Billionaire media mogul Stanley Hubbard wrote checks in support of several Republican presidential candidates during the primaries, even contributing $10,000 to a political action committee devoted to defeating Donald Trump. Yesterday, however, Hubbard effectively surrendered, taking a leadership role at Great America PAC, a pro-Trump super PAC.
On the surface, the reversal is an interesting story about a Republican mega-donor grudgingly throwing his support to a presidential candidate he actively dislikes. But just below the surface, a different kind of story emerges: Donald Trump has a super PAC? He’s relying on billionaire donors?
What about all those promises of a “self-funded” campaign?
As it turns out, Trump is taking one of the best arguments in support of his candidacy and throwing it out the window. The New York Times reported overnight:
Donald J. Trump took steps to appropriate much of the Republican National Committee’s financial and political infrastructure for his presidential campaign on Monday, amid signs that he and the party would lag dangerously behind the Democrats in raising money for the general election.Mr. Trump, who by the end of March had spent around $40 million of his fortune on the primaries, has said that he may need as much as $1.5 billion for the fall campaign, but that he will seek to raise it from donors rather than continue to self-finance.
As recently as four days ago, Trump was still publicly claiming, “I’m self-funding my campaign.” Except, he isn’t. The presumptive Republican nominee could self-fund if he’s as exorbitantly wealthy as he claims, but Trump will instead run a more conventional operation, dependent on rich donors and a well-funded super PAC or two.
To be sure, there’s nothing untoward about this. Under current campaign-finance laws, this is how the game is usually played, especially in Republican politics. But for Trump, more so than any other candidate in the modern era, this represents a dramatic shift in posture and poses an unexpectedly large risk.
As Rachel noted on the show last week, after Trump tapped notorious hedge fund manager Steven Mnuchin as his campaign’s national finance chairman, the GOP candidate has spent months decrying the role of money in the process. Trump has argued, ad nauseam, that campaign contributions have a corrupting effect on public officials. Politicians can be bought, the argument goes, and Trump knows because he’s done the buying.
But, Trump spent a year telling supporters, he’s above all of this ugliness because he relies solely on his own checkbook. He can’t be corrupted, Trump said, because he can self-fund his campaign. Americans won’t ever have to worry about fat-cat donors telling Trump what to do because he doesn’t want – and doesn’t take – their money.
It was one of the GOP candidate’s easiest and most reliable applause lines. Republican voters loved the idea of a presidential contender who’d be free of the pressures from wealthy donors.
And now all of that is gone. Trump isn’t self-funding; he isn’t blowing off billionaire mega-donors; and he does have a super PAC. Months of rhetoric about the corrupting influence of campaign contributions has been wiped away a week after the GOP primaries ended.
Arguably the most compelling pillar of Trump’s entire candidacy has been removed. If he’s counting on voters overlooking the shift, he may soon be disappointed.