The whole point of Trump’s candidacy, in theory, is that he doesn’t need mega-donors. He’s the only truly independent person running on either side, which means he’s the only one who’s truly free to work for the middle class without having to worry about the rich snapping their checkbooks shut. And yet, according to Politico, he’s reached out sporadically over the past year to all of the biggest cheeses at the top of the GOP money pyramid. How come?
He could play this one of two ways. One: Deny, deny, deny. It never happened. Ultimately it’s their word against his. Two: Shrug it off. Why shouldn’t he give fellow billionaires a chance to help him make America great again? If nothing else, every dollar donated to him is a dollar that’s not going to amnesty fans Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. Remember, the core objection to Super PACs and mega-donors is that a candidate will feel beholden to those donors and their interests once in office. Trump, a billionaire himself, won’t. The worst that can happen if the Kochs cut him a check for $10 million now and then get screwed by President Trump later is that they won’t cut him another check in 2020, in which case he’ll simply cut the check himself. So what’s the harm in asking them for money?
On MSNBC this morning he chose option one — denial. For good reason.
Trump’s courtship of Adelson, a Las Vegas casino mogul and ardent Zionist, involved “a very clear ask for money,” said a source close to Adelson, who noted the request came even as Trump was publicly declaring that he didn’t need donors’ money. “It was an odd ask.”
Trump personally called Adelson and had his staff attempt to set up a meeting in Vegas…
A similar pattern unfolded with Singer, a politically influential New York hedge fund billionaire who also is an ardent Israel hawk. Back in March, when Trump was still publicly toying with running for president, Kushner reached out to one of Singer’s representatives to try to broker a meeting between the representative and Trump, according to a source familiar with the interaction. Kushner indicated that Trump was laying the groundwork for a campaign and suggested Singer’s representative might want to hear about the plans, according to the source…
The Trump campaign sought access to the political and public policy network helmed by the Koch brothers. Trump’s aides detailed his policy positions for the Kochs and their donors in a survey put together by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the group that coordinates the Koch network and hosts its twice-a-year donor gatherings.
According to one source close to the campaign, the reason Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was hired in the first place was because he’d worked for the Kochs’ group Americans For Prosperity and in theory could help Trump connect to them. Once the Kochs declined to invite Trump to their donor gathering with some of the other Republican candidates in August, though, Trump turned on them. As for Adelson, it’s not just Politico that’s claiming Trump approached him. The NYT also has a source claiming that Trump called Adelson and that Adelson understood it to be a pitch for his support during the campaign. Trump doesn’t deny that call, but as you’ll see below in the clip from today’s “Morning Joe,” he does deny that it was a request for money. Which is good, or else this tweet might look a tad ridiculous in hindsight:
Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2015
So why is he choosing the first option, denial, instead of the second one, shrugging it off? The Trump-friendly theory is that this is a coordinated hit on him by a bunch of fatcats who don’t like the fact that he’s been making noise about their influence. There’s no better way to hit back then by making him look like a hypocrite in asking for money from people whose money he supposedly disdains. Trump’s denying it because it’s simply not true. The less Trump-friendly theory is that it’s all true but that Trump’s alpha image can’t sustain the perception that he’d go to anyone, hat in hand, for money. Trump doesn’t ask people for charity; they ask him. It’s not the hypocrisy that would damage him, it’s the idea of Mr. Big rattling his tin cup for men who are worth even more than he is. That’s also why Trump continues to insist, day after day (including in the interview below), that he’s funding his campaign himself. He has enough money to do anything he wants to do, including win the presidency. He’s utterly independent of his donors. Except … that’s not true at all, as Liam Donovan’s been pointing out lately on Twitter. Donovan went sifting through Trump’s latest FEC filing and did a little mythbusting about Trump’s alleged self-financing:
Easily the best part of the Trump FEC data is the pie chart where the self-funding sliver is too small to fit "1.7%" pic.twitter.com/4Z2BeZr4cS
— Liam Donovan (@LPDonovan) November 1, 2015
The majority of Trump’s campaign money has come from donors, not for him — and not just from small grassroots donors either. He’s loaned his own campaign far more money than he’s outright donated to it; in fact, as Donovan noted with amazement, Trump had donated less to his campaign ($104,829) as of the end of the third quarter than the far less wealthy Jeb Bush ($388,720) and Hillary Clinton ($278,821) had donated to theirs. Trump has some easy spin available if and when he ends up being called on that — isn’t it impressive that he’s ahead in the polls without having donated big bucks to his campaign? — but it leaves two questions hanging in the air. If he’s not self-funding, why does he continue to falsely insist that he is? And given how competitive Carson is right now and how formidable Rubio and Cruz look to be, why doesn’t he help himself and his supporters out by dropping $50 million or so right now to bury all of them in attack ads? A man who has enough money in the bank to do anything necessarily also has enough to be far more aggressive in trying to lock up the nomination than he’s been so far. (His first ads are only rolling out today, on radio.) Why is he holding back?
Update: Trump also spoke to Breitbart Radio this morning:
BANNON: It said that you have been trying to set up meetings with Adelson, with Paul Singer, with the Kochs.
TRUMP: Paul Singer I don’t know. David Koch invited me to his house a long time ago, during the summer, long before I was running. … and I went there along with many other people. Fifty or sixty people. I didn’t go for money. I didn’t invite myself. I was in Palm Beach. In fact, I was a little bit upset about it because I couldn’t play golf that day. I would have preferred to play golf, as much as I like David.