Politico’s Ken Vogel, who is well sourced in the big donor world, reports that some of the GOP money-men may be hurrying to clamber aboard:
The GOP’s biggest donors are mostly united in their distaste for the party’s presidential front-runner Donald Trump, but they increasingly are coming to grips with the prospect of his nomination, and many are now signaling they would support him in a general election.
The shift, detailed in interviews with a dozen major donors and their representatives, is less an indication that the party’s donor class is warming to Trump, and more a reflection of their disdain for Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Their willingness to rally in opposition to Clinton should tamp down concerns on the right that the lingering unease with Trump would mean a free pass for Clinton from big-money attacks in a prospective general election matchup with Trump.
“If it were Trump vs. Hillary, I would have to give to Trump. And I would kind of hold my nose doing it, but I would have to do it,” said Minnesota billionaire Stan Hubbard, adding that he’d prefer that the GOP nominate either Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Hubbard ― whose family donated more than $100,000 to committees supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s GOP presidential campaign before eventually siding with Kasich ― has donated at least $10,000 to an anti-Trump super PAC.
Note the rationale: Trump may be awful, but Hillary Clinton is even more awful, so we may have no choice. As I’ve suggested, this is one of several ways that Republicans who currently profess themselves horrified by Trump may justify supporting him if it becomes clearer that he will be the nominee. Among the other big GOP donors who tell Politico that they will support Trump in order to keep Clinton out of the White House are T. Boone Pickens, Dan Eberhart, and Toby Neugebauer.
Neubebauer offers still another excuse for supporting Trump: that Republican leaders must not take for granted the fact that Trump has found the key to appealing to “alienated middle-class voters,” as Politico puts it. That is worth watching for: GOP donors and other establishment figures may begin to tell themselves that they and GOP leaders have lost touch with these voters, and as distasteful as Trump is, they must rally around him for the noble purpose of bringing those voters back to the party.
To be sure, plenty of big donors are still hesitant to back Trump. For instance, in a fascinating nugget, Politico reports that the Koch brothers’ network may be considering scaling back their investments in the presidential race, if Trump is the nominee. Instead, the Koch network may plow more money into the down-ballot races, particularly the Senate contests, as a way of retaining influence. With Trump at the top of the ticket, the GOP may be at greater risk of losing the Senate in any case, so that’s also a rationale for refocusing on them.
But some big GOP donors are clearly getting ready to back Trump, if necessary, and on one level, you’d think having them rally around would have drawbacks for him. After all, he has built his whole case around the notion that he can’t be bought, while his rivals (and Hillary Clinton) can be bought.
But Trump may have a way around this problem. Look at how he framed his criticism of big money’s influence on our politics during last night’s GOP debate:
“These super PACs are a disaster, by the way, folks. Very corrupt….There is total control of the candidates, I know it better than anybody that probably ever lived. And I will tell you this, I know the system far better than anybody else and I know the system is broken.
“I’m the one, because I know it so well because I was on both sides of it, I was on the other side all my life and I’ve always made large contributions. And frankly, I know the system better than anybody else, and I’m the only one up here that’s going to be able to fix that system, because that system is wrong.”
Trump’s explicit message is that he understands the problem of bought-and-paid-for politicians better than any other candidate does, because he has bought and paid for politicians himself. That is not meant as snark; this really is what Trump is saying. He understands how the scam works from the inside, having participated vigorously in that scam; and now he’s here to blow it up.
And so, Trump will probably argue that the big donors helping to fund his effort against Hillary don’t control him; he controls them. They are only coming along because they have no choice, having resisted him at the outset and lost. For Trump, everything is about who is dominant and who is the supplicant.
Meanwhile, per Politico’s reporting, many of the donors will come aboard, despite whatever misgivings they have, because Hillary would be worse. If Trump is the nominee, you can bet that everyone (with the possible exception of principled conservatives and serious donors to their causes, who may bankroll a third party bid, or at least just sit the whole thing out) will be friends again.