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Vincent Harris Quoted on TheHill.com, ‘Trump small-donor army a double-edged sword for GOP

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Donald Trump has amassed the biggest small-donor fundraising army in the history of the Republican Party.

No matter what happens on Election Day, the GOP will inherit this network that top Republican fundraisers agree is already among the most valuable properties in conservative politics. All of Trump’s data will augment the party’s current list, which spans years of voter contact and donations and includes many reliable supporters.

“The people who donate are your core believers,” said Zac Moffatt, an online fundraising expert who was digital director of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

“They will probably take the outcome disproportionately harder than the normal voter.”

If current polling holds and the party faces a blowout at the top of the ticket, there will be pressure to tack away from the populist and “alt-right” tenets of Trump’s campaign. Any moderation of Trump’s scorched-earth message that attacked party leaders and warned about a “rigged” system could alienate those donors.

“What’s smart for this [donor] list may not be smart for what they want to achieve … post-election,” Moffatt said about the Republican National Committee (RNC).

“I don’t know that the committee can say ‘lock her up, put her in jail,’ ” he added, referring to a popular refrain Trump and his supporters use against Democrat Hillary Clinton. “Things that his campaign has chosen from a messaging perspective will probably be more aggressive than the committee might be after the fact.”

Trump has been encouraging his supporters to mistrust institutions, openly accusing Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the party’s chief fundraiser, of being part of a “sinister deal” against him.

And he warns his supporters, many of whom are politically aware for the first time in years, not to bother turning out again if he loses.

“If we let Crooked Hillary’s cartel … run this government, history will record that 2017 was the year that America truly lost its independence,” he told supporters during a rally last week in Colorado.

“In four years it will be over. You will never be able to win. It’s tilting; it’s going to be a one-party system. This is your final shot for the Supreme Court, the Second Amendment.”

A Trump victory would likely keep his loyal donors engaged at least as long as he occupies the Oval Office and fulfills his most popular promises, such as building a wall along the southern U.S. border and getting Mexico to pay for it.

Regardless of the outcome on Election Day, Trump’s list is still a major boon for Republicans as they wage the electoral data war against the Democrats.

Both of the party’s other recent presidential nominees, Romney and John McCain, significantly outraised Trump in direct campaign contributions through September of their respective election cycles.

But Trump has bested both of them to this point with donors who gave $200 or less directly to his campaign, raising $78.6 million that way, according to Federal Election Commission data. Romney raised $44.8 million from small-dollar donors to this point in 2012, and McCain raised $65.5 million in 2008. However, McCain took public funding for his campaign, which gave him an additional source of income.

Trump’s small-dollar donor operation is a larger part of his fundraising apparatus. That $78.6 million makes up 58 percent of his total haul. By this point, Romney had raised about 11 percent from small-dollar donors, and McCain had raised 36 percent of his total that way.

“You could make an argument that he is the best candidate to refresh the RNC’s online fundraising database because of the different kind of donor that he’s gotten,” said Vincent Harris, a GOP digital strategist who briefly did private digital work for Trump’s campaign.

The party itself kicked off the 2016 cycle with a massive investment in data to assist in every facet of its operations — including fundraising, voter contact and get-out-the-vote strategy — so a portion of its fundraising gain likely comes from that.

The RNC has access to information Trump and his campaign gleaned during the campaign, so it will be able to put that right back into the party’s systems.

While Republicans were initially concerned with how late Trump started his major fundraising push, the GOP nominee directed a significant portion of his spending to a San Antonio-based digital firm that built out his online fundraising and advertising. That appears to have paid off in helping to build his small-donor army.

While a drop-off in these donors is likely if Trump loses, said one top Republican online fundraiser, the party still stands to be in good shape.

“There are going to be a lot of people who drop off, that are only on that file because they love Donald Trump and they’re not party people,” the source said.

“But the vast majority of them are going to be party people, are going to stay on, and they’re going to be monetized by the party for years and years to come.”

The challenge isn’t different from what the party faces every cycle, said another Republican source familiar with the RNC’s data program, noting that many donors who came into the fold in 2012 because of Romney are now giving to Trump despite significant differences between the candidates.

Some Republicans agree that the party can retain many of Trump’s donors, saying there is one unifying theme that could keep these donors engaged: a mutual distaste for Clinton and her agenda if she wins.

“The bigger picture is what they are focused on — the Supreme Court and stopping Hillary Clinton,” the Republican source added.

Anti-Clinton fervor has been one of the main shared values between the insurgent candidate and his party. Trump’s most hard-core supporters take that to the extreme, typically breaking out into “lock her up” chants at rallies and toting sometimes vulgar anti-Clinton paraphernalia.

That’s where data can be especially useful, Harris, the digital strategist, added.

The RNC can likely figure out which donors responded well to anti-Clinton fundraising pitches and continue to reach those supporters with similar appeals. That strategy could be especially helpful, Harris added, if the party reaches out to those donors with messages  from a politician who could be a bridge between Trump supporters and the party, like Trump surrogates Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich.

“If there’s a way to convert the hatred of Hillary Clinton, should she win, and continue fundraising off of it … that’s one of the only characteristics of these donors that will be transferable to the committees and to candidates running in the future,” Harris said.

“What the party needs to do is strategize about how to best convert these populist, frustrated, angry base donors into anti-Clinton donors.”

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