Wednesday, March 23, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Billionaires vs. Trump

The Republican establishment and the party’s wealthy donors are still hoping they can deny Donald Trump the presidential nomination. But Trump gets millions of dollars worth of free advertising with his telephone interviews on just about every news program on television almost around the clock seven days a week.

Trump was on TV Tuesday morning to discuss the terrorist bombings in Brussels just a few hours earlier. He can do these interviews in his pajamas and proclaim his expertise on terror without being challenged. Is there a presidential candidate who didn’t expect more attacks from ISIS?

But Trump gets to speak first and gets about 10 times more airtime than any of the candidates. At this rate, he will get a couple of billion dollars worth of free advertising. Even the wealthiest donors who oppose Trump couldn’t raise that much money.

There’s a growing number of desperate billionaires who are trying to stop Trump, including Little Rock’s Warren Stephens, who backed four losing candidates for president in this election. He recently gave $1 million to Our Principles PAC in a last-ditch effort to stop Trump. Several other billionaires gave $3.8 million to the unfortunately named OPPAC, which is running anti-Trump ads in the remaining primaries. That may not be enough to derail Trump’s nomination with all the airtime he’s getting for nothing. He hardly needs to self-fund his own campaign. The media are giving plenty.

These billionaires gave some $200 million to Jeb Bush and the other losers. Their bad bets included Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina and at least a handful of others whose names we’ve forgotten.

Stephens and his half brother Steve Stephens have backed Bush, Rubio, Christie, Walker and also funneled $2.5 million last month to the Club for Growth and other anti-Trump groups. Club for Growth, which depends heavily on Steve Stephens’ millions, is also famous for attack ads against former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Thomas Ricketts, the former owner of the long-suffering Chicago Cubs, and his family gave more than $2 million to OPPAC. They should have instead poured more money into the Cubs and brought a World Series to Chicago after a 110-year drought.

Other billionaires gave less but significant amounts to the group, including William Oberndorf, a San Francisco investor who supported Bush. He gave $500,000 to OPPAC.

Another anti-Trump outfit, Conservative Solutions, last month received $25 million, including donations from Arkansas poultry magnate Ronnie Cameron, Russian-born oligarch Leonard Blavatnik and others.

These ads might help Trump secure the nomination. He has convinced Republican primary voters he’s their kind of billionaire: Brash and opinionated who luxuriates in his wealth, but is always available for interviews. Trump steaks may be awful and Trump wines mass produced, but most Republicans believe he’s on their side as they see jobs shipped abroad and the U.S. flooded with cheap foreign goods.

The anti-Trump billionaires still believe in free trade because it’s been good for them. They’re also a little jealous of Trump’s success. These reclusive billionaires are losing their grip on the Republican Party against an interloper who could not only upend the nominating process but change the party’s character.

No wonder they’re desperate to stop Trump, even it means helping Hillary Clinton win in November. They should have come together last summer, when there was still time to decide on a credible Republican candidate. A