do so. I think he’ll try too, especially now that Republican commentators are talking openly about the delegates dumping him in Cleveland. But I bet he’s also tried to resist attacking some of his former Republican rivals, knowing that every gratuitous shot he takes at them makes it a little more likely that some of their fans will stay home this fall, and that hasn’t worked out so well thus far. If you’re a guy like Trump, consumed with your own status and with revenge on your critics, being told to “tone it down” for your own good is practically a threat. And a Big Man doesn’t accept threats lightly.
Here’s Chuck Todd speculating that Trump has five weeks to reassure the party that he’s got the chops to win this election or else they’ll toss him overboard in Cleveland. Pure nonsense, but convincing Trump that it’s possible will probably encourage him to lower the temperature. Probably.