ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — “Trump needs you,” one fundraising email implored.
“President Trump’s Legacy is in your hands," another pleaded.
Others advertised “Miss Me Yet?” T-shirts featuring Donald Trump's smiling face.
While some Republicans grapple with how fiercely to embrace the former president, the organizations charged with raising money for the party are going all in. The Republican National Committee and the party's congressional campaign arms are eager to cash in on Trump's lure with small donors ahead of next year's midterm elections, when the GOP hopes to regain control of at least one chamber of Congress.
But there's a problem: Trump himself. In his first speech since leaving office, the former president encouraged loyalists to give directly to him, essentially bypassing the traditional groups that raise money for GOP candidates.
“There’s only one way to contribute to our efforts to elect ‘America First’ Republican conservatives and, in turn, to make America great again," Trump said Sunday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida. “And that’s through Save America PAC and donaldjtrump.com.”
The comment was particularly notable because Trump is generally loath to ask for money in person. It amounts to the latest salvo in the battle to shape the future of the GOP, with Trump making clear that he holds no allegiance to the party's traditional fundraising operation as he tries to consolidate power.
That could help him add to an already commanding war chest, aiding his effort to influence the party. Save America has more than $80 million cash on hand, including $3 million raised after the CPAC speech, according to a person familiar with the total.
Some of that money could help Trump settle scores with incumbent members of Congress who have crossed him. In his Sunday speech, Trump read aloud the names of every Republican who voted against him and called for them to be defeated. He's already endorsed a Republican challenger to GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, who voted to impeach him over the U.S. Capitol riot.
“Trump’s call to give directly to him shows that the normal organs of the party ... are going to have to fight for relevance in the 2022 cycle,” said Dan Eberhart, a longtime Republican donor who has given large sums to all three as well as to Trump’s campaign.
Bill Palatucci, a RNC member from New Jersey, called Trump's comments “unwelcome" and “counterproductive" and voiced concern that the GOP would suffer further losses, like Georgia' Senate runoff elections in January, if they don't work together.
“Listen it’s a free country. Anybody can form a federal PAC or a super PAC and there's always lots of competition for dollars. But the crossing the line there is then to also tell people to not give to the important committees of the national party," said Palatucci. “There’s got to be a willingness on the former president to look beyond his own self-interest."
The RNC and spokespeople for the House and Senate campaign committees declined to comment. But others sought to downplay the apparent tensions. They noted, for instance, that Trump is scheduled to speak at the RNC's spring donor retreat — a major fundraising source — in April in Palm Beach.
And Trump told the party’s chair, Ronna McDaniel, in recent days that he wants to continue fundraising for the RNC, according to a person briefed on the conversation who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations.
Before making his money pitch on Sunday, Trump's team quietly updated its fundraising filings. They converted his Save America leadership PAC to an entity that can also support other candidates, and turned his main Donald J. Trump for President campaign committee into the Make America Great Again, or MAGAPac. Money raised through Trump's website now goes to Save America JFC, a joint fundraising agreement between the two.
While Trump left office as a deeply unpopular figure, he remains a powerful draw for small-dollar, grassroots donors, a reality that has been abundantly clear in fundraising appeals over the last week.
Over the course of a single hour last Thursday, the RNC, both GOP congressional campaign committees and the Republican State Leadership Committee, which tries to elect Republicans to state office, blasted supporters with urgent fundraising appeals that included urgent references to Trump.
And the National Republican Senatorial Committee warned this week that its “limited edition” T-shirts featuring Trump were almost sold out.
Regardless of Trump's next move, the GOP is unlikely to remove him from its sales pitch anytime soon.
“Our digital fundraising strategy is simple: raise as much money as possible," said Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for the RSLC.