Even as Donald Trump ramps up his fundraising for the general election, he keeps saying things that seem almost calculated to alienate major Republican contributors. He’s done it twice in the space of the past week, once after the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union and again during a speech about free trade.
First came Trump’s initial reaction to Brexit, delivered the day after the referendum from a golf resort he owns in Turnberry, Scotland. While global markets shuddered from the unexpected victory of the "leave" campaign and the pound’s value collapsed, Trump celebrated what he described as the British people’s effort to “take their country back."
He shrugged at Brexit’s potential impact on the U.S. economy, saying, “We’re going to have to see how it plays out.” And as for the effect on the pound?
"Look, if the pound goes down, they're going to do more business. You know, when the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly,” said Trump.
Wall Street Republicans are already wary of the presumptive Republican nominee thanks to his stated positions on taxes and the U.S. debt, among other matters. Trump’s embrace of Britain’s exit from the EU isn't likely to reassure major financial players in the United States, some of whom spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against the "leave" campaign.
Trump’s Brexit remarks were delivered extemporaneously, but everything he said about free trade appeared to come from a campaign-approved script. On Tuesday, he delivered a major campaign speech from western Pennsylvania in which he denounced globalization and treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He followed that speech up with an Ohio campaign appearance later in the day, during which he described another free trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as “a continuing rape of our country.”
This time, he earned a direct response from one of the most powerful Republican-leaning interest groups in the country. The official Twitter account for the United States Chamber of Commerce quickly issued a rebuttal, after Trump's Pennsylvania speech.
You heard from Trump on trade, here's what you really need to know: https://t.co/u7vPLC6L1H
— U.S. Chamber (@USChamber) June 28, 2016
If Trump keeps hammering a protectionist message, which is anathema to the chamber’s members, it could worsen the difficulty he’s having funding his own campaign. So far, the chamber — like many conservative spenders this year, including the billionaire libertarians Charles and David Koch — seems to be concentrating its political activities on the lower end of the ticket and staying out of the presidential race.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Chamber of Commerce’s PAC has already spent nearly $14 million in this cycle trying to get Republicans elected — but just for the House, Senate and state offices. Unless Trump drastically improves his fundraising numbers, the lack of support from established Republican groups could be devastating.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but Donald Trump replied to the Chamber of Commerce on Twitter, saying that it "must fight harder for the American worker."