Donald Trump is taking his first steps toward broadening his primary insurgency into a full-fledged general election campaign, moving to unite a fractured Republican Party behind him and begin raising the massive amounts of money needed for a national race.
Trump began to reach out to party heavyweights, including making efforts to repair his at-times strained relationships with the Republican National Committee and GOP donors, whom he bashed repeatedly during the primary.
His campaign also named Steven Mnuchin as its national finance chairman Thursday, saying in a statement that “he brings unprecedented experience and expertise to a fundraising operation that will benefit the Republican Party and ultimately defeat Hillary Clinton.”
Mnuchin is chairman and chief executive officer of Dune Capital management LLC, a private investment firm, and previously worked at the New York bank Goldman Sachs.
The process begins just days after Trump’s final two intraparty foes, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, suddenly dropped out, clearing his path to the nomination — as members of the celebrity businessman’s campaign were set to meet with the RNC and enter a joint fundraising agreement needed for both his bid and Republicans to maintain control of Capitol Hill, aides said.
“In order to really govern, we need majorities in the House and Senate. We’re going to work with the party to raise money for down-ballot races to be successful,” said Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, in an interview Thursday morning. “Mr. Trump has agreed to be available to raise money.”
“We’re going to with work with the RNC hand-in-glove,” Lewandowski said.
Lewandowski said that a fundraising plan has not yet been set for Trump’s White House bid, a hugely expensive undertaking even for a billionaire real estate developer. But Trump himself acknowledged that he would have to sell some of his holdings to muster the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to self-fund.
“I mean, do I want to sell a couple of buildings and self-fund? I don’t know that I want to do that necessarily,” Trump said on MSNBC Wednesday.
Trump starts out in a deep hole when it comes to fundraising.
As a primary candidate, he prided himself on not soliciting donations, and he disparaged his GOP rivals for being beholden to special interests by taking their money. This approach now manifests itself as a problem, since Trump has decided to raise money and is likely to face off with Hillary Clinton, a Democratic fundraising powerhouse.
In addition to openly trashing the very same donors he needs, Trump never built a traditional fundraising operation with a finance team that can fan out across the country and raise quick cash for his bid.
Through the end of March, Trump had raised $12 million, mostly from fans who clicked the “donate” button on his website or bought wares such as the ubiquitous red ballcap emblazoned with his slogan, “Make America Great Again,” campaign finance documents show. He also made about $36 million in personal loans to his primary campaign.
The contrasts starkly with Clinton, who has raised some $187 million so far and began her general election fundraising effort back in November by setting up a “victory fund” that can solicit huge checks for her campaign, the Democratic National Committee and state parties.
Clinton is spending the better part of this month on a fundraising spree that includes stops in New York, Michigan, California and Texas. Trump, as of Wednesday night, had not a single fundraiser on the books.
The differences don’t end there. A pro-Clinton super political action committee that can take unlimited donations from wealthy individuals, companies and unions has already reserved some $90 million worth of advertising for the general election. Great America, which is shaping up to be the main pro-Trump super PAC, was almost $1 million in debt as of the end of March.
Ed Rollins, who ran Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign, hopes to change that. He joined Great America as a senior strategist and said on a super-PAC conference call Wednesday that Trump needs all the help he can get with finances. “We’re going to figure out what the Trump campaign needs and can’t do by itself,” Rollins told callers.
Trump’s lean campaign team, caught by surprise by the sudden end of the primary process, will likely soon expand and lean heavily on the RNC infrastructure as Trump begins eyeing his November showdown with Clinton, though that would not fully happen until he officially becomes the nominee in July.
Aides said he also plans to soon begin preparing for the national party convention in Cleveland — “You’ll see a very different type of convention this year,” Lewandowski said — as well as naming a transition team and a vice-presidential search committee.
Trump has said he has not truly begun the VP vetting process — in four different interviews on Wednesday he gave four different answers as to whether he’d consider Kasich — but has said that he would favor a Washington veteran.
“Mr. Trump would need someone to help govern in Washington, DC,” Lewandowski said. “When a complete outsider is picked to lead the ticket, it makes sense to have someone with government experience on it. He wants a strong executive who has a leadership role in DC.”