Late last month, more than 100 major Republican donors gathered at the Trump International Hotel for a presentation from the president’s campaign manager Brad Parscale and other top political hands on their plans to keep the White House in 2020 after a brutal midterm election.
But several of the GOP contributors left the two-day retreat in Washington dissatisfied, dogged by essentially the same concern: The president doesn’t really have a strategy to win reelection.
They are chiefly worried about how he intends to prevail again in the Rust Belt states that voted for Trump in 2016, but where Democrats performed strongly in last year's midterms. But there are also concerns about whether the president's fundraising apparatus is up to the task, and whether Trump will trample on any strategy or message the campaign does develop, as he frequently does.
This account is based on interviews with nearly a dozen people connected to Trump’s reelection, including two donors who attended the retreat and other Republican contributors who’ve given to Trump in the past. Several campaign aides, who say they have spoken with anxious donors, also spoke to POLITICO. Most of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting Trump.
Some level of nervousness is not uncommon at the outset of a presidential reelection effort. Trump's campaign manager said the team is confident in its game plan and that any fears are misplaced.
But based on the interviews, the campaign plainly has work to do to assuage at least some of the Republican donor class, which he will need to finance a massive campaign infrastructure that he lacked in 2016. Several donors who regularly contribute to Republican presidential candidates and the political groups supporting Trump said his campaign didn’t learn from its mistakes during the 2018 midterm elections, when Republicans lost control of the House and suffered other defeats nationwide.
“We took a shellacking in the midterms,” said Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor and energy company executive who did not attend the conference but speaks frequently with other Trump givers. “Donors are concerned that the Trump reelect might draw the wrong conclusions from the Republicans' defeat in the 2018 midterms and are stressing to administration sources and the nascent campaign that a more inclusive ... strategy is needed" that reaches beyond the president's core supporters.
Trump’s strategy in the midterms was mostly confined to rallying his base at raucous rallies in states that backed him for president, while largely ignoring moderates and independents.
“There’s a lot of anxiety,” said a longtime Republican donor and friend of Trump. “There isn’t a lot of confidence ... among the donor group, the broader Republican group important to the reelection.”
Trump will say he doesn't need them, but he does. And the GOP donors will pretend they haven't already bought a one-way ticket to hell on the Trump Train, but they don't have a choice. Unless anyone honestly thinks the slavering horde of MAGA-heads are going to stand for Trump being primaried, all this is kayfabe, a dog and pony show, and it's ultimately useless.
Trump will make promises the donors want to hear and they will back him.