WASHINGTON — As former President Donald Trump prepares to make his first appearance in front of a group of the GOP’s top donors since leaving office, some Republican officials and fundraisers fear that his own political group will cannibalize a significant portion of the party’s financial base heading into a critical midterm election cycle.
Over the course of two campaigns, Trump built up a loyal army of small-dollar donors, whom the former president is now encouraging to contribute to the political action committee he formed shortly after his 2020 election defeat, as he seeks to reestablish himself as the leader of the Republican Party and potentially set himself up for another White House run.
While Republicans are pleased that Trump agreed to speak at the Republican National Committee’s spring donor retreat this weekend — partly taking place at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida — some are wary the former president will ultimately do the party’s fundraising efforts more harm than good as they try to take control of the U.S. House and Senate in the next election.
“I readily acknowledge the former president will continue to have a strong fundraising base for himself,” said Bill Palatucci, an RNC member from New Jersey. “It remains to be seen if he’s willing to share it or not.”
It’s not unusual for a politician to create a PAC to raise money and support like-minded candidates running for office. But as a former president with a devoted following, Trump is poised to play an outsize role.
Trump’s group, Save America PAC, currently has more than $85 million on hand, according to a source familiar with its fundraising. At least $30.4 million of that was the result of a transfer of funds Trump made from one of his 2020 campaign committees late last year. By comparison, the RNC entered 2021 with $80.5 million in its main account. The source also said Trump is still in the process of setting up a super PAC, which unlike traditional PACs can raise unlimited sums of cash.
Longtime Republican donors are viewing Trump’s new political operation skeptically, worried he will use it to advance his own brand rather than the broader interests of the party heading into an election cycle where Democrats are defending slim majorities in Congress.
Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of the Idaho-based health products company Melaleuca, said he supported some of the former president’s policies, but not his tactics.
“The version of America I believe in is against bullying. And our country was led by a bully and I think it’s done a lot of damage,” said VanderSloot, a major Republican donor. “That’s not the kind of leader any of us should be following.”
Asked if he thought Trump’s group would hinder the fundraising efforts of other Republican organizations, VanderSloot responded, “Clearly. I think that anybody would have to assume that, yes.”