NEW YORK — The man who vehemently eschewed donor dollars during the GOP primary is now looking to ramp up his fundraising for the general election.
Donald Trump, who for much of the primary bragged about “self-funding,” met on Thursday with more than 60 leading Republicans in Midtown Manhattan to discuss his fundraising operations going into the general. Joining Trump at the meeting was RNC Chair Reince Priebus and top-surrogate and advisor New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Others seen entering and exiting the meeting included RNC Finance Chair Lew Eisenberg, Trump Victory Vice Chairs Woody Johnson, Ray Washburne and Mel Sembler, and Trump’s top aides and advisors, including Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort.
A source in the room for the meetings at New York’s Four Seasons Hotel told NBC that Trump spoke to the room “about how he did [in the primaries] and what he thinks of the general, thus far.” The source, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity in order to talk more freely about the meeting, added that Trump made a general election pitch based on broadening the electoral map come November.
Paraphrasing what Trump told the room, the source says Trump listed California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey (calling out, “Right, Chris?!” to hammer the point home), and “maybe even Maryland” as states that he could put in play. On the trail, Trump has made this point before, saying that he plans to target and play hard in traditionally blue states, like New York and California, though polling in those states shows an uphill battle for Trump.
Donors and advisors who left the meeting reported positive vibes in the room and among the attendees; many saying that the time for unity is finally nigh. “It’s time for Republicans to unite behind our next president,” Gary Emineth, former North Dakota GOP Chairman, told reporters.
Still, questions lingered about Trump’s latest controversy regarding Judge Gonzalo Curiel, and about whether Trump’s late start to fundraising was a handicap going into the general.
Billionaire John Catsimatidis spoke to Trump’s “love” of America in a brief interview with reporters after the meeting, but did acknowledge the candidate’s past missteps, specifically regarding his comments about Trump University Judge Curiel’s “Mexican” heritage.
“He’s made a few mistakes,” the former New York mayoral candidate told reporters. Catsimatidis said he “would not have criticized the judge,” but understood that the issue was an “emotional” one for Trump. He chalked it up to Trump still “learning how to be a candidate.”
According to Catsimatidis, Gov. Christie brought up Trump’s controversy with Judge Curiel during the closed press lunch, saying that “people make mistakes and they take it back.” Christie did not take questions from the press when he entered or exited the meeting, nor has Trump taken back or expressed regret over his racially charged comments about the judge.
Catsimatidis reminded reporters that he’s also “good friends with the Clintons, too” and noted that his attendance here today does not mean an endorsement of Donald Trump. “Let’s see how things sort themselves out,” he said.
Trump Campaign Chairman and Chief Strategist Paul Manafort was light on specifics with reporters, but expressed no concern over the campaign’s late fundraising start, saying that the campaign will “raise what we need to raise.” When pressed by NBC for a specific fundraising goal or projected fundraising number, Manafort replied, “enough to win.” Manafort also downplayed criticisms that Trump’s money machine pales in comparison to Hillary Clinton’s prepared war chest, saying that they don’t need “as much as people think” to beat Clinton in November.
That didn’t stop attendees from setting lofty fundraising goals for themselves. Emineth promised reporters a million dollars from North Dakota for the presumptive nominee. “Never been done before,” he pointed out, but his confidence in Trump’s ability to win in November made the goal seem within reach.
Eisenberg echoed the same positive spin coming out of the room, gaggling with reporters as he crossed Park Avenue. “I feel that we’re on the way to victory,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had this much momentum, meeting with a group like that like than I did today.”
“The primary’s over and just, everybody love each other,” Catsimadtidis said.
In other words, after a week of GOP civil wars and backlash against Trump, would-be donors, supporters, aides and party leaders were united in their message: nothing to see here.