When Donald Trump said he was self-funding, people sent him money anyway — millions of dollars' worth. Now, Trump's campaign continues to disavow super PACs. And those outside groups are going to spend money on him anyway too, this time funded by people who may be willing to send millions of dollars each.
But where Hillary Clinton's super PAC infrastructure was hammered out long before the first primary, Trump's remains a work-in-progress — leaving the billionaires currently lining up to send him cash unsure about where to send their checks, and "Trump advisers, GOP strategists and major donors puzzling over a key strategic question: Where should the six- and seven-figure contributions go?" reports Matea Gold.
"Clinton’s allies have built a deeply funded constellation of independent groups, and her main super PAC is readying a $136 million ad blitz that will kick off Wednesday. The fundraising imbalance is acute: The top three super PACs supporting Clinton had collected about $80 million through the end of March, compared with just $8 million by several potential Republican presidential players including American Crossroads, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
"The dynamic has triggered a rush to identify the right organization to harness Trump’s rich allies and run a sophisticated independent campaign. Two rival super PACs are in the mix, but both are newly formed and are viewed with skepticism by major donors and their advisers.
"The free-for-all environment alarms veteran party strategists who have recently signed on to try to help Trump win the White House.
"'If you have many elements trying to do their own thing, it can confuse the message of the campaign,' said Ed Rollins, who was Ronald Reagan’s campaign director in 1984 and is advising Great America PAC, one of the pro-Trump groups. 'We’re all marching forward without clear direction at this point.'"
On the super PAC front, the mogul's campaign is still trying to keep the first rule of Trump fundraising, which is: you do not talk about Trump fundraising. "The lack of a major super PAC vehicle is a source of concern among top Trump advisers, some of whom have reached out to experienced strategists in recent weeks to gauge their interest in launching a new entity, according to multiple people familiar with the conversations. Such outreach is potentially risky, since federal law prohibits a candidate’s agent from establishing a super PAC.
"When asked if he was aware of such talks, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski did not respond directly, writing in an email, 'Mr. Trump continues to disavow all Super PAC’s.'
"That unequivocal statement probably will further confuse major donors, who interpreted Trump’s softening rhetoric on super PACs in recent media interviews as a sign that he was open to their support. ('I know that people maybe like me and they form a super PAC, but I have nothing to do with it,' he told NBC last week.) On Saturday night, Trump retweeted a link to a New York Times report that Adelson is willing to spend as much as $100 million to boost his bid."
The messaging inconsistency probably doesn't mean the money won't get spent on Trump's behalf. It does mean the campaign may not have much influence over how: "Donors are trying to assess whether there is a political operation that they trust to use their funds effectively. Some of the biggest givers may set up their own operations, according to strategists familiar with the discussions."
ICYMI: PARTY HEALING UPDATE On our calendar, where we mark potentially newsworthy occasions as far in advance as the news gods will grant us foresight, we had long marked off this past weekend's Nevada Democratic convention as one to watch. This wasn't just because of what happened before the caucuses there; or during the caucuses; or after the caucuses. It was because if the action by Bernie Sanders's supporters were to match the rhetoric leading up to the event, it seemed to portend a (possible) visit from the Ghost of Conventions Future.
Almost anyone who's been to the Strip has probably had a weekend they'd rather forget. Democrats are no different; right now, they've got to be hoping that what happened in Vegas stays in Vegas.
"Saturday's raucous state Democratic convention in Nevada encapsulated a lot of the themes of the party's 2016 election in a relatively short period: complex delegate math, inscrutable processes, allegations of deceit, fury — and a result that doesn't do much of anything to shift the race's eventual outcome," noted Philip Bump.
"We need a medic in the front. A medic in the front."— Sady Doyle (@sadydoyle) May 14, 2016
At a goddamn Democratic convention.https://t.co/XPbvMlyTNd
There was yelling. There was booing. Then came the scuffles...
How bad? This bad: "Eventually, casino security and law enforcement officials entered to force the Democrats out of the space, even turning off the lights to get them to depart."
