- Donald Trump’s threats to leave the Republican Party could be pricey for both sides.
- The tension between the Republican National Committee and Trump is palpable.
- The valuable troves of personal information about Republican voters and donors is a “gold mine”, one former RNC official said.
- Trump has been talking up starting his own party if Republicans block him from running again in 2024.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel sent an email to supporters Friday that lauded former President Donald Trump and enumerated his “HUGE successes” for Americans.
“President Trump did what no one thought possible, and he NEVER stopped putting America First,” McDaniel wrote. “It is because of his leadership that the future of this Country has never been better.”
But when the email asked supporters to make a political contribution in the name of “our critical America First agenda,” someone was excluded from the bounty: Trump.
Every dollar donated goes to the RNC and only the RNC — a conspicuous departure from what even earlier this month had been routine: the RNC, the Trump campaign, and lately, a new Trump political action committee, raising money jointly.
This small, but significant change portends a complicated, even contentious future between two long-unified political behemoths.
Some members of the RNC leadership, the group of 168 men and women who set the rules for selecting the Republican presidential nominee, have been champing at the bit to excise Trump from their party now that he’s left the White House in disgrace.
A Trump/RNC divorce — something unthinkable just weeks ago — appears increasingly possible. Trump, for his part, is even mulling whether to create his own political party, which the Wall Street Journal reported could be called the “Patriot Party.”
Big money is at stake. Most notably: the massive, private list of millions of Trump supporters who’ve contributed cash, signed pro-Trump petitions, volunteered for the campaign, and opted into receiving emails, text messages, and other communications.
“The list is a gold mine,” one former RNC official told Insider.
Trouble in MAGA paradise
Since Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in 2016, the Trump campaign and RNC have engaged in a years-long marriage of convenience and necessity.
McDaniel, who dropped the “Romney” from her name to become Trump’s RNC chair, was tasked with bridging establishment Republicans and the far-right nationalists who formed Trump’s base. Increasingly over the last four years, the ranks of old “establishment” Republicans on the RNC have been replaced by a new “establishment” pledging fealty to Trump.
Perhaps the most symbolic “wedding” of the old establishment and Trump — outside of RNC efforts in 2016 to help Trump win the nomination — was the merging of the Trump campaign’s volunteer and fundraising lists with the RNC’s highly valued voter data.
This marriage, in the form of a small-dollar online fundraising machine, was initially dubbed “Patriot Pass” — until New England Patriots football team owner Bob Kraft called up Trump in January 2019 and complained. The fundraising and data platform was quickly renamed: WinRed.
But WinRed was not rolled out publicly for another six months in large part because of concerns that Trump and his team would use it to pilfer valuable data from the Republicans, and amid concerns that Trump’s campaign manager and advisors were using it to enrich themselves.
The contract that cemented the bond between the RNC and Trump campaign is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the party, to the point where even RNC members have groused about not knowing what’s in the agreement and who’s getting what out of the arrangement.
Three Republican attorneys familiar with the RNC’s operations told Insider that any contract between the Trump campaign and RNC would likely detail all manners of financial arrangements in the event of a schism, including who controls supporters’ data that up to this point they’ve shared.
“I assume most of this is governed by contract, and if not — and maybe if so! — will be governed by litigation,” added former Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley Smith, now chairman of the nonprofit Institute for Free Speech.
The RNC did not immediately respond to questions from Insider. A Trump campaign spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.
When politicos make millions from supporters’ personal information
Such political list data is extraordinarily valuable, both politically and financially for parties and candidates alike. It can even generate cash for years after a political campaign goes dormant.
“You guys need to dig into the lists, nobody is looking at it,” one former RNC official told Insider shortly after the 2020 election.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, for example, earned millions of post-election dollars by renting its supporters’ personal information to data brokers and other interested third parties.
As recently as last year, Romney’s old presidential campaign was still earning money from Newsmax Media’s rental of its supporter list, according to Federal Election Commission records. Romney’s presidential committee finally terminated itself in September, transferring much of its remaining $92,000 to Romney’s US Senate campaign committee after paying off lingering bills.
Then there’s the issue of intellectual property.
In 2012, for example, Trump personally filed a trademark request for what would become his omnipresent campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and the United States Patent and Trademark Office officially registered it on July 14, 2015, according to federal records.
Trump’s presidential campaign committee subsequently assumed ownership of the “Make America Great Again” trademark, disclosing it would be used for several dozen discrete purposes: fundraising, videos, hats, baby clothing, “online social networking services in the field of politics.”
The RNC routinely used “Make America Great Again” in its communications and jointly operated the Trump Make America Great Again joint fundraising committee. Donations benefited both the Trump presidential campaign and RNC.
A few days after Trump lost the 2020 presidential election last November, the Trump Make America Great Again committee added another beneficiary to its ranks.
Its name: Save America, a PAC that Trump created days before that he himself controlled.
Such “leadership PACs” can use the money they raise for numerous purposes, including paying expenses that could personally benefit their sponsors, including travel, lodging, legal, and meals costs.
Many election reformers consider leadership PACs, which Republicans and Democrats alike use, little more than legalized slush funds ripe for abuse.
McDaniel is continuing to balance competing Republican forces even as she eyes the exit following the 2022 midterm election, RNC members and Republicans close to the RNC told Insider.
What Trump does next politically is unclear, although the decision may not entirely be up to him.
If the Senate votes to convict him at his impeachment trial, senators then have the option to ban Trump from ever holding federal office again — dashing his stated interest in running for president again in 2024.