Trump looms large over GOP donor retreat in Florida

Former President Trump is set to speak to major Republican Party donors this weekend amid an internal debate around the sway he holds over the party’s financing.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) is hosting a retreat in Palm Beach, Fla., though donors will make the short pilgrimage to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort Saturday evening to hear from the former president himself, a tacit sign of the gravitational pull he still holds in Republican circles.

The event comes as internal grumbling over the president’s stranglehold on the party — and the flow of contributions — has bubbled up since the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill. Trump and the party were at loggerheads earlier this year when he said donors should give only to his leadership PAC and forfeit contributions to party organs over their use of his name and likeness. GOP officials responded that the party still needed donations heading into a midterm cycle in which control of the House and Senate is up for grabs.

The prospects for a fundraising rivalry became more evident after it was revealed that Trump’s Save America PAC finished the first quarter with a whopping $85 million in cash on hand, setting itself up to be a financial juggernaut in the marathon to November 2022.

“I think this cycle, you’re very much going to have Trump’s PAC operating at the same level or even above in terms of how well financed it is and the ability to grab the megaphone and influence particularly these primaries,” GOP donor Dan Eberhart told The Hill.

“I want to see Trump working to help Republicans, not to settle scores. And I don’t want the NRSC [National Republican Senatorial Committee] and NRCC [National Republican Congressional Committee] to be constantly having to fight friendly fire to move the ball downfield,” Eberhart added.

Trump has already vowed to support a slew of candidates across the map in 2022, with most of his endorsements thus far going to noncontroversial incumbent lawmakers.

However, the former president has put the GOP on notice that he will consider propping up candidates who may not be the party’s chosen contenders, indicating he could use his PAC as a vehicle to settle intraparty scores.

“Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First. We want brilliant, strong, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership,” Trump said in a February statement.

Trump made good on that threat when he endorsed former aide Max Miller, who is primarying Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio), one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. The former president has also vowed to back a primary against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), one of seven GOP senators to vote to convict him in his impeachment trial.

Warnings like those have Republicans concerned that Trump could use his financial prowess to fill the coffers of far-right candidates who may face headwinds in a general election and would not normally have strong financial support without the former president’s backing.

“I think his initial litmus test is, is he a Trump Republican? Does he support MAGA policies? Is he loyal to Trump? And I think that that’s going to be his first litmus test,” said Eberhart. “And sometimes the winner of that may not be the most electable person.”

On the flip side, should Trump and Republicans work together, donors say the party will be in a good position in the midterms.

The GOP must flip just five seats in the House and one seat in the Senate to win majorities in both chambers, and the party holding the White House traditionally loses seats in the first midterm of a new administration.

“If they’re able to work together and Trump World can provide air support and energy, I think it really puts us in a very unique position to do very, very well in the midterm elections,” Eberhart said. “So if we have the wind at our back historically and the Democrats overreach and we have increased energy and momentum and resources due to Trump’s involvement, potentially we could have a gigantic night in November of 2022.”

Some observers already see the divides between Trump and the party mending.

After the fundraising spat broke out into the open earlier this year, the Republican Party continued sending fundraising solicitations advocating its support for a string of Trump policies. Those requests have not received pushback from the former president, indicating Trump may have moved on from the quarrel.

“Trump kind of has these loud pronouncements that then you never hear from again. And if you look at what the party committees and so forth have been putting out, they’re being as pro-Trump as they can without using his likeness and so forth,” Doug Heye, a former RNC communications director, told The Hill.

Regardless of how the fundraising spat shakes out, Republicans say the fact that the retreat is being held in Palm Beach at all underscores Trump’s clout in the party and Republicans’ eagerness to remain on his good side.

“There’s one reason they’re going to Florida,” said Heye, “And that’s because that’s where Donald Trump is. Period.”

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