These donors gave to Trump’s GOP rivals. Now 95% are sitting out the general election

Nearly 95% of donors who first gave to Donald Trump's GOP primary opponents are sitting out the general election, a Times analysis of campaign finance reports found.
(Brennan Linsley / Associated Press)

Most of Donald Trump’s Republican presidential primary rivals have come around to his candidacy, but their donors are staying away.

Nearly 95% of those who first gave to his GOP primary opponents are sitting out the general election, and of those who are still giving money, many are lining up behind Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton instead, according to a Times analysis of donations over $200.

Trump has out-raised Clinton $7.4 million to $2 million among donors who supported his 16 GOP rivals. But that much support for Clinton is notable in a race where her Republican rival is struggling in the money contest.


Clinton brought in $292 million to Trump’s $82 million through the end of August. Add in loans, transfers from joint fundraising committees and super PAC money, and the gulf grows, with $530 million for Clinton and $186 million for Trump, according to Federal Election Commission records through Aug. 31, the most recent period for which figures were available.

Donors who moved to back Clinton cited an unease with Trump’s unorthodox and divisive candidacy, and concerns about what he might do as president.

Robert Sacks of Santa Fe, N.M., gave $1,000 to Ohio Gov. John Kasich in February; Sacks said he was drawn to the candidate’s humility, centrist appeal and record. After Kasich dropped out, Sacks grew increasingly unnerved by Trump’s rhetoric. In June, he wrote a $1,000 check to Clinton, and he gave an additional $300 to her in August.

“It’s frightening,” said Sacks, a retired college professor, before likening Trump to Adolf Hitler. “To tell you the truth, I begin to get a little feeling of what it was like to be a decent human being in Germany in the early ’30s.”

Last week, billionaire Republicans Sheldon Adelson and Joe Ricketts moved off the sidelines, pledging to write seven-figure checks to efforts backing Trump, though it is a sliver of the amount they spent to try to elect Mitt Romney in 2012. Trump has smashed the GOP record for small-dollar donations, receiving more than $100 million from donors who write checks for less than $200; he says he raised $18 million in the 24 hours after Monday’s debate.

But the refusal of Republicans to consolidate behind the nominee is among the reasons Trump trails Clinton badly in fundraising.


At the same time four years ago, President Obama had raised more money than Romney, but once party and super PAC money were factored in, they were almost at parity, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Bobbie Kilberg, a prodigious Republican fundraiser who was a donation bundler for Romney, gave up on this year’s presidential election after watching her favored candidates — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, then former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, then Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, then Kasich — drop out.

She and her husband, Bill, are raising money for down-ballot races, recently hosting events at their McLean, Va., home for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.

“Bill and I have put our focus … where we are comfortable,” said Kilberg, who has served in three GOP administrations. “I will leave it at that.”

Of the donors who backed other Republicans and are still giving, those who favored GOP moderates are giving money to Clinton. She beats Trump among those who backed Christie, and gets nearly half of Kasich supporters and 4 out of 10 Bush backers.

Trump is far more favored by those who donated to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina and Rubio.

“Donald Trump wasn’t my second choice, wasn’t my third choice, wasn’t my fourth choice, but he beats Hillary hands down,” said Kevin Malone, a Chula Vista physician who supported Carson.

Malone, 64, donated nearly $1,700 to efforts supporting Carson and has now given $220.16 — a reference to the election year — to Trump, whom he said he initially considered “a joke.”

“His calling people names, I didn’t really see that as presidential,” Malone said. But, he said, Carson’s fervent support for Trump since dropping out persuaded him to back the GOP nominee.

An initial unease with Trump was a common sentiment expressed by donors who supported other candidates but are now giving money to the GOP nominee.

“I was a little apprehensive,” said Jerry Flathers, a Santa Ana business owner who had backed Carson and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. “Trump’s obnoxious, like me. I say it like I see it, and I often get in trouble for that. I thought it might be a little brash for the man who wants to lead the nation. But look at the way he manipulated the media in his favor. That just tells me he’s a good businessman and knows how to strike deals with other countries.”

If Trump wins but disappoints them, donors can try again in four years, said Dalen Fuller, a retired office worker from Danville who backed Carson. She compared Trump to the ancient Persian King Cyrus, whom the Bible says the Lord used for the good of Jewish people even though he was a pagan.

“If Donald Trump screws up and if he’s not the right person for the job, we will have an opportunity in 2020 to shake him out of office,” Fuller said, adding that the nation would be doomed if Clinton wins the White House. “If Hillary gets in … then the game’s over.”

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