There is not just a divide in Washington but a growing divide inside the GOP. The GOP leadership is facing a growing revolt from their top donors who are now cutting off the party while protesting their inability to get things done.
This was clearly the source of tension at a recent dinner in the home of Los Angeles billionaire Robert Day. While 25 or so of the wealthy guests listened intently, Thomas Wachtell, a retired oil and gas investor and party contributor, delivered a critical message to the night’s headliner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: Just do something.
Wachtell has given tens of thousands of dollars over the past years to Senate Republicans. He said about the tense dinner that McConnell responded to his charge defensively. McConnell spoke about how long it takes to pass legislation and that Trump didn’t seem to understand how much time it required.
“Anybody who was there knew that I was not happy. And I don’t think anybody was happy. How could you be?” said Wachtell, who recently stopped donating to Senate GOP causes. “You’re never going to get a more sympathetic Republican than I am. But I’m sick and tired of nothing happening.” So Wachtell and other influential donors are just shutting their wallets.
This protest is critical because of the 2018 midterm elections approaching. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who oversees fundraising for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told his colleagues at a recent conference meeting that donations had fallen off a cliff after the Obamacare flop. The committee’s bottom line plummeted to just $2 million in July and August, that’s just half of what it raised in June.
“When you’re in a business, and you tell your stakeholders you’re going to build a building or something, you have to follow through,” said Houston-based energy executive Dan Eberhart. “I can’t borrow money to build a building and then not follow through, which is what these guys are doing.”
Most Republican leadership can’t seem to bridge this new divide. One seasoned GOP fundraiser forwarded along an email from a prized donor. “The GOP leaders should know, no movement on remaining agenda: tax reform, infrastructure, deregulation, etc. means no funding from supporters like me,” it read. “No meetings, calls, contributions until we see progress.”
Last week’s GOP runoff for an Alabama Senate seat increased much of the frustration. A McConnell-aligned super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, donated more than $8 million in a failed effort to keep incumbent Sen. Luther Strange over the controversial jurist Roy Moore. The outcome has some party donors questioning the group’s spending decisions. “They blew all of their resources in Alabama for basically nothing,” said one influential donor.
The president is doing what he can to solve the problem. On Monday, Trump met with the party’s most prominent donor, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. And the White House has been closely monitoring the donor unease, concerned that it could derail the party’s 2018 efforts.
In contrast, some in the president’s administration see the revolt as a way to motivate present GOP lawmakers. On Tuesday, Nick Ayers, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, spoke to a group of RNC donors and said that if Congress failed to enact the president’s agenda, they should withhold their financial support and instead give to primary challengers.
What do you think about this growing divide between GOP establishment and their donor base?