- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Donald Trump’s meeting with congressional leaders Thursday isn’t about endorsements, it’s about the money, Republican strategists and fundraisers said.

The presumptive GOP nominee likely could not care less about racking up endorsements from House Speaker Paul D. Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who are loathed by the party’s conservative base.

But he will need their help with fundraising for a general election race expected to cost more than $1 billion. That’s a huge price tag even for Mr. Trump, who so far has sunk about $47 million of his fortune into his self-financed campaign.

“For Trump it is pretty clear: I need this guy to raise money,” Republican strategist Michael McKenna said of Mr. Trump’s mindset for the highly anticipated meeting with Mr. Ryan at the Republican National Committee headquarters.

After getting this far in the race as a self-funded candidate, Mr. Trump now has to assemble on the fly a national network of donors, bundlers and professional fundraisers to match what is expected to be a powerful Democratic money machine supporting Hillary Clinton.

He will need the type of organization that a traditional presidential candidate spends a year or more building. And even if Mr. Trump can assemble a top-notch fundraising team this late in the race, he will still need to dig further into his deep pockets and rely on help from outside groups, the RNC and party leaders such as Mr. Ryan to fill in the gaps.

“He’s getting told, ‘Hey, man, if you are going to do this, you have to raise cash, and that means playing along with people you think are morons. So go see Paul Ryan,’” said Mr. McKenna.

Mr. Ryan is the most prominent elected Republican officeholder to withhold support from Mr. Trump, citing uncertainty about the billionaire businessman’s commitment to conservative principles. The Wisconsin Republican has sharply criticized some of Mr. Trump’s positions, notably a temporary ban on Muslims traveling to the United States, in the past.

Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has pledged to support Mr. Trump as the nominee but has not formally endorsed him. Only a single Republican senator, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, has endorsed Mr. Trump for president.

Mr. Trump also will meet Thursday with Senate Republicans, but his sit-down with the skeptical Mr. Ryan has come to encapsulate the uncomfortable relationship between the party’s likely nominee and the Washington establishment.

Trump’s biggest problem is he needs to unite the party, and he needs Ryan to raise $1 billion — that is billion with a ‘B’ — and he needs to begin to set aside this divisiveness that frankly Trump has helped create in part,” said GOP strategist Patrick Griffin.

On the stump Mr. Trump ran against the Washington establishment. He regularly slammed Mr. Ryan and the $1.1 trillion spending bill he helped push through Congress, calling the massive spending package a bad deal that gave President Obama everything he wanted. It was a reliable applause line at Mr. Trump’s huge rallies.

Mr. Trump also accused Mr. Ryan of being “very, very weak on illegal immigration,” an issue that is the cornerstone of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

After Mr. Trump locked up the nomination last week and was caught off guard by Mr. Ryan refusing to pledge his support, the real estate tycoon shifted gears and began praising the Wisconsin Republican ahead of the closed-door powwow.

Fred Malek, finance chair of the Republican Governors Association, said fundraising was an important aspect of the meetings. He urged Mr. Trump to use the meeting to signal to the party’s donors that he is working to unite the party.

“The fundraising is certainly influenced by Trump’s overall approach to being more tolerant and inclusive and willing to work to bring people together rather than drive them apart,” said Mr. Malek. “If donors see that, they will be more willing to come to the table for him.”

— Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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