Why Trump supporters don't mind that he isn't self-funding anymore

Donald Trump fans once praised him for mostly paying his own way. Now, those same supporters don't mind that he's resorted to the type of fundraising he used to decry.

Mark J. Terrill/AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump briefly addresses delegates during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Monday, July 18, 2016.

The crowds that once exploded in cheers for Donald Trump's denouncement of "puppet" politicians funded by big donors now say they don't care that the presumptive Republican nominee is no longer paying for his own campaign. 

In a recent Associated Press-GfK poll, 63 percent of Mr. Trump's supporters report being at least somewhat more likely to back a candidate who is self-funded, as Trump once mostly was. However, only 13 percent say it's a problem – and, most say, a minor problem at that – that he's changed his tune on fundraising in recent months. The number may be surprising considering that 51 percent of those surveyed also said the way presidential candidates raise money is very or extremely important to them.

So why are they so forgiving of Trump's self-funding reversal? 

To answer that question, both Trump supporters and political experts say a number of factors must be considered. 

Firstly, as Michael Malbin, professor of political science at the University of Albany and executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, points out, the pool of "what they're calling Trump supporters" polled is a different one than supported him during the primaries. For voters who now say they'll back Trump but may have originally supported a different candidate, the issue of campaign funding is likely not as important.

But even those who once admired Trump's self-funding appear to have largely come around to the fact that the billionaire is no longer paying his own way.

"There are a couple of ways to look at it," Jerry Loza, a Trump supporter who attended a rally near Indianapolis earlier this week, told the Associated Press. "You could say it's hypocrisy. You could also say it's a different game now." 

It isn't fair, some supporters say, for Trump to have to pay out of his own pocket while competing against Hillary Clinton, who reportedly aims to raise $1 billion for the general election. 

"Trump supporters, like most Americans, dislike the fact that one can't be elected president (or to any major office, for that matter) without spending obscene amounts of money," says Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown University, in an email to The Christian Science Monitor. "But, again like most Americans, their decision of whom to vote for doesn't depend on how that money is raised. If everyone has to curry favor with rich people, then how can one condemn one candidate rather than another?" 

So far, Trump has contributed about $50 million of his own money to his campaign, mostly through personal loans. Since launching a fundraising operation two months ago, he's reportedly raised more than $51 million for his campaign and Republican Party allies. 

Even if the businessman is no longer self-funding his campaign, the fact that he was ever able to support himself in the first place is enough for some voters, who say they are confident that he won't have to adjust his policies to appease donors.

"A big thing with me is that since he is a billionaire, he doesn't need to be bought," supporter Diane Martinez, a leader of pro-Trump group Save Our Veterans, told the Associated Press at the Indiana rally.

For many Trump voters, his political appeal may transcend policies, as the Republican candidate has "not been consistent over the years" with his political stances, Dr. Malbin says. 

"Maybe his supporters have come to accept that he reverses himself," Professor Malbin tells the Monitor in a phone interview. "The big reason they're voting for him has to do with a certain style, a certain way he projects toughness, rather than issue positions."

Candice Nelson, a professor of government at American University, says the most likely explanation for the survey results is the simplest: that Trump's fanbase just didn't care that much about funding in the first place.

She says the importance of campaign finance to voters is often exaggerated, as funding sources typically take a backseat to issues such as terrorism or economic concerns when it comes to voter priorities. 

"Despite what voters say in polls, campaign funding really isn't an issue for most voters, and it's particularly not a voting issue," Dr. Nelson says.

Like Trump, Bernie Sanders also emphasized his funding from small donors rather than PACs, "but I don't think people were supporting Sanders because of that," she adds. "And I don't think they're voting against Hillary because she's got a super PAC that's raising a lot of money."

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