Has Trump's 'self-funded' strategy run its course?

This time four years ago, Mitt Romney raised $100 million. Key Republicans are expressing concern that Trump is not taking the requisite steps to raise similar amounts now.

Mary Altaffer/AP/File
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in his office at Trump Tower, in New York on May 10. The businessman who prides himself on paying his own way and bashed his competitors for their reliance on political donors now wants their money - and lots of it. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, recently hired a national finance chairman, scheduled his first fundraiser, and is on the cusp of signing a deal with the Republican Party that would enable him to solicit donations of more than $300,000 apiece from supporters.

The move from the primary to the general election season forces every candidate to make a few changes, and now it is forcing Donald Trump toward something he has never aggressively campaigned for previously – other people's money. 

Mr. Trump, a real estate mogul, has long bragged of his ability to self-fund his primary campaign, both because of his immense fortune and because the media's propensity to follow his every move gave him so much free press. It became one more sign that Trump hailed from different stuff than the "establishment."

"I'm self-funding my own campaign," Trump has been quoted as saying. "It's my money." 

He rarely acknowledges that his website includes prominent links for donors to contribute money, which they have done. According to the Federal Election Commission, Trump's campaign had raised almost $14 million as of April 30.

The self-funding narrative worked well for Trump during the primary campaign, but the strategy may have run its course. Fundraising is a key component to building a national presidential campaign, regardless of a candidate's personal wealth. 

Trump began the pivot in early May, after he become the Republican Party's presumptive nominee. He scheduled his first fundraiser, signed a campaign finance deal with the Republican Party, and hired Steven Mnuchin – another New York businessman with no political experience – as his national finance chairman, the Associated Press reported. 

The operation has to move quickly – candidates at this level usually build on years of work.

"You have to understand we literally just started this in the last four weeks," Mr. Mnuchin told CNN on OutFront. 

The time for money-gathering is now, before the party's national convention, a number of key Republicans told CNN during a weekend retreat hosted by Mitt Romney in the Wasatch Mountains. Romney himself raised $100 million in the equivalent period during the 2012 campaign. But unless Trump intends to do all the fundraising himself, they said, he needs to assemble a financial team, and they are the ones he should be calling.

"You've got to have an army of people who are out there working for you, and I don't know that they do yet," Spencer Zwick, who led fundraising during Romney's campaign, told CNN. "I don't know how much Donald Trump wants to spend time raising money."

Not much, the candidate has said, backing away from his original goal of fundraising $1 billion. Although he has taken the basic steps, he insists he can continue to ride the wave of his own unprecedented success without taking too much money.

"I just don’t think I need nearly as much money as other people need because I get so much publicity," Trump told Bloomberg Politics. "I get so many invitations to be on television. I get so many interviews, if I want them.”

Some experienced Republicans disagree, pointing to presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's demonstrated prowess. They wonder whether Trump can make the shift in time for the general election.

"The fund-raising intensity is missing – totally," John Rakolta Jr., a former national finance chair for Romney, told CNN. 

The usual suspects have yet to be contacted, much less rounded up, Mr. Rakolta said, describing himself as "flabbergasted" at not receiving any fundraising calls. 

"Who is driving the bus?" he asked.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.