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When the Donors Are Delirious
Anti-Trump Republican megadonors ignore hard data to keep wasting money.
JUST 24 HOURS AFTER last week’s waste-of-time Republican primary debate, GOP donors still hoping to stop former President Donald Trump set out to narrow the field between Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, while also plotting to try and draft Glenn Youngkin for a late entry to the race.
These plans are being launched and funded despite what else happened last week: new polls show Trump’s lead is growing, a memo from an anti-Trump PAC reported that no lines of attack against him are working, and a Trump event on Friday showed a roomful of California Republicans laughing and chanting at some of his most incendiary lines, as he remains positioned to bag all of the Golden State’s delegates in its primary on March 5.1
But brilliant billionaires are coming to the rescue! They are convinced they can turn things around with dollars, inflict their will on voters, and meet their objective—just like in business. They plan to fund a breakout strategy where one Trump rival surprises in Iowa and shakes up the contours of this non-race. But his lead in the Hawkeye State has grown 10 points from where it was before the two debates (that he skipped) showcasing the alternative candidates. According to Morning Consult’s tracking poll, Trump’s national lead among registered Republicans grew to 63 percent after last week’s debate, up 5 points in just one week while DeSantis slipped down to 12 percent.
NO MATTER WHAT MESSAGE Youngkin or Haley or DeSantis tries to wow maybe-Trump voters with, donors were informed last week that no line of attack against Trump is likely to ever succeed.
Win It Back, a PAC with close ties to the Club for Growth, found that after spending $6 million to test more than forty ads against Trump, “all attempts to undermine his conservative credentials on specific issues were ineffective,” according to a memo revealed by the New York Times the day after the debate. “Even when you show video to Republican primary voters—with complete context—of President Trump saying something otherwise objectionable to primary voters, they find a way to rationalize and dismiss it,” wrote David McIntosh, who runs the PAC.
Yet McIntosh informed donors to the PAC that he will plow ahead nonetheless, “developing and testing ads to deploy when there are signs of consolidation.”
When? Consolidation is a fever dream.
TRUMP’S TRIP TO CALIFORNIA Friday to woo Republicans there with his mockery of Nancy Pelosi’s husband nearly getting beaten to death, and other sick goodies that the crowd ate up, was part of his effort to end the race on Super Tuesday with a victory in California. The speech, and the reception it received, underscored that his early work to get the California state GOP to change its rules to a system that favors the frontrunner means Trump is likely to lock down 14 percent of the delegates he needs from California alone—and that a plan to take Trump down next spring through a long delegate slog is delusional.
So millions of dollars are about to be unleashed by Masters of the Universe who know that there will be no changing hearts and minds, and that the delegate system will help Trump lock up the nomination.
Before the next debate on November 8, the American Opportunity Alliance reportedly plans to gather with representatives from the Haley and DeSantis campaigns in Dallas and ask them to make their case for support as the one alternative to Trump. According to NBC News, the group, backed by Harlan Crow, Paul Singer, and Ken Griffin, will host the meeting on October 13.
Days later, on October 17, megadonors from across the country will gather for a two-day meeting with Youngkin in Virginia Beach for the “Red Vest Retreat,” so named for his trademark outerwear while on the campaign trail. The retreat is supposed to help Youngkin with upcoming state elections he hopes will turn his blue state red. More importantly, however, the confab will be where donors from across the country plan to convince Youngkin to jump into the GOP primary days after those elections, having missed several ballot deadlines in states like Nevada and South Carolina.
Because Youngkin hasn’t said no, checkbooks are wide open. But does he really want to run? The Washington Post report about the movement to draft Youngkin quoted someone close to him who said, “Glenn cringes when he thinks about what Trump would do.”
Donors assume their money and might will be enough to kick candidates out. But does anyone think Ron’s ready to just step aside for Nikki? Polls showed he won the debate, despite the fact that she polls better against Joe Biden and is a far better political performer. Can Crow, Griffin, and Singer convince one of them to leave the race, and back the other person who will finally take Trump on? DeSantis and Haley no more want to stop Trump than they want to light themselves on fire. They are in this for their future careers as Republicans—and yeah, they would love to be president if Trump dies—because they know that beating him in the primary would only lead to defeat in the general election when Trump would boycott their candidacy to make sure they lost.
The rest of the establishment knows this, yet still they pretend as well, encouraging donors. The morning after the debate the Wall Street Journal editorial board complained that the candidates’ “main oversight continues to be that with rare exceptions they are giving Mr. Trump a pass.”
What a pity—this “oversight.” The WSJ suggests the way the candidates could challenge Trump is to “describe his losing election record since 2016,” and to “draw policy distinctions,” which both DeSantis and Haley have already done.
The Red Vest Quest is folly: New catchy lines and white papers from Youngkin aren’t the game-changers that can deny Trump the nomination. And his criminal trials are unlikely to change the course of the primary race since he will have only spent one day in federal court by Super Tuesday, the day he may succeed in shutting down anyone else’s path to the nomination. What all GOP elites and moneymen know is that—to be impolite—only Trump’s death or incapacitation is likely to unlock his grip on the Republican base. If he’s alive and kicking, the nomination is his.
If rich Republican elites are trying to stop a return of Trump to the White House because they know he is a dangerous authoritarian, they should husband their resources to ask voters next year to either support Biden or refuse to back Trump and only vote downballot.
But we know that they won’t.
Clarification (October 3, 2023, 4:00 p.m. EDT): As originally written, this article said that California has a winner-take-all presidential primary. In fact, under a new rule put in place this year, a candidate takes all the delegates only if he or she wins more than 50 percent of the total popular vote in the primary; if no one reaches the 50 percent threshold, the delegates are distributed proportionally. (H/t: Josh Putnam.)