How Donald Trump Will Sell Out His Base in a General Election

The Republican frontrunner touts the independence of self-funding his campaign, but hopes to tap the GOP establishment’s donor class en route to the White House.

Kamil Krzaczynski / Reuters

Many Donald Trump supporters believe that their candidate is less likely to sell them out if elected because he won’t be beholden to the Republican Party’s donor class. “I'm self-funding my own campaign,” he has repeatedly told voters. “It's my money."

During the GOP primaries, there’s been a lot of truth to that claim: “Trump’s campaign brought in about $19.4 million by the end of 2015. Trump contributed nearly $13 million of that himself,” Politifact reports. “Most of the remainder comes from individual contributions, which federal law caps at $2,700 per candidate.”

But there’s something that his backers should know.

Despite all the talk of financial independence, Trump doesn’t plan to fund his own campaign if he makes it to the general election. And his campaign is already behaving like it intends to tap the same big-money donors who bankroll the GOP establishment.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that his campaign “has already quietly begun planning how to underwrite the cost of a national campaign if he becomes the Republican nominee, holding talks with longtime party fundraiser Ray Washburne about playing a supporting role at the Republican National Committee.”

Who is that?

In 2000 and 2004, Ray Washburne worked with George W. Bush's presidential campaign … As a bundler for Bush, Washburne ranked among the "Pioneers" in 2000 and the "Rangers" in 2004, statuses bestowed on Bush's bundlers who raised over $100k and $200K respectively...

In 2004, Washburne, along with George Seay III, co-founded Legacy, a politically influential evangelical group of wealthy families. Would-be Republican political candidates—including Rep. John Thune, Mike Huckabee, Sen. Tom Coburn , former Sen. Kay Bailey and Sen. John Cornyn—frequently seek the backing of Legacy. Looking ahead to the 2012 presidential campaign, Washburne backed the incipient stages of then-Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's presidential bid. However, after placing third in the Iowa Straw Polls, Pawlenty withdrew his candidacy. Subsequently, Washburne chose to back Mitt Romney for the 2012 presidential elections, becoming Romney's chief Texas donor and Texas co-chair.

After Romney's loss in the general election, Washburne was appointed national finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. During his two-year tenure with the RNC, Washburne raised a record $160 million.

Washburne was backing Chris Christie in 2016, until he dropped out.

Trump would have his supporters believe that he is averse to the GOP establishment’s money-grubbing even as he holds talks with one of its most prolific rainmakers.

And that’s not all.

In the course of reporting a profile for New York, Gabriel Sherman got access to Trump, including a tour of his campaign office. He was told that Trump won’t fund a general election himself. Then he overheard Trump’s “deputy campaign manager Michael Glassner, a former Bob Dole adviser,” discussing campaign finance on the phone. “I have to find a place for these rich guys to go to,” Glassner said. “Dinners, receptions, events. We need everything, because we don’t have a finance committee.”

Sherman added, “It will be a hard sell for Trump, one of the hardest of his career, to persuade GOP donors to pony up, especially after his attacks on the donor class.”

Yes, it will be hard.

To get their dollars, Trump will have to reverse positions and offer insiders incredible deals. The best deals. He’ll have to convince them that GOP donors who help elect Trump will win so often with him in the White House that they’ll get tired of winning.

The betrayal of his base will be yuge.