Lobbyists struggle with Trump reality

Republican lobbyists in Washington are struggling to come to grips with the possibility of a Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE presidency.  

“A lot of people woke up [on Wednesday] and went, 'Oh, gosh, this is not a dream,’ ” said Jeff MacKinnon, a principal at Farragut Partners. “I don't think downtown was really prepared for it happening so quickly. It did catch people off guard.”

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“It's not the end of the world. In Washington, for every action, there's an overreaction,” MacKinnon added. “You can't just ignore it. Politics is a moment in time. This is the job we chose, and this is the moment we're in.”

Much of the downtown Republican crowd — lobbyists, consultants and PR operatives — built their careers working for establishment politicians like former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner‘Lone wolf’ characterization of mass murderers is the epitome of white privilege Pelosi urges Ryan to create select committee on gun violence Ex-congressman Michael Grimm formally announces bid for old seat MORE (R-Ohio), Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal Another health funding cliff puts care for millions at risk Top Senate Dem: We're going forward with understanding we can work with White House on DACA MORE (R-Mo.), and President George W. Bush. 

For many, the shock of Trump’s victory in the Republican race, which included beating out 16 other more politically experienced candidates, has not worn off. 

“As a Republican, I'm depressed,” said Tom Korologos, a strategic adviser for DLA Piper and alum of several presidential administrations who supported Jeb Bush and then John Kasich during the race.

Korologos, who served as the ambassador to Belgium during the George W. Bush administration, said he had lunch with other lobbyists on Wednesday and the mood was grim. 

“They were all depressed,” he said. 

A handful of Republican lobbyists contacted by The Hill said that they would support the GOP nominee but did not expand on the implications for business. 

“Everyone is scrambling for relevancy right now,” MacKinnon said. “Everyone wants to be a player on some level but they don't even have a uniform on right now — they're still trying to figure out which one to wear, or if they'll even be put in the game.”

Once Trump all but clinched the nomination this week, the topic of conversation among lobbyists quickly turned to the question of how Trump is going to finance a billion-dollar campaign. 

Washington’s lobbying industry traditionally serves as an important resource for presidential candidates' cash supply; supportive lobbyists often stay in close contact with campaign committees, participate in conference calls and recruit supporters. 

Trump has said he will begin fundraising on a massive scale after mostly self-funding during the primaries, but he does not yet have the infrastructure to do so. He took one important step toward that goal on Thursday when he named Steven Mnuchin, a former partner at Goldman Sachs, as his national finance chairman.

The businessman is playing catch-up against Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE, whose joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee has raised $60 million through the end of March, $13 million of which has been transferred to her campaign. Clinton’s campaign has raised more than $213 million so far.

Trump has “a tough road ahead of him,” said one Republican lobbyist who asked for anonymity in order to speak freely.  “He's going to have a hard time coalescing the support that the business community has typically given to the nominee.” 

“The polices are tough to deal with, but when you add on to that the temperament and the foreign policy stuff, it's a lot for people to work through,” the lobbyist said, adding that several Fortune 500 executives have told him that they don’t view Trump as a colleague or a peer. The mogul’s criticism of trade deals hasn’t helped.

Some people who spoke with The Hill mentioned that many lobbyists uneasy about whether to support Trump will just shift back to what they know: Congress. 

Deciding not to participate in the White House race could free up extra resources to ensure that Republicans stay in control of the House and the Senate.

"K Street is worried about the dominos falling below the presidential race," Korologos said. 

The unnamed lobbyist added, "People are going to be able to redouble efforts in the Senate and House to the extent they're avoiding the presidential."

As he shifts to the general election, Trump will be working to set up a campaign organization that includes regional staff, policy advisers and eventually a running mate.

One that infrastructure is in place, said another GOP lobbyist, “there will be more opportunities for the discussion of issues [between the campaign and clients] and getting policy questions answered.”

Some advocates said their clients are cautiously interested in obtaining meetings with the Trump campaign, but others said that corporations remain leery in case Trump should ask for a donation or extra help.

Korologos, who says he has helped facilitate the confirmation of hundreds of presidential appointees “during [his] hangout in this ratchet town,” says he is anxious about being approached by potential Trump nominees if the real estate mogul wins the White House.

“If someone calls me up and says, ‘It's your patriotic responsibility as an American to help me get confirmed,’ what am I going to say? I'm getting awful nervous about those calls.”

Trump has not endeared himself to many on K Street, having attacked lobbyists during the primary campaign.

But while few lobbyists have come out in support of Trump, some suggest his support in the industry could be stronger than it appears. Some advocates are keeping their Trump support under wraps for fear of a backlash from colleagues or clients.

A few have gone public with their Trump support, including former Speaker Bob Livingston (R-La.), who attended one of the businessman’s first campaign meetings with Washington policymakers and establishment leaders.

Similarly, David Urban, a president at American Continental Group, has been volunteering for the Trump campaign and handing out palm cards and yard signs.

“I think that as Donald Trump’s campaign progressed and you got to… listen to the excitement he was generating and the non-conventional aspect of the campaign, I think his message is something that resonates,” he said. “I do believe there needs to be massive change in Washington. It resonates with me personally.”

“You don't need to have unanimity to have unity in our party,” Urban added. “I think the base and the party is going to get behind him pretty quickly. ... What a Trump administration would mean for K Street? I think people are worried about winning the White House. I think that's what Republicans on K Street should be worried about.” 

Veteran lobbyist Ken Kies, a managing director of the Federal Policy Group, said he is not worried about Trump in the White House, arguing his administration would resemble ones that have come before. 

“My guess is that a Trump administration wouldn't look much different from any other administration,” he said. “In terms of competency and responsibility that he would delegate to them as Cabinet officials, it wouldn't be much different than the Reagan model, which is, hire good people and let them do their jobs.” 

“What people don't appreciate about this guy is that he has 10 or more years of experience as a television actor,” Kies said. “It's hard to see how Trump is different from a lot of politicians in that he's playing a role.”