Did you hear the shocking news? Unlikely presidential candidate Donald Trump announced last week that he would be fundraising in a big way to pay for the rest of his campaign.
Trump’s new finance committee, chaired by CEO of Dune Capital Management Steven Mnuchin and including, recently, Anthony Scaramucci of SkyBridge Capital, will work with and reach out to the same hedge fund manager types that Trump used to call “paper pushers” who are “getting away with murder.”
Who could have guessed: Trump’s claims that he would self-fund his campaign, in order to avoid the corruptive influence of big donors, were complete lies.
Scaramucci, to be fair, is a little more Trump’s speed than your average paper pusher: in addition to managing a hedge fund, he hosts a show on Fox Business and wrote the book Goodbye Gordon Gekko: How to Find Your Fortune Without Losing Your Soul, which I assume Trump thought was ironic.
Mnuchin, for his part, is known in Hollywood for quietly taking $50 million out of Relativity, a failing entertainment company, right before it went bankrupt.
Trump deserves credit, at least, for finding fundraisers in his own image.
The campaign also established a joint fundraising agreement with the Republican Party, so that Trump can fundraise for them — he likely won’t, given his distaste for helping others — and they can funnel him money from their large network of billionaire donors, all of whom are focused on making sure Donald doesn’t repeat the mistake he made on Sunday, when he let slip that rich people should pay more taxes.
By Monday, New Trump had it all figured out: he didn’t mean that the rich would pay more — that would be unthinkable for a Republican nominee with his kind of fundraising operation. Rather, he would simply bump the top marginal rate on his own plan up a few points, still a dramatic tax cut.
“Well, sure it’s a change. I’m allowed to change,” he told George Stephanopolous. “You need flexibility, George, whether it’s a tax plan where you’re going to — where you know you’re going to negotiate. But we’re going to come up with something.”
Trump’s tax plan, which would add trillions upon trillions of dollars to the debt with a huge tax break for the rich, has largely flown under the radar since he proposed it last September, aside from the usual mainstream economists saying it was insane.
But Trump’s off-hand comments about the rich were a mistake Mnuchin and Scaramucci likely knew they couldn’t let stand, if Trump wanted the support of the billionaires that used to constitute the GOP’s ideological base, until he reminded rank-and-file voters that America’s trade policies had screwed them.
And we’re only talking about taxes, an issue that even the most, ahem, inexperienced presidential nominee can fake. If billionaire pressure can reverse Trump’s tax rhetoric in 24 hours, what will billionaire GOP kingmaker Sheldon Adelson’s money do to Trump’s pledge to be “sort of a neutral guy,” in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?
Hint: Last Wednesday, Trump announced suddenly that Israelis “have to keep moving forward” building illegal settlements in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, a huge obstacle to any kind of negotiations, if you ask Palestinians.
The next day, Adelson — who Trump had previously accused of trying to “mold” Marco Rubio into “his perfect little puppet” — said Trump would be “good for Israel.”
Now, the billionaires are lining up around the block, trying to impress upon Donald the urgency of their pet causes while he’s still gullible enough to simply give them what they want.
Who’s the puppet now?
This election season’s refreshing discussion of money in politics, however coarse it has been, has brought back a saying from the ‘60s, sometimes attributed to Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn and sometimes to Lyndon Johnson. It’s about lobbyists:
“If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them you’ve got no business being up here.”
Bernie Sanders doesn’t want big donors’ help.
Hillary Clinton — like most candidates for office — does want their help, and claims she can still vote against them.
Donald Trump, building up a fundraising infrastructure on-the-fly, is plainly asking for their help in exchange for his vote.
In fact, if you want a rare glimpse at how money can change politicians’ stances on the issues — especially politicians without much experience on the issues — now is a great time to start tracking how and when Trump changes his mind about things.
It won’t be pretty. But Donald is desperate: he needs hundreds of millions of dollars, probably more, to become a viable presidential candidate. And for him, this is all one big deal. As long as he comes out on top, he’ll sell the American people to the highest bidder.
Photo: Supporters hold signs as Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Lynden, Washington, U.S., May 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart