Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump Image Credit: AP

Washington: A powerful array of the Republican Party’s largest financial backers remain deeply resistant to Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, forming a wall of opposition that could make it exceedingly difficult for him to meet his goal of raising $1 billion (Dh3.6 billion) before the November election.

Interviews and emails with more than 50 of the Republican Party’s largest donors, or their representatives, revealed a measure of contempt and distrust toward their own party’s nominee, which is unheard of in modern presidential politics.

More than a dozen of the party’s most reliable individual contributors and wealthy families indicated that they would not give to or raise money for Trump. This group has contributed a combined $90 million to conservative candidates and causes in the last three federal elections, mainly to super political action committees dedicated to electing Republican candidates.

Up to this point, Trump has embraced the hostility of the Republican establishment, goading the party’s angry base with diatribes against wealthy donors who he claimed controlled politicians. And he has succeeded while defying conventions of presidential campaigning, relying on media attention and large rallies to fire up supporters, and funding his operation with a mix of his own money and small-dollar contributions.

But that formula will be tested as he presents himself to a far larger audience of voters. Trump has turned to the task of winning over elites he once attacked, with some initial success. And he has said he hopes to raise $1 billion, an enormous task given that he named a finance chairman and started scheduling fund-raisers only this month.

Among the party’s biggest financiers disavowing Trump are Paul E. Singer, a New York investor who has spent at least $28 million for national Republicans since the 2012 election; Joe Ricketts, the TD Ameritrade founder who with his wife, Marlene, has spent nearly $30 million over the same period of time; hedge fund managers William Oberndorf and Seth Klarman; and Florida hospital executive Mike Fernandez.

“If it is Trump versus Clinton,” Oberndorf said, “I will be voting for Hillary.”

The rejection of Trump among some of the party’s biggest donors and fund-raisers reflects several strains of hostility to his campaign. Donors cited his fickleness on matters of policy and what they saw as an ad hoc populist platform focused on trade protectionism and immigration. Several mentioned Trump’s own fortune, suggesting that if he was as wealthy as he claimed, then he should not need their assistance.

Among the more than 50 donors contacted, only nine have said unambiguously that they will contribute to Trump. They include Sheldon G. Adelson, the casino billionaire; energy executive T. Boone Pickens; Foster Friess, a wealthy mutual fund investor; and Richard H. Roberts, a pharmaceutical executive. Friess wrote in an email that Trump deserved credit for inspiring “truckers, farmers, welders, hospitality workers — the people who really make our country function.”

 

‘No comment’

Many more donors declined to reveal their intentions or did not respond to requests for comment, a remarkable silence about the de facto nominee of their party.

Asked how Trump intended to win over major donors, Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, responded in one sentence. “There is tremendous support for Mr. Trump,” she said.

Trump has declared that he expects the Republican Party to unite around him, and in recent weeks has made inroads among party leaders who once vowed to oppose him. He delivered a winning performance before lawmakers on Capitol Hill in a whirlwind visit to Washington this month. And polls show the party’s rank and file are beginning to coalesce behind Trump, and that they want party leaders to do the same.

Some major donors have not explicitly closed the door on helping Trump, but have set a high bar for him to earn their support, demanding an almost complete makeover of his candidacy and a repudiation of his own inflammatory statements.

“Until we have a better reason to embrace and support the top of the ticket, and see an agenda that is truly an opportunity agenda, then we have lots of other options in which to invest and spend our time helping,” said Betsy DeVos, a Michigan Republican whose family has given nearly $9.5 million over the last three elections to party causes and candidates.

 

‘He’s dangerous’

But others simply believe Trump is unfit to serve in the Oval Office. Michael K. Vlock, a Connecticut investor who has given nearly $5 million to Republicans at the federal level since 2014, said he considered Trump a dangerous person.

“He’s an ignorant, amoral, dishonest and manipulative, misogynistic, philandering, hyper-litigious, isolationist, protectionist blowhard,” Vlock said.

Vlock said he might give to Hillary Clinton instead, describing her as “the devil we know.”

“I really believe our republic will survive Hillary,” he said.

Unless Trump can win over more benefactors, he is likely to become the first Republican presidential nominee in decades to be heavily outspent by his Democratic opponent, and may find it difficult to pay for both the voter-turnout operations and the paid advertising campaigns that are typically required in a general election. Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney raised over $1 billion in 2012, and Clinton is expected to exceed that figure easily.