USA Politics First Look

Trump’s fundraising finesse strengthens party unity

Cash – more than high approval ratings and shared values – is a strong force keeping Republican Party members close to the president.

‘No parking’ signs are posted in front of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, Wednesday, June 28, 2017. President Trump played star and host at a fundraiser at the hotel that evening, raising $10 million. Mr. Trump’s fundraising prowess is proving to be a strong force keeping Republican party members close to the president.
J. David Ake/AP
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  • Julie Bykowicz
    Associated Press

Republican senators are bucking President Trump's calls to revive the health care debate. And Mr. Trump just ousted his only top White House aide with deep links to the Republican Party.

But the president and his party won't be calling it quits any time soon. They remain tightly linked by a force more powerful than politics or personal ties: cash.

Trump's fundraising prowess is the engine of the Republican National Committee and a lifeline for every Republican planning to rely on the party for financial help during next year's congressional races. Leaning heavily on Trump's appeal among small donors, the party has raised $75 million in the first six months of the year, more than double what the Democratic National Committee had raised by the same point in former President Barack Obama's first year.

"The president is somebody who absolutely is an asset when it comes to fundraising," RNC chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said. Trump resonates with a base of Republicans who have been more willing this year than ever before to chip in. The party says it collected more cash online in the first six months of the year than in all of 2016.

In late June, Trump played star and host of a fundraiser for his re-election campaign and the RNC. The event at the Trump International Hotel, just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, raised $10 million to be divided between Trump and the party, the kind of bounty usually reserved for the final months before an election.

The fundraising numbers help explain why more Republicans – particularly those facing re-election next year – aren't openly distancing themselves from a president whose approval rating hovers below 40 percent and whose White House has been wracked by public back-biting and legislative stumbles.

And while Trump hasn't hesitated to call out Republicans who defy him, he's largely come to appreciate the permanence the RNC offers a White House that has had to quickly staff up from nothing – a task that hasn't always gone smoothly.

Trump's dismissal last week of chief of staff Reince Priebus prompted a rush of concern from Republican lawmakers who'd gotten to know Mr. Priebus during his nearly six years as party chairman. Some wondered if Trump was losing his only link to the Republican Party.

Yet the well-funded RNC has been reformatted for the Trump era.

"The president likes the fact that the party is structured to help his agenda, and there's not a question that this RNC is 100 percent loyal to him," said Brian Ballard, one of the party's lead fundraisers. "It's not like the RNC he inherited as the party's nominee; it's his now."

Party employees have led communication at key points of the investigations into whether the Trump campaign had anything to do with Russian interference in the presidential election.

And the RNC, realizing how important television is to this particular White House, has added employees to help book Trump proponents on cable shows.

There are awkward GOP moments, to be sure. Just this week, Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, in his new book, called out Trump for his "seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians." Trump over the weekend on Twitter ridiculed Senate Republicans for not passing a health care bill, saying Democrats were laughing at them and they "look like fools."

Ms. McDaniel said the president has "every right" to engage with Republicans however he sees fit. "The American people put him in office to accomplish his agenda," she said. She's backed him up on Twitter: "I run into people every day who are hurting across the country under Obamacare," she wrote recently. "Giving up is not an option."

Priebus and others at the RNC were squeamish about their presidential nominee at various points during the 2016 campaign, but few if any detractors remain at its headquarters on Capitol Hill, where the hallways are lined with portraits of Trump and blown-up snapshots of him.

The RNC voted McDaniel in as party chair on Trump's recommendation. As the Michigan GOP head, she'd been a staunch Trump supporter even as her uncle, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, expressed his own reservations about Trump during the campaign.

Trump also tapped Bob Paduchik, his campaign's Ohio director, to serve as a deputy to McDaniel. The two remain close, and Mr. Paduchik traveled with Trump last month for a rally in Youngstown.

Trump's family, including son Donald Trump Jr. and daughter-in-law Lara Trump, Eric Trump's wife, are involved in the RNC's strategy and fundraising and have grown close to McDaniel. Longtime Trump friend Steve Wynn, a fellow billionaire businessman, is the party's chief fundraiser; the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is among the RNC's principal fundraisers.

His campaign's trusted data and digital director, Brad Parscale, joined the board of Data Trust, the party's data vendor, which keeps its voter files up to date.

Trump heaped praise on the RNC's leadership team during the June fundraiser, calling them stars and winners. Bill Stepien, the White House's political director, said relations between the party and the president are as good now as they were in the mid-2000s, when he worked at the RNC while George W. Bush was president.

Stepien said the White House and the party have "a strong relationship" and that Trump's aides view the RNC as an "essential component" of his success.

This story was reported by the Associated Press.

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