Ballot Box

GOP donors wrestle with possibility of Trump nomination

When asked who he would vote for if the presidential race comes down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the former mayor of Los Angeles and a longtime Republican establishment figure, Dick Riordan, says: “I would probably go find a deserted island.”  

“I think Hillary is disgusting,” said Riordan, a wealthy investor who has exceeded $500,000 in political donations throughout his career. 

{mosads}”And I think Trump is crazy,” Riordan added in a telephone interview Monday.  

Riordan is not alone. In conversations over the past month, GOP establishment donors have confided to The Hill that for the first time in recent memory, they find themselves contemplating not supporting a Republican nominee for president.  

Most, however, still believe that Trump will flame out before they have to face that decision. 

The subject of Trump came up at a recent Beverly Hills lunch hosted by former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Rockwell Schnabel.  

Seated around the table in the private dining room of the Hotel Bel-Air were several of the West Coast’s most powerful Republican donors, including Ronald Spogli, the venture capitalist and former ambassador to Italy under President George W. Bush; his business partner Bradford Freeman; and Riordan.  

A story that circulated after the lunch was that the donors engaged in a hypothetical question: “If it was Donald Trump running against Hillary Clinton, who would you vote for?”  

One version has it that most of the Republicans at the table put their hands up for Clinton. 

Schnabel disputes that account and said in a telephone interview Tuesday that it was just banter among friends and that he is confident that all the Republicans at the table would support the final GOP nominee for president, whomever that turns out to be.

Schnabel called back later on Tuesday afternoon to clarify what he meant. “My only caveat would be that … I assume that the Republican we’ll nominate will be somebody that would make a great president,” he said. “That’s not a conversation we’ve had to have in the past, but obviously there are some we would be concerned about.”

The four Republican donors sitting at that lunch table — Schnabel, Freeman, Spogli and Riordan — have between them contributed more than $2.7 million to candidates and political action committees over their careers.  

All have donated to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, and Freeman and Spogli have given $1 million and $50,000, respectively, to the pro-Bush super-PAC Right to Rise. 

The feeling among the GOP’s business wing is not entirely negative toward Trump. The billionaire has found a couple of champions — including billionaire investor Carl Icahn — but outreach from campaign surrogates has not always found a receptive audience.   

Several months ago, Doug Manchester, a California developer and chairman of Manchester Financial Group, emailed a number of Republican donors plugging Trump for president. 

“I met with Donald himself and was again very impressed with a Man [sic] who does not have to be doing what he is but believes as I do that we need to Make America great again and believe he can do it!!” Manchester wrote to his friends in an email seen by The Hill. 

“As all of you know I was all in for Mitt but unfortunately he did not make it!!” 

“I think Trump can win,” added Manchester, known in donor circles as “Papa Doug.” 

Asked about the email and his support for Trump, Manchester said in a recent telephone interview that the celebrity businessman wants nothing for his support and that he had given no money to Trump’s campaign so far. He said that in his judgment, Trump is the “person who could turn this country around.”

Several recipients on the email, however, disagreed with Manchester’s appraisal of Trump’s virtues. 

On one hand, Trump benefits from the distrust and insults that many establishment figures direct toward him. He says he does not want their money and, with a personal wealth of at least $3 billion, he does not need it.  

But from another angle, such resistance could also signal danger. The business wing still carries significant clout in the GOP and traditionally the nominee is approved by — or at least tolerated by — the party establishment.  

The quiet deliberations about Trump among these circles — and the recent decision to use super-PAC money to attack Trump, most notably by Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s supporters — may pose difficulties for the front-runner as the field narrows and electability becomes a higher priority than hot rhetoric. 

Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski says he is not surprised that establishment GOP donors are sour on Trump. 

“The GOP establishment will do anything they can to stop Mr. Trump from being the GOP nominee,” Lewandowski said in a telephone interview Tuesday.  

“Mr. Trump is the only one who is not controlled by the special interests. … They want a puppet that they can control, and Donald Trump will never be that person.” 

While Trump flaunts the fact that he is uninterested in the support of elites, there have also been reports that he has privately wooed billionaires such as Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.  

Trump says he has turned down multiple offers of $5 million-plus from lobbyists who he says would have wanted favors from his administration if he took the money. 

When The Washington Post broke a story about a pro-Trump super-PAC with closer-than-advertised connections to the Trump campaign, the billionaire front-runner and his aides pushed back forcefully.  

The super-PAC ultimately shut down, and Trump called on all super-PACs supporting him to return their donations

The most generous Republican donors appear to be taking note of Trump’s hostility. When The Hill studied the donation patterns of 190 donors and their families connected with the powerful conservative network founded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, not a single contribution could be found to Trump’s campaign. 

But some opinions are changing, if ever so slightly, the longer Trump stays atop the polls.  

A number of Republican donors interviewed by The Hill, including Minnesota billionaire Stanley Hubbard — who is himself part of the Koch network — are making peace with the fact that there is some chance Trump could win the nomination. 

When interviewed several months ago, Hubbard said he would “really have to think about” whether he could bring himself to support Trump. 

But in a more recent interview, Hubbard was adamant that he would support whomever the Republican nominee is because they would make a better president than Clinton. 

Other Republican donors are praying that the bombastic campaign-trail Trump would transform into a soberer President Trump.  

No fan of Trump, Riordan says he nonetheless believes that if elected president, the billionaire would change for the better.

“If he became president, he would be much more responsible and would surround himself with good people,” Riordan said.

“I guess you become sane.” 

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Hillary Clinton

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