sheldon adelson
Republican party mega-donor, Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Ochsorn Credit: Christopher Tam/U.S. Military

It’s interesting to think about the typical Republican “megadonor.” These people may come from Wall Street or the financial sector generally, or they may be involved in the energy industry, or they may be the CEOs of large corporations, or they may have large land holdings out West, or in some cases they may have made their fortune in religion. With the exception of the last category, these folks are not necessarily interested in the socially conservative aspects of the Republican Party. They have a personal interest in lower taxes and a professional interest in fewer regulations that may affect their business or industry. They may actively oppose President Trump’s policies on trade and tariffs, as well as his positions on immigration and the employment of non-citizens. When they donate enormous quantities of cash for political purposes, they see it as more of an investment than an ideological battle, at least to the degree that they ultimately hope to make a profit. For this reason, many large donors will fund candidates from both political parties in the hope that they’ll win either way. For the Republican true-believers, the ideological component may be just as important, but they may also be waging an ideological war within the Republican Party and, in part, against some of Trump’s positions.

As a class, most of them were probably more comfortable with George W. Bush, and certainly Mitt Romney, than they are with Trump. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason they’d want to keep Trump as the leader of the Republican Party other than that he already holds that position. Many of these folks live on the coasts in heavily Democratic urban centers or in surrounding suburbs that are rapidly becoming Democratic-leaning areas in the Trump Era. They share many of the same concerns as their neighbors about Trump’s anti-globalist, anti-Western foreign and trade policies. As Republicans, they’re directly experiencing the loss of power on the local level that seems to be a natural consequence of Trump’s style of governance. It would seem natural for many of them to have strong reservations about a second term for Trump if there is an alternative other than the Democratic nominee on offer.

But they don’t seem to be embracing impeachment. Here’s what David Drucker of the right-leaning Washington Examiner is reporting:

Wealthy Republicans are funneling millions of dollars through a constellation of party-aligned groups to defend President Trump against impeachment by politically wounding his Democratic antagonists.

Some of the biggest players in this coordinated effort are 501(c)4 organizations, issue advocacy nonprofit groups that do not have to disclose contributors. This option, which also permits unlimited donations, is allowing conservative groups to attack congressional Democrats and provide air cover to the president without tapping super PAC resources earmarked for the 2020 campaign.

“There’s a lot of interest in trying to fight back against impeachment,” Dan Conston said, characterizing the response from Republican megadonors. Conston, a veteran GOP operative, oversees American Action Network, the issue advocacy organization affiliated with House Republicans and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

Now, perhaps this is seen as a way to defeat Democratic congressional candidates without spending money on Trump’s reelection, and ginning up outrage about impeachment is primarily seen as a way of raising money from small donors. So, this could be interpreted as a kind of force multiplier. Megadonors give money in order to help the GOP raise more money, and the money is then used less to help Trump than to help the Republicans hold the Senate and retake control of the House.

But, at least on the surface, this is presented as an interest in protecting Trump from being removed from office. And it’s not clear to me why this is really in these people’s interest.

It must be admitted that megadonors often have a reason to curry favor with the Trump administration, perhaps because they want to influence regulatory or legal debates that can impact their businesses. But that motive is blunted by the anonymous nature of these contributions. It would be far more effective to make a public show of a donation than to hide behind a Super PAC.

It should also be admitted that many of these folks consume lots of conservative media and are not particularly sophisticated consumers. Many of them may nod along to the talking points of Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, forgetting that this is a game being cynically performed for their benefit.

Still, the only real hope for the future of the Republican Party is that the big donors will break with Trumpism before it is too late to stop the march toward fascist white nationalist impulses. Right now, they have their opportunity to do that, and they seem to be doubling down.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at