In other words, Trump’s current self-funding status allows him to continue arguing that he is not bought and paid for by elite donors. When he is the nominee, however, he will help raise money for the party, and he has not decided whether he personally will accept contributions from the elites he’s been railing at.
It passed largely unnoticed, but on Morning Joe yesterday, Trump said something else about this topic that is also noteworthy. He said that by remaining in the race, Ted Cruz and John Kasich were tying him down in the primaries, when he could be pivoting to the general, and added:
“Instead of that, we could be raising money for the Republican Party. A lot of it. I have a lot of friends ready to give a lot of money to the Republican Party. And they’re not going to do it until they find out whether or not I win. I have friends that are going to give tremendous amounts of money to the Republican Party.”
This suggests that Trump has already been in talks with his wealthy friends, who have privately committed to giving huge amounts to the GOP — once he is the nominee. This is consistent with Manafort’s suggestion above that Trump will help raise money for the party. But it goes a tad further: His rich friends will give to the party, but only to help him get elected president (and, presumably, to help elect Republicans to Congress, but again, only to help him as president).
Trump, of course, is given to all manner of crazy boasting, so who knows if this is even true. But the point is, Trump is clearly acknowledging that he will have to benefit from big contributions in the general election.
“This shows he realizes he cannot go it alone,” campaign finance law expert Rick Hasen, the author of Plutocrats United, tells me. “With a presidential race likely to cost a billion dollars for each candidate and party, coming up with that money would be tough even for someone as rich as Donald Trump. This will undercut his message that he’s too rich to be bought, and that he doesn’t need to depend upon big donors to help fund his campaign.”
This means Trump will be facing some tough dilemmas very, very soon. The question isn’t just whether Trump himself will take contributions (which, as Manafort says above, hasn’t been decided yet). Another question is whether Trump will signal tacit — or even overt — assent for Super PACs allied with the Republican Party to raise and spend huge money on his behalf.
As Matea Gold reports, Trump’s people have been engaged in private discussions with top party fundraisers over how a presidential campaign that could cost $1 billion will be paid for without complicating his message as an outsider. Trump has railed at Super PACs (some of which have trained their fire on him as part of the Never Trump movement) as symbols of elite corruption — as part of his message that the system is corrupt and that he, the Untainted One, is here to bust up the elites’ party. And Trump’s campaign has disavowed Super PACs that have spent on his behalf during the primaries.
But as the Post reports, the Trump campaign has carefully avoided ruling out relying on Super PACs during the general election. As Gold also notes, if Trump is willing to benefit from party spending on his behalf that is funded by big money donors, as he has now confirmed he is, one logical place for that money to go — in addition to the parties — is to Super PACs. Given that outside groups are going to spend huge, huge money on Hillary Clinton in the general election, and that she’s going to raise enormous sums herself, Trump may feel serious pressure to give the nod to Super PAC spending on his own behalf, in addition to helping raise huge sums for the party to spend on promoting his candidacy.
As things stand now, Trump can legitimately argue that Clinton is a creature of the elite political establishment in certain ways that he isn’t. But he may well have to make big concessions to elite establishment politics-as-usual if he is going to be competitive (at least in terms of campaign spending) in the general election. Which means Trump’s scourge-of-the-elites routine may be seriously compromised before too long.