Republican consultants wringing their hands over whether to work for Donald Trump may soon face a tougher dilemma: whether or not to remain on the sidelines if the campaign sustains its newfound fundraising ability and actually begins spending in earnest.
Now that Trump has shown he can raise the money (he announced a $51 million fundraising haul for the month of June between his campaign and joint efforts with the RNC), the question is what he actually does with it.
With Hillary Clinton already massively outspending Trump on the airways, might the candidate reconsider his rejection of paid media? Will he actually start building larger staffs in battleground states? And if he does, is the Republican consulting world really willing to leave that business on the table?
“People will take the money,” Republican consultant Will Ritter said recently at C&E’s Campaign Expo conference in Washington, DC. Ritter, who co-founded the GOP media firm Poolhouse and worked for Marco Rubio’s presidential effort, has been one of the GOP consultants firmly in the anti-Trump camp.
While he has no intention of contributing to the Trump effort, Ritter said he doesn’t expect Trump to be hurting for consulting help if and when the campaign begins spending. “I truly believe that by the end of this thing 90 percent of Republicans are going to be right there with Donald Trump,” Ritter said.
The Trump campaign has been on a hiring spree of late, at least by Trump standards. Its roster of professional pollsters has increased with the hires of Kellyanne Conway, Adam Geller, and Mike Baselice. On the digital front, the Trump camp hired the Prosper Group and subcontracted with Vincent Harris’s digital firm before firing him for reportedly leaking his own hiring (something Harris denies).
Also on board is Texas-based web design and marketing firm Giles-Parscale, and the campaign has had conversations with Cambridge Analytica, the firm that helped drive Ted Cruz’s presidential bid earlier this cycle.
“They have signed some very good [consultants] and solid individuals,” Fred Davis, a veteran GOP media consultant, told C&E. “I think it's fine for Republican firms to work for Trump. To me, the people have spoken. He is most likely the nominee of our party, it could be time to get behind him, like the Dems have done with their nominee.”
Davis added: “We wanted a larger tent? We got it. Be careful what you wish for.”
Katie Packer, a GOP consultant helping lead the Never Trump movement, said there’s more nuance among consultants than those who simply will or won’t work for Trump. To her, GOP consultants fall into one of three categories when it comes to deciding whether or not to work for the presumptive nominee.
“[There are those who] will never work for Trump out of principle. They want nothing to do with him, don't consider him a Republican and don't want to be tainted by him,” she said. “Those who may or may not like him, but feel that they have to do everything they can to help elevate his numbers in order to mitigate the damage he could cause down ballot. [And then there are] those that can be bought.”
Despite story after story about the continued reluctance of the party apparatus to embrace the Trump campaign, whether it be rank and file elected officials not wanting to speak at the Cleveland convention or party operatives declining work for the presumptive nominee due to concern it would hurt their future career prospects, recent hires are a sign the ground is softening.
For some consultants who have already signed on, there’s a more principled argument for Republicans working for Trump: He might not be the best candidate the party could have gotten, but the party should band together to defeat Clinton.
"Donald Trump will be nominated to carry the banner for our party in July. Anyone who thinks otherwise is living in a fantasy land,” said a GOP consultant doing business with the Trump campaign. “It's essential for our party that we band together and help him run the most efficient and professional campaign possible. With Hillary Clinton as the Democrat nominee, we are running against a very unpopular candidate who can be beaten."
Whatever principles some anti-Trump consultants may be clinging to, the opportunity might not exist to mortgage them. It’s no secret that Trump is hands on when it comes to any of the campaign’s major hires, and he’s relished going after consultants and party operatives who have criticized him over the course of the primary. The end result will be plenty of consultants who have worked with the RNC or the party’s nominee in recent cycles likely left out in the cold, whether or not they express interest in working for Trump.
“They won; they get to pick the vendors,” one long-time Republican consultant said. “Wouldn't be surprised if they blocked folks.”
The bigger picture, according to Republican media consultant Mark McKinnon, is that there’s plenty of business to go around in 2016 given the large number of competitive races down-ballot and the proliferation of Super PACs.
“There’s so much money washing around politics right now, there are no consultants going hungry,” he said. “I guarantee it.”