Trump Is Battling the GOP for Use of His Image to Attract Small Donors

Former President Donald Trump is telling key Republican Party committees to stop using his likeness to raise money, escalating his attacks on the GOP as he attempts to purge his critics from the party.

Trump told the top three GOP fundraising committees — the Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee — to stop using his name in fundraising appeals and on merchandise, Politico reported. Trump later said he would allow the RNC to keep using his name, but not the congressional groups, Bloomberg reported. That change came after the RNC reportedly moved the location of an upcoming fundraising event to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club.

Trump is directing his anger at the NRSC and NRCC, which have signaled they will support incumbents, including those who voted against Trump on impeachment. Trump has said he will use his money machine to back primary challenges against his Republican critics, namely House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).

“No more money for RINOs. They do nothing but hurt the Republican Party and our great voting base — they will never lead us to Greatness,” Trump said in a statement Monday that also urged Republican voters to donate to his leadership PAC, Save America.

Trump is reportedly aware that establishment GOP forces are increasingly reliant on his brand to raise money. The NRCC and NRSC smashed their own fundraising records in 2020 — and pulled in record sums from small donors who previously ignored party committees — while featuring Trump’s name in hundreds of text and email solicitations.

They’ve continued to use Trump’s name after the former president sent them a cease-and-desist letter. The NRSC asked supporters to become “Official Trump Defenders” in a fundraising email Sunday. The NRCC sent a flurry of emails this week asking supporters to sign Melania Trump’s “birthday card,” a common tactic to obtain cell phone numbers of potential donors.

Using Trump-centric messaging, the NRSC raised $338 million in the 2020 cycle, more than double its 2018 haul. The NRCC raised nearly $281 million, up from around $206 million in 2018.

Most mainstream political groups raised more money during the ultra-expensive 2020 election than in previous cycles. But the GOP committees got the biggest boost from small donors — individuals donating $200 or less to a given committee — who accounted for just a sliver of GOP fundraising in previous cycles. In the 2020 cycle, the NRSC and NRCC raised around $80 million and $77 million from bite-sized donors, respectively.

Trump raised nearly half of his campaign funds from small donors, an unprecedented feat. His Republican allies have tapped into that base of grassroots supporters, using online ads to collect their contact information and sending Trump-focused fundraising appeals. Trump defenders such as Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) have transformed themselves into prolific small-dollar fundraisers during the Trump era. House Republicans raised 22 percent of their campaign cash from small donors in 2020, up from 6 percent in 2016.

The top GOP committees are expected to keep using Trump’s brand to raise money, having noted that the use of Trump’s name is constitutionally protected speech. But Trump advisers reportedly believe his attacks on the party committees will kill their own small-dollar fundraising efforts.

The NRSC and NRCC relied heavily on that grassroots support to keep up with their Democratic counterparts that also use Trump’s name in fundraising asks. That small-dollar funding could be crucial as corporate interests keep their distance from Republicans who objected to the Electoral College results after pro-Trump protestors stormed the Capitol. Still, while some corporate PACs have said they will not support Republican objectors, none have committed to swearing off bigger donations to the Republican Party committees.