Another change Trump may bring about is a GOP rethinking of its embrace of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashing unlimited campaign contributions. Citizens United was supposed to be a weapon wielded mainly against Democrats, but Trump is using it as a club to bludgeon Republicans. “I’m using my own money,” he said when announcing his candidacy. “I’m not using lobbyists, I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.” By Washington etiquette, it’s a no-no for a presidential candidate to gloat about his wealth. Especially if you’re a wealthy Republican, it’s axiomatic that you follow the George H.W. Bush template of pretending to savor pork rinds. But Trump has made a virtue of flaunting his fortune and glitzy lifestyle — and not just because that’s the authentic Trump. His self-funding campaign may make him more effective than any Democrat in turning Citizens United into a political albatross for those who are enslaved to it.
Having no Citizens United–enabled political-action committee frees him to remind voters daily that his Republican adversaries are bought and paid for by anonymous wealthy donors. The notion of a billionaire playing this populist card may seem counterintuitive, but paradoxically Trump’s populism is enhanced by the source of his own billions. His signature business, real-estate development, is concrete, literally so: He builds big things, thus visibly creating jobs, and stamps his name on them in uppercase gold lest anyone forget (even when he hasn’t actually built them and doesn’t actually own them). This instantly separates him from the “hedge-fund guys” and all the other unpopular one percenters who trade in intangible and suspect financial “products,” facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs, and underwrite much of the Republican presidential field and party infrastructure, to some of the Republican-primary electorate’s dismay. The simplicity and transparency of Trump’s campaign funding are going to make it harder for his rivals — and perhaps future presidential candidates — to defend their dependence on shadowy, plutocratic, and politically toxic PAC donors.