Former President Donald Trump is competing with the GOP’s fundraising operation and lashing out at its members, further complicating his status as a Republican Party leader.
“No more money for RINOs,” Trump said in a fundraising email Monday night, referring to “Republicans In Name Only,” a term used to bash moderate GOP politicians accused of governing like Democrats.
Trump, without specifying his targets by name, asserted that they “do nothing but hurt the Republican Party and our great voting base — they will never lead us to Greatness.” The email told Trump’s supporters to instead send money to his political action committee, Save America.
That request echoed Trump’s recent speech in Orlando — his first post-presidency public remarks — where he told a crowd of supporters that his own PAC was the only way to “elect ‘America First’ Republican conservatives.”
Redirecting the flow of Republican money into his own war chest, if successful, could help Trump tighten his grip on the party as he aims to snuff out his perceived enemies within it. But experts say promoting his own PAC could also carry other perks for Trump.
PACs like Save America can raise donations for political expenditures such as supporting candidates, and Trump could use his to lay the groundwork for a presidential campaign in 2024. But they “also can be used for just about anything else,” said Brendan Fischer, Federal Reform Program director at the Campaign Legal Center.
“Given the amount of money raised, it’s entirely possible Trump could use Save America both to maintain control and influence over the Republican Party GOP and also to benefit himself and his family members personally,” Fischer told CNBC in an interview.
The Associated Press reported earlier in March that Save America has more than $80 million cash on hand.
Trump, who never formally conceded defeat to President Joe Biden, has hardly stepped back from politics since his one term in office expired on Jan. 20. Now ensconced at his home in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump has presented himself as the de facto leader and future of his party while regularly attacking prominent Republicans who are still in office.
Even as Trump teases a possible 2024 presidential run on the Republican ticket, he is demanding that the Republican National Committee stop using his name and image in its fundraising messages.
Trump’s lawyers sent cease-and-desist letters Friday to the RNC, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senate Committee, NBC News reported.
On Monday, RNC chief counsel J. Justin Riemer rebuffed that demand, telling Save America’s lawyer Alex Cannon that Trump and RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel had hashed out the dispute.
“We understand that President Trump reaffirmed to [McDaniel] over the weekend that the approves of the RNC’s current use of his name in fundraising and other materials, including for our upcoming donor retreat event at Palm Beach at which we look forward to him participating,” Riemer wrote in a letter to Cannon.
That letter, shared with CNBC by the RNC, noted that the committee “has not sent any fundraising requests in President Trump’s name or used his image since before he left office, nor would it to do without his prior approval.”
Riemer added: “The RNC, of course, has every right to refer to public figures as it engages in core, First Amendment-protected political speech, and it will continue to do so in pursuit of these common goals.”
Trump’s Monday night email, decrying “RINOs” and urging donations to the Save America PAC, appeared to contradict Riemer’s claim that Trump and McDaniel had reached an agreement on the issue.
A spokesman for Trump did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the back-and-forth with the RNC. A contact for the Save America PAC did not respond to a request for comment.
Republicans lost the White House and the Senate majority in the wake of Trump’s presidency. But the Republican Party and many of its leaders have kept closely allied with Trump, whose popularity endures among huge chunks of the GOP electorate.
Some Republicans have openly condemned Trump for his conduct before and after the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in five deaths and forced a joint session of Congress into hiding. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, in late February said “I don’t believe that [Trump] should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”
But more Republicans have avoided criticizing Trump even after the invasion, which appeared to have little impact on the former president’s overall approval among his base. Others who had initially distanced themselves from Trump after the deadly riot, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, later reaffirmed their support for him.
Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had excoriated Trump for peddling false election-theft conspiracies, said more recently he would “absolutely” support Trump if he became the GOP nominee in 2024.
Meanwhile, numerous other Republicans rumored to have presidential ambitions appear to be taking steps toward launching their own campaigns, while taking care not to cross Trump.
Next month, for instance, former Vice President Mike Pence will reportedly travel to South Carolina, a crucial state on the presidential primary map, to deliver his first public speech since leaving office.