"Thanks to Clinton's victory in Nevada on Saturday, hard-fought on the carpeted floor of the Paris hotel and casino in Las Vegas, her lead over Sanders extends to 282, per delegate-counter Daniel Nichanian. Had Sanders's supporters been successful on Saturday, that margin would have been 278 — a number that still demands that the senator win two-thirds of the remaining pledged delegates to take the lead.
"What probably worries Clinton supporters at the moment, though, isn't their candidate losing the nomination. It's the prospect of a scene like that in Las Vegas playing out before a national television audience in July in Philadelphia."
In case you haven't marked your calendars yet: July 25-28.
Convention ended w/security shutting it down, Bernie folks rushed stage, yelling obscenities, throwing chairs. Unity Now! On to Philly 2/2— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) May 15, 2016
And so the Democratic primary season rolls on...tomorrow's contests: Kentucky and Oregon.
Election eve campaign spin playing up expectations in an uphill state is a thing that hardly ever happens. But "hardly ever" isn't "never" — and it's a thing that's happening right now in Kentucky, where Clinton is making a last-minute push.
"Hillary Clinton is putting up an unexpected fight in Kentucky, a state that her campaign had thought until quite recently might be out of reach in her primary race against Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont," reports Abby Phillip.
"In advance of Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Sanders also campaigned heavily in Kentucky over the weekend, and Clinton planned two additional days there, a sign that she thinks she has a chance to stop Sanders from racking up an unbroken string of victories between now and the end of primary voting in June."
(Oregon’s primary will also be held Tuesday, by mail-in ballot. Republicans held their primary in Kentucky in March. Republicans will vote in Oregon Tuesday, even though Donald Trump was declared the presumptive nominee after his victory in Indiana two weeks ago.)
Why the optimism? There's little by way of recent public polling, but the campaign points to a different landscape than the one that greeted Clinton in West Virginia: a closed primary in a state where Obamacare was implemented — and, under a state-specific name, popular — featuring an electorate that leans moderate, and slightly more diverse: "African Americans make up more than 20 percent of the population in vote-rich cities such as Louisville, in Jefferson County."
The wild card: turnout. One Kentucky strategist said Sanders still had the upper hand in the state — but that voters were starting to feel some primary season fatigue, which could keep some home. “Low-turnout elections will often hand you surprises,” he said.
And a Clinton win, while not impossible, would still be a surprise: Sanders has the edge on crowd size, drawing thousands to weekend rallies, as Clinton's crowds numbered in the hundreds. Her remark about how government policies would "eliminate" coal jobs won't play well with many in the state. There are also likely to be, as there were in West Virginia, some pro-Trump Democrats — and those voters are considered more likely to back Sanders than Clinton; this may be especially true in Eastern Kentucky, where Democratic congressional candidates are actually fighting over who hates President Obama and Hillary Clinton the most.
Donald Trump is still hoping to woo potential Sanders supporters beyond Appalachia:
Bernie Sanders is being treated very badly by the Dems. The system is rigged against him. He should run as an independent! Run Bernie, run.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2016
He may be waiting a while, says Michael Tesler: despite the chaos, the Vermont senator's voters still look a lot more like...potential Clinton supporters.
PEACE IN OUR TIME?
Tuesday isn't just Election Day — it's also the day the Donald Trump-Megyn Kelly interview airs on Fox at 8 p.m. ET, when Kentucky results should still be coming in (polls close at 6 p.m., which means 7 p.m. ET for the portion of the state in the Central Time Zone. Oregon's primary was by mail-in ballot.)
"I'll tell you what: In a certain way, what you did might have been a favor, because I felt so good about having gotten through" it, Trump tells Kelly in the taped interview, according to a new excerpt. "I said, 'If I could get through this debate, with those questions, you can get through anything.'" Anything.
(Here's what else we know about the interview.)
CULTURE WAR CHECK-IN TIME:
—The Supreme Court has unanimously kicked the Obamacare contraception case back down to lower courts, saying there was still a chance the government and those raising religious objections to the insurance mandate could compromise.
—Democrats invoked McCarthyism in their latest bid to shut down the House fetal-tissue probe, with Nancy Pelosi charging Republicans with "an outrageous campaign of misrepresentation and intimidation."
—A House chairman is trying to pull back on women in the draft — but the chamber's own rules could get in the way.
—And Donald Trump told The Washington Post that he has no experience with transgender people but wants to learn more, and is "studying very closely": "It is a very, very small portion of the population, but as I said, you have to protect everybody, including small portions of the population," he said.
(Spotted on the trail)
CAMPAIGN MONEY NEWS:
—Could Democrats' anti-Koch brothers campaign have actually...worked? It appears that Charles and David Koch could be backing off politics just a bit following years of public pushback, reported the National Review.
—Meanwhile, GOP-allied advocacy group American Action Network is reporting record fundraising, with the nonprofit and its sister super PAC cementing their roles as the dominant outside allies of the Republican House leaders.
—Building trade unions are denouncing labor's new super PAC partnership with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer.
—And with general election fundraising in high gear: Here's the blurry line between political fundraising and political scams, explained.
—Speaking of money: Donald Trump says his Westchester golf course is worth either $50 million, $1.35 million or $9 million, reported ABC News. One of those.
["STAND RIGHT, WALK LEFT" NOTE HERE]
new bridge to the 21st century? @billclinton: Hillary believes we should "build an escalator to the future we can all ride on."— Ruby Cramer (@rubycramer) May 16, 2016
—The two undeniable truths of the Clinton likability discussion: first, even her allies say it's costing her, report Dan Balz and Anne Gearan. Second: Trump's are worse. "Congratulations, Republicans. You picked the one guy who takes Clinton's likability issues off the table. That's quite a feat," says Chris Cillizza. And both of them get a boost from the fact that the 2016 election is about voting against something you hate, not voting for something you like, says Philip Bump.
—Speaking of truth: Here are five people who are (almost definitely) not going to be Donald Trump's vice president. Here's why the Senate map may complicate the Democratic veep hunt. Also today, John Kasich said he was "not inclined" to be Trump's running mate, unless the presumptive nominee were to "change all of his views and become a uniter." (He also said that he wouldn't be running for president — again, some more — in 2016: the Ohio governor told CNN he wouldn't be a potential third party stop-Trump candidate.)
—Today was the day we heard a lot from one of Donald Trump's ex-girlfriends. (The short version: she didn't like a story that quoted her. But she didn't actually challenge any of the facts in it.)
—Last month, Rep. Chaka Fattah Sr. (D-Pa.) became the first congressman to lose a primary vote this year. Today provided a reminder of one big reason why, as prosecutors began laying out criminal corruption charges against the longtime legislator.
—A reminder that beyond the Beltway, Republicans started the year in very, very good shape: "How big is the GOP advantage in state legislatures? Well, they control about 7 out of every 10 chambers, and when you combine that dominance with their 31 governors, they have full control of 21 out of 50 state governments — compared with just seven for Democrats," notes Aaron Blake.
—Burlington College, a small Vermont private school once led by Jane Sanders, said Monday it will close later this month, citing "the crushing weight" of debt incurred during her presidency.
—Finally: You might expect that a presumptive Republican presidential nominee and a Conservative prime minister of the United Kingdom might find themselves mostly on the same side. For this presumptive GOP nominee and this British prime minister, a cold war may already be underway: "It looks like we're not going to have a very good relationship," Donald Trump said Monday, predicting a rocky relationship with David Cameron, though he added: "Who knows, I hope to have a good relationship with him." Cameron has not been a fan of Trump's Muslim ban proposal, calling it "divisive, stupid and wrong."
Cameron isn't the only Englishman to tangle with Trump so far — here's a brief rundown:
SPOTTED IN THE NEWSROOM:
OUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP: We wouldn't call the former speaker of the House and the outgoing vice president "graduating seniors," because people might misinterpret us completely. But we would like to highlight some #bipartisanship from D.C.'s graduating class of 2015-16: The Irish are still Fightin' — but they are not.