Donald Trump’s fundraisers, who acknowledge the challenge they face, are also taking steps to expand their candidate’s limited donor network.
By Alex Isenstadt
06/11/16 – 03:01 PM EDT
- At an exclusive Park City retreat, some of the Republican Party’s top financiers lashed out at their nominee.
PARK CITY, Utah — Donald Trump is trying to win over a skeptical Republican donor class, but they’ve closed their wallets — and they’re angry.
On Friday afternoon, at an exclusive Republican donor retreat here hosted by Mitt Romney, frustration boiled over. During an off-the-record question-and-answer session with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Meg Whitman, the billionaire Hewlett Packard chief executive officer, confronted the speaker over his endorsement of Trump. Whitman, a major GOP giver who ran for California governor in 2010, compared Trump to historical demagogues like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and wanted to know how the speaker could get behind him.
At another discussion session during the day, which featured top Romney alumni Stuart Stevens and Matt Rhoades, Ana Navarro, a Republican contributor and ubiquitous cable news personality, called Trump a “racist” and a “vulgarian and a pig who has made disgusting comments about women for years.” (Neither Whitman nor Navarro would comment.)
Even Ryan, who has endorsed Trump despite criticizing his behavior, joked during his presentation on Friday that in a recent conversation with magician David Copperfield, he said that he wished he could make himself disappear.
The incidents, which were relayed by three sources who were present — one of whom described them as “shocking” — illustrates the intense anger coursing through the GOP donor community. Far from letting go of their white-knuckled opposition to Trump, they’re stewing in it.
“I’ve been on the record with a statement saying I’m not supporting Donald Trump, and that hasn’t changed in four months,” said Whitman, who helped bankroll TV ads against Trump during the Republican primary. She wouldn’t reveal which candidate she’d back in November, and said she didn’t intend to make a decision until later on.
“Right now, I’m undecided, and undecided means I’m not doing anything,” said John Rakolta, a Michigan construction company executive who was a top Romney fundraiser. “I haven’t seen that ‘pivot’ that we’d need to see from someone who’s capable of being the next president of the United States.”
The annual Experts and Enthusiasts summit, which brings together Romney’s expansive network of deep-pocketed contributors, served as a powerful reminder of the high hurdles Trump faces in courting the Republican money crowd. This week, Trump slashed his original fundraising expectations, saying he no longer believed he needed to raise $1 billion. Some of his top fundraisers think he’ll struggle to top $300 million, a figure that’s less than a third of what Romney raised in 2012 and a small fraction of what Hillary Clinton is expected to bring in.
Some are convinced the situation is growing increasingly bleak. In an interview here, Spencer Zwick, Romney’s former finance chair and one of the most prominent fundraisers in Republican politics, said that some of Romney’s donors would stay on the sidelines — and that others would even give to his Democratic opponent.
“I’m sure you’ll see some that end up supporting Secretary Clinton,” he said.
The interest in Clinton, however peripheral, was on display this week. On Friday, Republican pollster Frank Luntz stood before the approximately 250 attendees and asked them who they planned to vote for. Trump got the most claps, but Clinton got a few as well, said two people who were in the room. One person clapped loudly for Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson.
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