Republican leaders are worried about a revolution. A growing movement to defund the GOP has Washington wallets snapping tighter than a tourniquet and choking off donation cash. “You’re never going to get a more sympathetic Republican than I am but I’m sick and tired of nothing happening,” exclaimed heavy donor Thomas Wachtell. There won’t be any “meetings, calls, contributions until we see progress,” another seasoned fundraiser adds.
Speaking in front of two dozen guests at a recent dinner hosted by Robert Day, a Los Angeles billionaire, Wachtell sent a direct message to Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “Just do something,” he told the Senate Majority Leader. “Anybody who was there knew that I was not happy and I don’t think anybody was happy. How could you be?” questioned the donor that once provided over $2,000 straight to McConnell. After giving “tens of thousands of dollars over the years to Senate Republicans,” Wachtell has ceased his support.
With the Republican agenda stalled in capitol hill gridlock, some of the historically most powerful contributors are fed up with throwing money toward undoing the failures of the previous administration without any results. They turned off the spigot. At a recent conference meeting, Sen. Thom Tillis, who is in charge of the National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraising, says donations had “fallen off a cliff.”
Dan Eberhart, an oil baron from Houston complains, “When you’re in a business and you tell your stakeholders you’re going to build a building or something, you have to follow through. I can’t borrow money to build a building and then not follow through, which is what these guys are doing.” He also said he called four different Senators in the past month to voice his displeasure.
President Trump is trying to calm things down with some of the heaviest hitters. The president met on Monday with Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul in Las Vegas. Adelson was sure to tell Trump he still isn’t happy his pet project is in limbo. He backs having the U.S. Embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. With the party ramping up for the 2018 midterm election, the backlash couldn’t come at a worse time.
Last week’s runoff election in Alabama for the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions highlighted the GOP panic. After a super PAC friendly to Mitch McConnell dumped over $8 million on ads and campaigns to back notorious swamp monster incumbent Luther Strange. Pistol-waving Ten-Commandments Judge Roy Moore rode into the polls on his horse election day and stole the win. “They blew all of their resources in Alabama for basically nothing,” said Eberhart.
Iowa agribusiness executive Bruce Rastetter, long a GOP faithful donor, told both Senators from his state, Chuck Grassley, and Joni Ernst, that “he would not donate to them unless they pass new legislation or get new leadership.”
Back at GOP headquarters, fundraisers in the boiler rooms can’t seem to get anyone to agree to a meeting. There aren’t any events to organize or checks to deposit. Big donors are famous for being “high maintenance” and needing a lot of attention.
This year they are especially balky. After sending an email solicitation to a particularly prized target, one got back a reply, “The GOP leaders should know, no movement on remaining agenda: tax reform, infrastructure, deregulation, etc. means no funding from supporters like me. No meetings, calls, contributions until we see progress.”
Regular contributors from the mid-level on up to the top who typically funnel millions into the party each year are suddenly not returning their calls. “I think major donors are tired of writing checks to a do-nothing Congress,” said influential GOP bundler, Roy Bailey. There are indications that the administration is not all that upset with the touchy situation.
Steve Bannon, now carrying out his Trump assisting efforts as a freelance, instead of an insider as “chief strategist,” has been sitting down with the big players. Bannon hopes to unseat a list of incumbents with reputations as “Republican In Name Only” RINO’s when voters go to the polls next year.
Even without Bannon, a donor revolution can serve as a useful motivator. According to VP Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, “if Congress failed to enact the president’s agenda they should withhold their financial support and instead give to primary challengers.”
During the George W. Bush campaign, Al Hoffman served as RNC finance chair charged with raising the presidential war chest. Hoffman is watching from the sidelines this go around, without any 2018 plans other than a few home state races. “It’s a real mess, no?” he jibes.