Donald Trump will finally set foot in Minnesota as a presidential candidate Friday, but he’s denying local supporters the kind of boisterous rally that has defined his campaign in favor of a private audience with wealthy Republican donors.
Trump is guest of honor at a dinner-hour fundraiser at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It’s hosted by a small group of Minnesota contributors with a history of supporting Republican candidates here, in other states and at the presidential level.
“From my point of view, Donald Trump is way better than Hillary Clinton would be,” said Doug Seaton, an Edina attorney and frequent donor who is co-hosting the fundraiser. “For me, there’s not much more you need to say than that.”
Like many in Minnesota’s universe of Republican donors, activists and operatives, Seaton did not initially support the New York businessman’s presidential bid. Five other GOP presidential candidates all raised more in individual donations from Minnesotans than Trump did before he locked down the nomination, although Trump because of his personal wealth put less initial emphasis on fundraising.
According to Federal Election Commission records, Democrat Hillary Clinton has raised more in Minnesota in 2016 than any other candidate from either party, at $2.1 million. Trump so far has raised just $110,607 in the state.
By the end of the 2012 election cycle, President Obama had raised $4.4 million from Minnesota donors and Republican challenger Mitt Romney had raised $3.5 million.
Friday’s fundraiser should boost Trump’s overall Minnesota haul. Tickets range from $1,000 a person at the low end to $100,000 per couple for a package that promises “Executive Council Membership, VIP Roundtable, Photo Opportunity, and Reception,” according to the invitation.
The maximum donation an individual can make to a presidential candidate is $2,700, but the Minneapolis fundraiser will benefit not just Trump’s campaign directly but also a separate fundraising entity known as Trump Victory, which is a joint venture of the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and 11 state Republican parties (Minnesota not among them).
Further details of the fundraiser were hard to come by, particularly information about how many donors RSVP’d and at what level. Democratic and Republican campaigns alike typically disclose few details of such events, and the local fundraising consultant who’s organizing it did not return a call seeking comment.
“All I know is I’m going to be with Donald Trump in a group with I don’t know who else,” said Twin Cities broadcasting executive Stanley Hubbard, a co-host of the event and a prolific political donor, mostly to Republicans. Hubbard, who previously donated to several other Republican contenders this cycle, is frustrated with Trump’s knack for courting controversy and distraction, but he, too, sees no alternative.
“One of them is going to be president, right?” Hubbard said. “So I say who’s going to pick the Supreme Court judge I prefer? Who’s going to pass more regulations that cost me and you and every consumer more money? Who’s going to keep spreading nonsense about global warming? That’s why I have to vote for Trump.”
Hubbard said he intends to max out personally to Trump and donate additional money to other pro-Trump entities.
Connected Republicans who were reached for this story said it’s hard to say how Minnesota’s conservative donor community as a whole would respond to Trump. Seaton believes that some are staying on the presidential sidelines this year, but that Trump has probably activated other donors who haven’t previously been as generous.
“Donors are often the last to leave,” said Tommy Merickel, an executive vice president of the Taylor Corp. and a regular contributor to Minnesota Republicans.
Jerry Papenfuss, a Winona-based former owner of several radio stations who also is co-hosting the fundraiser, said he puts no stock in Trump’s poor showing against Clinton in polls in recent weeks. “I don’t think the polls mean a damn thing at this stage,” Papenfuss said. “I think there’s a big undercurrent going that’s going to rise for Trump on Election Day.”
Still, there are holdouts among the state’s loyal GOP donors. Bill Guidera, a Minnesota-based senior vice president with 21st Century Fox and a former finance chairman for the state Republican Party, donated to Romney in 2012 and Sen. John McCain in 2008. But not this year.
“I haven’t written a contribution at the presidential level and I don’t plan to,” Guidera said. Why? “[Trump] said he didn’t need it — that he was going to self-finance, and I took him at his word.”
Guidera said he’s giving “much more to down-ticket candidates this year than I would have in prior years.”
It was not clear as of Thursday whether Trump would appear in public at all while in Minnesota. He has a Friday afternoon rally near Lansing, Mich., and another on Saturday in Fredericksburg, Va. DFLers and other Trump critics have scheduled events to criticize Trump, including one with Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, and another with leaders from the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
For several days earlier this week and last, Trump supporters in Minnesota believed he was going to schedule a rally here to accompany the fundraiser, but that didn’t happen. State GOP Chairman Keith Downey said he still thinks a wider set of Minnesotans would get a chance to see Trump between now and Election Day.
“There’s an effort among his grass-roots supporters here to try to bring him to Minnesota,” Downey said. “Whether that’s for the State Fair or something else remains to be seen. But we’d definitely like to try to get the candidate here.”
Hubbard has been blunt in his own criticism of Trump’s verbal excesses. If he gets a few minutes face to face with Trump, Hubbard said, he plans to share some advice passed along by his late father: “He’d say, ‘Stanley, flies won’t ever fly into your mouth if it’s closed.’ ”