- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2016

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump ended June in arguably worse shape than he began it, though there have been some recent signs of improvement as he’s honed a fundraising campaign and delivered a forceful message on issues like trade policy.

He’s still struggling to unify the Republican Party, and with fewer than three weeks to go before the nominating convention, anti-Trump forces are still pressing their case to deny him the nod. But that effort faces a series of obstacles, including the short window of time and a reluctance by many of its own potential supporters to publicly back their effort.

Meanwhile Mr. Trump has ousted his campaign manager and announced a series of new hires, belatedly building the kind of centralized operation other candidates have found necessary to run a national campaign.

And after a disastrous May campaign finance report, he’s ramped up his fundraising efforts, both hosting traditional donor meetings and firing off solicitations to try to beat Thursday’s deadline for the close of the second quarter.

“Lying Crooked Hillary’s campaign machine is DESPERATE to convince the American people that our campaign is off track, claiming we can’t raise the funds we’ll need to win,” Mr. Trump said in one of his email missives to supporters. “We cannot let them get away with this — they are so dishonest, so power-hungry and so corrupt.”

Anthony Corrado, government professor at Colby College who specializes in political finance, said Mr. Trump recent appeals are traditional in nature and said he has a lot of catching up to do against Mrs. Clinton in building out the sort of operation that is needed to raise money.

“The major difference is that they are more or less starting from ground zero at the end of the primaries, and therefore they don’t have the kind of established small donor base that they can go to again and again that Hillary Clinton has already developed, and that likely will be supplemented with some of those that have been supporting Bernie Sanders,” Mr. Corrado said.

For the primary, Mr. Trump largely paid for his own campaign and eschewed fundraising solicitations, saying it ensured he wasn’t beholden to special interests. He changed his mind when he became the presumptive nominee, but has still struggled to post the kinds of numbers party leaders had hoped for.

Meanwhile Mrs. Clinton, his likely Democratic opponent, finished May with more than $40 million in the bank, and had reserved $26 million in campaign ad time in battleground states, compared to zero for Mr. Trump, according to a report from NBC News and SMG Delta.

“They are going to need a very successful convention to give some sense of momentum and give large donors some incentive to get more actively involved,” Mr. Carrado said.

That could be easier said than done, though, given the multiple ongoing efforts — largely from former supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz, who has yet to endorse Mr. Trump — to stop the real-estate magnate from winning the nomination.

Kendal Unruh, Colorado delegate, is pushing for the convention rules committee to adopt a “conscience clause” that would unbind delegates on the first ballot, freeing Trump-committed delegates to instead back someone else.

Virginia delegate Beau Correll, meanwhile, has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to invalidate the state rules binding delegates to the results of the primary elections.

“This lawsuit represents what amounts to a laser-guided bomb at the foundation of the Donald Trump campaign,” Mr. Correll said. “Roughly 20 states have statutes that bind delegates which we believe are unconstitutional.”

Another Virginia delegate, who refused to be quoted by name, said, “There seems to be a dynamic of delegates being supportive of the movement, but afraid to be public and talk to others about it.”

The delegate acknowledge that the reluctance to speak out publicly is hurting the anti-Trump movement because it’s sapping potential momentum: “If we are afraid to talk to each other, it looks like the numbers are smaller than they actually may be.”

Steve Lonegan, who is not a delegate but who leads the Courageous Conservatives PAC, is helping press the anti-Trump effort, raising money for a public relations blitz aimed at convincing delegates to support voting their conscience.

Some delegates said they’re open to the possibility of picking someone other than Mr. Trump, but said it’s still far-fetched.

“Of course if everybody there from all these different states voted for someone else, I might do that too,” said Sue Cleveland, a Cruz delegate from Texas. “You know one day I realized I don’t want Hillary Clinton, but at the same time I look at Donald Trump and say ‘What in the world has happened to the Republican Party?’ It is just so strange.”

And still other delegates said the anti-Trump efforts are the wrong move.

“There are a lot of Cruz people that don’t like Trump and they just want Cruz and they will do anything in their power to upset the convention,” said Vinnie DeBenedetto, a Cruz delegate from North Carolina. “If they unhinge things, I would vote for Trump. I mean how could you deny a person that got a heck of a lot more delegates than anybody else?”

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