At first fundraiser, Trump aims to keep GOP rivals at bay
Posted June 28
President Donald Trump is doing more than simply hosting the first fundraiser of his re-election bid here Wednesday evening at the Trump International Hotel, he's sending a pointed message to Republicans: He's not going anywhere.
Less than six months after taking office, Trump is kicking off his 2020 campaign earlier than any sitting president in recent history. It's more than two years sooner than George W. Bush or Barack Obama held their first fundraising events for their re-election efforts.
"It helps fend off the people out there who say he's not going to run for re-election or are still wondering if he even wants this job," said Republican strategist Scott Jennings, a campaign veteran who worked for Bush and many candidates. "It sends a very serious message that I'm going to be well funded and you don't want to mess around with me."
The money will help finance two joint fundraising committees with the Republican National Committee: the Trump Victory fund and the Make American Great Again Committee. It's a top-dollar affair, with a $100,000 price tag for the host committee and a $35,000-per-person dinner.
The President filed his re-election papers the same day of his inauguration on January 20, which allowed him to keep raising money from a network of small donors that helped fuel his campaign. The fundraising dinner at Trump's new hotel here on Pennsylvania Avenue is targeting high-dollar donors.
"It will reduce the odds of a primary challenger and help show that he's not going anywhere," a Republican affiliated with the Trump campaign said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.
While Obama didn't file re-election papers until April 2011 and Bush until May 2003 -- the respective third years of their presidencies -- Trump faces a far different dynamic with the Republican Party. His approval ratings are far lower than his predecessors and he's contending with investigations by Congress and a special counsel over Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Several ambitious Republicans are privately keeping their options open for 2020. It remains an open question whether any of them would pull the trigger and challenge a sitting president in their party.
Even as he maintains support from his core conservative base, he faces skepticism from some establishment Republicans. Aides say the fundraising dinner, hosted by the Republican National Committee, is one way to overcome that skepticism.
It's also an effort to attract Republican contributions who may not have yet donated to Trump during his campaign.
"There's probably a lot of low-hanging fruit out there that needs to be picked," said Jennings, who is also a CNN contributor. "This is a chance for them to write a check to the presidential committee. It sends a signal to the donor class that Trump is serious about building a re-election campaign."
The decision to hold the fundraising dinner at Trump's new namesake Washington hotel has also raised eyebrows among critics who have raised questions about the blurred lines between the Trump presidency and his family's businesses. While campaign finance lawyers said Trump was not breaking any laws, it was the latest example of how those businesses also make money from his politics.
Previous presidents have gone to great lengths to show they were not jumping back into re-election mode, but rather focused on governing. At his first fundraising event of the 2004 re-election campaign, Bush declared: "The political season will come in its own time."
But for Trump, the fundraising dinner is an opportunity to help unify Republicans behind him and the GOP agenda. It's the latest sign that Trump, who ran as an outsider, sits atop the Republican Party's hierarchy.
"For the Republican Party to do well," Jennings said. "Trump has to do well."