Jeff Flake to RNC: C'mon, cut Trump loose

Via BuzzFeed, the key bit runs from 1:30 to 3:30 of the clip below. I understand the logic of this argument but I continue not to understand the math. If the RNC reallocates the money it has earmarked for the presidential race to Senate races instead, they’re going to lose Trump as a fundraiser and they’re going to lose his base of small donors. That means potentially less money down the stretch for Senate elections than they’d have if they continue to bite their lip and back Trump. If Flake and the other Trump critics in the GOP establishment want to make this an easier decision for Reince, they need to replace that lost money somehow. The obvious way to do it would be to get Republican mega-donors to fill the breach, but mega-donors could be doing that right now by contributing to the NRSC or by earmarking their contributions to the RNC for Senate use only. To some extent they already are doing that, but they’d have to step it up if Trump’s donor base suddenly boycotted establishment groups. Are they prepared to do that? If so, why not do it immediately to signal that Reince that they’ll be there for him if he pulls the plug on Trump? I don’t grasp the attitude of (a) disliking Trump and wishing the party would distance itself from him and (b) not doing what you can financially to make that feasible.

Read this and ask yourself if the RNC is in a position to turn off Trump’s money tap, comparatively small though it is:

The RNC reported receiving $27.2 million last month. This sounds like a reasonable total, but a look just below the surface shows it to be a big disappointment…

Virtually every category of receipts shows a decline this year. Contributions from individuals where the amount given is less than $200 (the “unitemized” category) is less than half what it was in July of 2004, 2008 and 2012. There is a similar decline in direct contributions of larger amounts where specific information about the donor is included in the report. These itemized contributions total much less than July 2004 and 2008 and are even smaller than July 2012 when joint fundraising became much more important…

People often look at cash balances and the end of the month to get a feel for how a committee is positioned for future spending. Here too, the RNC on July 31 was strikingly short of its own status on the same date in past campaigns. At a time when $70 to $90 million is the norm, the RNC finds itself with only $34.5 million in the bank.

Maybe the takeaway here is that the RNC simply isn’t as important as it used to be in doling out money. If you’re a fabulously rich anti-Trump Republican who’s eager to save the Senate, you have various other, and arguably better, options. There’s the NRSC, the senator’s campaign, and of course Super PACs, to which donations are unlimited by law. Any help an incumbent senator can get from the RNC is nice, but it may be that, for all intents and purposes, Trump himself is Reince’s only real “client” this fall money-wise as big donors go around the Committee to intervene in Senate races more directly. Worse, the RNC is basically running Trump’s turnout operation this fall, and turnout for the presidential nominee obviously also helps turnout for Senate incumbents. Reallocating Trump’s money to the Senate would create an odd dynamic where the RNC has conceded the presidential race as not worth spending money on even as it frantically organizes on Trump’s behalf in swing states to try to produce a respectable, Senate-saving Republican turnout.

There are other ways to cut Trump loose, though. The RNC might be stuck but Senate candidates aren’t:

Party strategists are mapping out blueprints for down-ballot candidates, in TV ads and on the campaign trail, to present themselves as checks on a Hillary Clinton presidency. It’s an approach that would essentially admit a Trump loss. In interviews, nearly one dozen Republican operatives said they had begun poll-testing the idea — which one labeled a “break glass in case of emergency” strategy — to gauge how the public would react to it…

The deliberations extend to the highest levels of the party. American Crossroads, the influential conservative group co-founded by Karl Rove, has tested to see how voters would feel about Republicans casting themselves as being a check and balance to Hillary Clinton, according to four sources familiar with the deliberations. It has examined the question in a number of Senate races on the ballot this fall, said one person working with the group, who added that “it’s a question of not if but when” the group begins putting the message into TV ads.

GOP Rep. Mike Coffman has already run an ad like that, going so far as to say in it that he doesn’t care much for Trump. Other Republican candidates will be more careful about attacking him for fear of alienating Trump’s own voters, but I don’t think the basic strategy is a bad one. Promising to be a check on Hillary still gives Trump fans a reason to pull the lever for them — it’s a nice hedge against Clinton’s power in case she wins — and it’s potentially appealing to swing voters, who distrust Hillary and may not want to see her with a free hand as president even if they prefer her to Trump. Two new polls today show Rob Portman winning comfortably in his Senate race in Ohio, in fact, even though Clinton leads Trump there by five points or so. Ticket-splitting is possible. Maybe that’s the way to handle “cutting Trump loose,” with the RNC quietly encouraging down-ballot candidates to run against President Hillary while quietly encouraging donors to send their checks to the Senate committee instead. It’s even a nice excuse for Reince and co. once Trump inevitably turns on them and blames them for his defeat. Don’t blame me, Reince could say. Blame your rich friends who wouldn’t give us money to fund your candidacy.

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