Inside the GOP's exclusive donor hub

While Republicans are delivering their campaign message inside Cleveland’s Quicken Loans arena, the real business of the party's national convention is being done a few blocks away.            

The Ritz Carlton hotel in downtown Cleveland has been taken over by the Republican Party’s most prized donors and fundraisers, becoming the hub for some of the most secretive conversations in all of politics.

ADVERTISEMENT

"The biggest benefit that the [Republican National Committee] and presidential campaigns bestow during a convention is preferential hotel assignment," said California donor John Jordan. 

"You see who's done what or who the cool kids are by where they stay in a hotel.”

Jordan conducted his interview with The Hill on the patio of Cleveland's Metropolitan at the 9 hotel.  

It's a nice hotel, but it's not the Ritz.  

"I've been a bad boy," Jordan said, noting the fact that he's not a traditional donor and likes to take control over his spending by setting up his own super-PACs — an act that irritates some party traditionalists. 

Over at the Ritz Carlton, donors are huddled throughout the hotel and have spent the past few days plotting and socializing over early afternoon cocktails, lunchtime briefings in private conference rooms and bottles of Pinot noir in hotel suites.

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Pentagon investigator probing whether acting chief boosted former employer Boeing Trump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral MORE is lagging badly behind Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Trump's approval rating stable at 45 percent Kellyanne Conway: 'I think my gender helps me with the president' MORE in fundraising, and the party’s top money people are frenetically making their pitches and trying to figure out how to compete against Clinton’s likely billion dollar-plus presidential operation.

On Wednesday, one of Trump’s leading donors and fundraisers, the Los Angeles developer “Papa” Doug Manchester, took The Hill into a private conference area on the sixth floor of the Ritz Carlton to discuss his fundraising efforts for the Republican nominee. 

Manchester, wearing a silk American flag tie, was being trailed by a young Californian who said she plans to run for office. 

“I love this man,” she said, pointing to Manchester, who was grinning.

Manchester and his wife, Geniya, have each given the legal maximum of $449,400 to Trump Victory, the joint fundraising committee between the Trump campaign, the RNC and 11 state parties.  

As well as donating, Manchester is raising money to help Trump and said he gathered $4 million in a fundraiser last week in California.

“We have the opportunity to literally elect for the first time a true capitalist to the White House,” Manchester told The Hill.

“And that’s what I’m so excited about and that’s what other people are excited about.”

While Manchester was leading The Hill into the private room, clusters of donors were leaving the elevators at the sixth floor lobby. 

About 30 donors had been meeting — also at the Ritz — with a pro-Trump super-PAC, Rebuilding America Now PAC, according to Politico

The super-PAC has reportedly raised at least $5 million in the past few days. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, called into the briefing — a signal that he was blessing the super-PAC, which legally cannot coordinate with the Trump campaign.

One of the challenges for the Ritz Carlton money people this week has been to convince hold outs in the business community to get over their resistance to the Republican nominee’s views on trade and immigration.

In an extraordinary rebuke last month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce assailed Trump’s economic positions in real-time on Twitter while he delivered a speech on trade.

Usually a reliable ally for a Republican running for president, the Chamber, like many of its members, has found Trump’s populist rhetoric hard to swallow. 

Working hard to change these perceptions is Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee's fast food chains.

Puzder, who’s been working the rooms at the Ritz Carlton this week, is both raising money for Trump and advising the candidate on economic policy.

Interviewed by The Hill Tuesday in one of hotel’s dining areas, Puzder explained his argument for those in the corporate wing of the Republican establishment who remain skeptical about — or flat out opposed to — Trump’s economic policies.

“I think the economic policy arguments are pretty clear,” Puzder said.

“I think the only place they get fuzzy is on trade and immigration, and I think even that’s not as fuzzy as people are making it out to be.”

Puzder said Trump was the only candidate running for president pursuing “pro-growth” policies that would create jobs and raise incomes.

He said the answer is not to raise the minimum wage, as Hillary Clinton would do — though he wouldn’t mind a small rise to $9 — but rather embracing the classic Republican policies of cutting taxes, getting rid of government regulations and opening up energy production in the U.S.

Responding to GOP criticisms of Trump on trade and immigration, Puzder said he believes Trump will not deport 11 million illegal immigrants as he pledged to do during the primary campaign. 

Puzder added that he thinks the policy differences between Trump and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHead of top hedge fund association to step down Romney knocks Trump over McCain criticism Paul Ryan joins board of Fox Corporation MORE (R-Wis.) are “more perceived than actual.”

It’s not that Trump is anti-trade, he says, but simply that he wants to negotiate better deals for America. 

“I love Paul Ryan … and I think the policy positions he takes are very good,” Puzder said. “I also think that Donald Trump is a businessman. Look, this guy wrote the ‘Art of the Deal.’

“When it comes to negotiating a deal, if I had a choice between sending in Paul Ryan and sending in Donald Trump, I’d probably send in Donald Trump if he was negotiating for me. Now, if I had to send someone in to draft legislation, it would be Paul Ryan. 

“These guys have different talents and different approaches to things.” 

It’s lines like that, delivered over and over again in Ritz Carlton suites and dining rooms this week, that will go a long way to finally uniting the party’s donor class behind its nominee.

This story was updated on July 22 at 2:49 p.m.