Trump: I'm not self-funding in the general election

Surprise, surprise. Donald Trump plans a reversal on one of the centerpieces of his primary campaign — his refusal to raise money or encourage political-action committees to work on his behalf. Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he plans to build a “world-class finance organization” and will start hitting up wealthy donors to compete against Hillary Clinton:

Facing a prospective tab of more than $1 billion to finance a general-election run for the White House, Donald Trump reversed course Wednesday and said he would actively raise money to ensure his campaign has the resources to compete with Hillary Clinton’s fundraising juggernaut.

His campaign also is beginning to work with the Republican National Committee to set up a joint fundraising committee after his last two rivals—Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov.John Kasich—dropped out in the wake of Mr. Trump’s resounding Indiana win on Tuesday.

“I’ll be putting up money, but won’t be completely self-funding,” the presumptive Republican nominee said in an interview Wednesday. Mr. Trump, who had largely self-financed his successful primary run, added that he would create a “world-class finance organization.” The campaign will tap his expansive personal Rolodex and a new base of supporters who aren’t on party rolls, two Trump advisers said.

The new plan represents a shift for Mr. Trump, who has for months portrayed his Republican opponents as “puppets” for relying on super PACs and taking contributions from wealthy donors that he said came with strings attached.

On one hand, this will be good news for the GOP. One of the functions a nominee fulfills is to raise money not just for his own campaign, but also for the party itself. Most high-ticket fundraisers emphasize the latter, not the former, as campaign-finance regulations place a much lower limit on donations to the campaign. When reading news reports of $35,000-a-plate dinners on behalf of nominees, remember that almost all of that goes to the RNC or DNC as “hard money,” which can be spent by the party in support of the organization backing its presidential nominee and/or down-ballot races. Had Trump stuck to his plan to self-fund, the RNC would have lost a big part of its own fundraising opportunities.

As for bringing in people who haven’t been donors in the past, that may be a tough order to fill. As Trump himself notes, most of the people who live in his rarified economic circles engage politically out of necessity and expedience. Both parties have become adept at seeking out and engaging those with cash to spare among the wealthy, and many of them contribute to both parties to ensure influence no matter who wins. Trump may be surprised to find out how many of his friends might already be “on party rolls.”

If the RNC is breathing a sigh of relief, what about Trump’s passionate supporters in the primaries? Part of his appeal came from Trump’s claims that he couldn’t be bought. While Trump did have a super-PAC supporting him (Great America PAC), Trump didn’t encourage it, and he didn’t conduct major fundraisers. He didn’t need the money, as it turned out, and Trump ridiculed his opponents for “selling out” to donors and special interests. Many of those assumed Trump would use his own vast fortune for his general-election campaign, too, although Trump never publicly committed to it. Great America PAC recently hired longtime GOP insider Ed Rollins as chair, and Rollins told donors yesterday that GAPAC will provide key parts of the campaign, including oppo research and polling. That will take a lot of money, and may complicate matters too, as those are usually funded by hard money and accessible to the campaign itself.

Will Trump’s legions of supporters become disillusioned by this reversal by the anti-establishment populist, especially since he waited until literally the day after clinching the nomination to announce it? The WSJ’s Monica Langley and Rebecca Ballhaus write that the change will be “also likely to put off some Trump supporters, many of whom have said his reliance mostly on his own funds makes them trust him more than other politicians.” Doubtful … very, very doubtful. Trump’s attitude is his appeal even more than his wealth, and his core of support is more personal than analytical. It may limit the expansion of Trump’s support beyond its current limits, though, and with Trump’s current general-election polling that might be a bigger problem than fundraising.

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