Donald Trump is wrapping up the most chaotic week of his presidency by rolling out a major new donor push — one of his most serious steps yet to prepare for a 2020 reelection campaign.
Trump will appear before big GOP givers at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Saturday for the launch of a fundraising initiative that mimics the famed George W. Bush “Pioneer” program, according to three senior Republicans familiar with the plans. As with Bush, the president will reward donors who’ve bundled thousands of dollars in contributions, giving them an entree to exclusive dinners, political briefings, and future retreats.
Under the plan, which is intended to provide a fundraising infrastructure that was lacking from Trump’s 2016 campaign, donors who raise $25,000 will join the “Trump Train” and those who bundle $45,000 will be part of the “45 Club.” The program, which will jointly benefit Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, will introduce higher class levels for larger dollar amounts in the future. Funds raised will also go toward the party’s 2018 efforts.
The fundraiser, one of several big donor events Trump will host this weekend at Mar-a-Lago, shows how Trump is slowly building a 2020 campaign apparatus even as he endures the most tumultuous stretch of his presidency. While top advisers bolt the White House and a special counsel zeroes in on the president’s ties to Russia, Trump is tapping a new campaign manager, taking steps to fend off would-be primary challengers, and lining up travel to critical 2020 states.
He has told friends privately that he wants to raise a massive amount of money in the months to come. Plans for the bundling program have been in the works for weeks.
“Just because the Democrats and many in the media refuse to get over 2016 doesn’t mean President Trump should take his focus off 2020,” said Jason Miller, a former senior Trump campaign aide who remains in touch with the president. “It’s important that President Trump continue to lay the groundwork for a strong reelection campaign because he’s not going to be able to drain the swamp overnight.”
Trump took a major step toward the next election this week when he named Brad Parscale, his 2016 digital director, as his campaign manager. Since 2016, Parscale has taken the lead in overseeing the president’s outside political operation and frequently visited the White House and Trump’s getaway residences to offer him electoral advice. The 42-year-old Parscale, who recently moved from San Antonio to South Florida to be closer to the president and his inner circle, has been particularly focused on bolstering Trump’s network of online supporters.
Trump’s financial backers will hear from Parscale this weekend at a Republican National Committee donor retreat at the Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach, Florida. The event is expected to draw a number of big donors, including sugar baron Jose Fanjul, venture capitalist Elliott Broidy, and lobbyist Brian Ballard.
Parscale is particularly close with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and within the administration his appointment was widely perceived as an effort on the part of Kushner, who is under increasing scrutiny over his financial entanglements, to leave his imprint on the developing reelection campaign. Two White House aides and two others close to the president said they interpreted it as an effort to block former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who feuded with Kushner during the 2016 campaign but who remains close with the president, from getting the top 2020 post.
During a Wednesday morning White House staff meeting, Kushner addressed the hire and outlined Parscale’s background, said one person present.
At a time when his approval rating has plummeted to the low 40s, Trump is taking steps to ward off would-be primary challengers. Last month, his campaign committee printed glossy, 10-page pamphlets outlining Trump’s accomplishments during his first year in office and delivered them to local GOP meetings in Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation caucuses.
The slickly-produced pamphlets, which included topics like “protecting life,” “ending job-killing regulations,” and “making government accountable,” were designed to reach the Republican activists who are most involved in party affairs and likely to participate in the caucuses two years from now.
The pamphlets help keep Trump “in the game, so to speak,” until the 2020 campaign begins in earnest, said Karen Fesler, an influential conservative activist in the state. “Pointing out two years ahead of time what the president and his team have accomplished makes sure that caucus voters know that.”
The White House has been monitoring potential Republican challengers, including three outspoken Trump detractors — Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. Sasse blasted Trump repeatedly the past week over trade and guns. And Flake sparked a flurry of speculation about his political intentions when he announced a March 16 speech in New Hampshire.
To some, the Parscale announcement was designed to send a loud message to would-be Republican opponents.
“He just signaled to the GOP he is running and that should deter primary challenges,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an informal Trump adviser.
Trump is also using his official office to prepare for his next campaign, focusing much of his travel to states that will play an outsize role in determining the outcome of the next presidential election. Since the inauguration, for instance, Trump has visited Pennsylvania a handful of times. He is slated to return to the state next week.
The state is so important to the president’s team that last month they quietly dispatched White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn to Harrisburg to keynote a Pennsylvania GOP dinner.
White House Political Director Bill Stepien is among those overseeing the travel. He keeps about 20 maps appended to the walls of his perch in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Last month, when Trump’s team was looking to stage an event focused on selling the recently-passed tax reform bill, they chose the all-important electoral state of Ohio.
Stepien’s office has also helped place roughly 300 former Trump campaign staffers into jobs throughout the administration. By keeping the staffers reengaged after the 2016 race, administration officials hope they’ll be easily able to transition to a reelection campaign.
In a brief interview, Stepien, himself a former top Trump campaign staffer, said that as Trump’s most urgent priority is following through on the promises he made in the last campaign, not the next one.
“It’s clear that by successfully working to pass his agenda there are tremendous results in political value,” he said.