Former President Trump is escalating his battle against GOP leaders, demanding that the Republican campaign arms stop fundraising off his name and promising to travel outside the lower 48 states to stump against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), who is up for reelection in Alaska.
Over the weekend, Trump’s attorneys sent letters to the Republican National Committee (RNC), the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee saying he would have to give explicit permission for his name or likeness to be used in fundraising appeals.
The Trump brand has been a fundraising juggernaut for Republicans, and the move to crack down on the GOP’s top fundraising and messaging organs could hamstring the party as it seeks to win back the House and Senate in 2022.
Trump has stated publicly that his primary goal is to return Republicans to being a governing majority.
However, his actions suggest he’s still furious at the 10 House Republicans and seven Senate Republicans who voted to impeach him as well as with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other GOP leaders who have called on the party to move away from his brand of politics.
One Trump ally said the cease-and-desist was partly to retaliate against his critics, partly a power move to control the flow of money, and partly a business decision for a mogul who has made a fortune off licensing and business agreements.
Trump could also at some point seek a cut of the fundraising appeals that bear his name to direct additional cash toward his campaign bank account, which is already sitting at $35 million.
“The McConnell tension definitely opened the floodgates, and in a lot of ways, it’s about controlling the purse strings and exerting himself as the leader of the party by controlling the flow of money,” the ally said. “But it’s also about protecting his brand and maintaining exclusive control over his image.”
It’s unclear at the moment what the impact will be on GOP fundraising.
The RNC and NRSC were still using Trump’s name in fundraising emails sent out over the weekend.
In a letter responding to Trump’s attorney, RNC chief counsel Justin Riemer fired back, saying the GOP “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.”
The letter said that Trump had already personally approved the RNC’s use of his name for fundraising, including for the upcoming donor retreat in Palm Beach, Fla., where Trump is expected to speak.
GOP operatives are wondering how far Trump will go to enforce the cease-and-desist.
Trump could allow for his name to be used in some instances, and it’s possible that the campaign arms will find loopholes that allow them to raise money off the former president.
The back-and-forth puts Trump’s allies, including RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), NRSC Chairman Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and NRSC Chairman Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) in a tough spot.
"We're gonna have the resources we need to win the majority. I'm not worried about that," Emmer told The Hill on Monday.
The Minnesota Republican said he hasn't talked to Trump about it but that he doesn't believe Trump's motive in restricting the use of his brand was retribution for the 10 GOP House members who opted to vote to impeach.
"You'll have to ask him what he's going to do," Emmer said. "I mean, I saw his speech at [the Conservative Political Action Conference], and he's going to continue to be involved. Let's face it: He'll be a force in this country and in the political landscape regardless. He was before he became president, and I imagine he's going to continue that way."
Trump's brand is enormously helpful to Republicans when it comes to fundraising and generating enthusiasm among the base. Some Republicans are worried his latest move could be a drag on their efforts to win back majorities in the House and Senate.
“Invoking Trump is an absolute winner when it comes to fundraising,” said one Republican strategist. “It’s been really valuable in building a low-dollar fundraising organ for the party. Hopefully they’ll get this worked out because, as it stands, it’s a huge and totally unnecessary hurdle to overcome.”
Trump’s GOP critics are fuming, saying it’s further evidence that Trump’s only loyalty is to himself.
“Republicans are once again being reminded about how they’re bowing down at the altar of someone who doesn’t care about them,” said Doug Heye, the former communications director at the RNC. “Loyalty is not a two-way street with him. He’ll cast you aside if he wants to. He doesn’t feel that he needs the GOP right now and knows that if he wants them back, they’ll come running, so there’s no incentive for him to do anything else.”
The fundraising dust-up comes as Trump ramps up his attacks on the Republicans who voted to impeach him.
Over the weekend, Trump vowed to travel to Alaska to try to oust Murkowski.
Murkowski is the only Senate Republican up for reelection in 2022 who voted to impeach Trump.
Republicans are confident that Murkowski, who lost a primary in 2010 but still won the general election in a write-in campaign, is safe. The state recently passed a ballot measure to implement an open primary in which the top four candidates from any party move on to the general election, all but ensuring Murkowski will get out of the primary.
“Ballot Measure 2 ... makes it hard to see where Trump campaigning against her would make any ultimate difference,” said Art Hackney, a GOP strategist in Alaska. “While she would be very vulnerable in a Republican primary, there are a broad swath of the resource community who she has earned the respect of. And with initial interest by groups like Club for Growth diminishing and McConnell saying the committee will back her and people like Sen. John Barrasso [R-Wyo.] saying they will come and campaign for her, it's probably not enough to tip the scales against her.”
Still, Trump’s moves are a sign of his influence within the GOP and the ongoing struggle over the direction of the party that has played out since he left office.
Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.) on Monday became latest Republican to announce he would not seek reelection in 2022, joining others who have expressed frustration with the direction of the party, including Sens. Pat Toomey (Penn.), Richard Burr (N.C.), and Rob Portman (Ohio).
Blunt was not among the most vocal Trump critics, and he did not vote to impeach the president, but conservatives talked privately about him potentially attracting a primary challenger because they believed he could be replaced with a MAGA-style candidate.