WASHINGTON — Donald Trump, whose claim of self-funding his presidential bid helped make him the frontrunner, has not vowed to pay for his campaign if he is the nominee, the Sun-Times has learned.
“We are focused on winning the nomination and have not looked past the primary process,” Trump spokesman Hope Hicks told me Sunday.
She replied after I asked about Trump bankrolling his November bid if he won the Republican nomination. The prospects for Trump clinching early will be much more likely if he does well on “Super Tuesday” when 12 states hold primary or caucus votes.
And if Trump snares the nomination, his general election bid likely just got more expensive on Sunday, because he hesitated during a CNN interview to reject backing from David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, racist and anti-Semite.
What do Trump’s remarks about Duke have to do with making it more expensive for him in a November contest between either Hillary Clinton or less likely, Bernie Sanders?
It was only last week that his chief rivals, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, used a debate forum to finally start going after him about his taxes, Trump University and other business dealings.
But it may be too late for them to stop Trump from becoming the GOP nominee. Looking ahead to November contest, it’s a sure thing Democrats and their allies are going to hammer Trump over Duke. Everywhere. Every day.
The newest Trump controversy exploded when CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him on Sunday’s “State of the Union” about whether he would disavow Duke, following the Anti-Defamation League call on Friday for Trump to distance himself from Duke and other white supremacists.
That came after Duke offered supportive remarks about Trump — not a specific endorsement — on his radio show. “Voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage,” Duke said on his show, monitored by the ADL.
On Friday, Trump was asked about Duke at a press availability and he said “David Duke endorsed me? OK, all right. I disavow, OK?”
On Sunday, Trump was not as straightforward.
“I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.” I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them,” Trump said. Tapper clarified, telling Trump his question was “about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here.”
To that, Trump replied: “I don’t know any — honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I have ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.”
Cruz and Rubio on Sunday jumped on Trump’s CNN comments.
Stumping in Virginia, a Super Tuesday state, Rubio — now with a strategy to take on Trump — seized on the Duke uproar.
“We cannot be the party that nominates someone who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan,” Rubio said.
“By the way, not only is that wrong, it makes him unelectable. How are we going to grow our party with a nominee that refuses to condemn the Ku Klux Klan?” he said. “Don’t tell me he doesn’t know what the Ku Klux Klan is. This is serious.”
In a Tweet, Cruz said: “Really sad. @realDonaldTrump you’re better than this. We should all agree, racism is wrong, KKK is abhorrent.”
The ADL said Sunday it will be sending Trump the research he said he needed.
Will Trump self-fund if the nominee?
So far Trump hasn’t had to spend a lot of his own money in the primaries and caucuses. Trump, a billionaire, has not said if he will take public financing for a general election race.
Few ads, no pollsters, no expenses for a big headquarters or fundraisers, small payroll. He basically runs his campaign out of his plane.
But Trump is not entirely self-funded, despite what he says.
So far, he has loaned his campaign $17.5 milllion, the lion’s share of the $25.5 million his war chest has taken in since he launched his run — and he basically has no super PACs helping him.
Democrats will use Duke to rally their own voters — and to make it harder for a loyal Republican to say yes to Trump. To defend himself, Trump may have to spend more money than he had in mind for a national contest against a very well-funded Clinton or Sanders — or start asking for campaign donations, or accepting help of super PACs, which he says he despises.