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    'Permanently barred?' Not! Donald Trump reaches out to wealthy Nikki Haley donors

    By Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy, USA TODAY,


    When Munir Lalani received an invite via email Wednesday from former President Donald Trump, the Republican party’s presumptive 2024 nominee , to join an “EXCLUSIVE” membership program, he was a bit surprised.

    Offered only to the “top 1% of my supporters,” Trump wrote in the mass mailer, here was Lalani’s chance to secure a a black metal card “etched with my mugshot to show the world we will never surrender," tangible proof that Lalani was a card-carrying member of “Make America Great Again 2024.”

    The problem? Having donated more than $30,000 to Trump’s Republican rival Nikki Haley , Lalani, 70, did not consider himself to be in the top 1% of Trump’s supporters.

    Beyond that, he had also dared to attend a Haley fundraiser in February, three weeks after Trump threatened to “permanently” bar Haley donors when she refused to drop out of the race after losing the New Hampshire primary.

    "Anybody that makes a 'Contribution' to Birdbrain, from this moment forth, will be permanently barred from the MAGA camp," Trump wrote on Truth Social on Jan. 24, using one of many derogatory terms he's employed against Haley. "We don’t want them, and will not accept them."
    Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks , Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Rome, Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart) ORG XMIT: NYOTK Mike Stewart, AP

    Some in the Trump family may not have gotten the message.

    “I’m getting two texts a day from Lara. T,” said Lalani, a hotelier from Waco, Texas, referring to Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, who took over as a co-chair of the Republican National Committee on March 8.

    Far from banning Haley donors from the MAGA tent, Trump is now actively courting them.

    Trump’s mounting legal bills from the 91 criminal counts he faces in four separate criminal indictments may have persuaded him to change his tune, donors and political observers say.  In addition to his criminal jeapardy, Trump is on the hook for about $500 million in civil legal damages and penalites.

    But he also needs Haley's voters and donors in his general election fight against President Joe Biden.

    RNC's campaign slush fund' and Trump's need for cash

    “Trump’s need for money is greater than his need for revenge or spite,” said Rick Wilson, a co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project.  “There will be a meaningful fraction of major Haley donors, who will give to Trump out of fear, but none for love.”
    Former president Donald Trump speaks at an election-night watch party on Super Tuesday at Mar-a Lago on March 5, 2024 in Palm Beach, Florida. Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post / USA TODAY Network

    Last month, Haley also raised concerns about Trump turning the RNC into his "legal slush fund.” For Trump, it makes financial sense to court Haley’s donors.

    In January, the former two-time South Carolina governor’s presidential campaign pulled in $11.5 million, outraising Trump’s operation, which raised $8.8 million, according to FEC filings.

    Will it be easy for Trump to court Haley donors?

    Eric Levine, a Republican bundler who helped organize two major fundraisers for Haley with Wall Street tycoons in New York, including one on Jan. 30, a week after the Trump threat, also has been receiving the former president's offers.

    While Levine, a lawyer, said he would never want to see Biden reelected, the fundraiser refused to answer when asked if he’d ever donate to Trump.
    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Greensboro, North Carolina on March 2, 2024. Megan Smith-USA TODAY

    “I’ve been raising millions of dollars for Senate Republicans for years now and I'm going to continue to do that," he said.

    Levine also said he was unsure about how contributions to the RNC would be used.

    "I'd be very concerned about where that money is going. Is it gonna be going to pay for his lawyers or is it gonna be going to help Republicans get elected?" he told USA TODAY. "I don't know."

    In her speech withdrawing from the race, Haley said it would be up to Trump to “earn the votes” of Republicans who didn't back him in the primaries.

    A Fox News Voter Analysis survey of more than 2,400 South Carolina Republican primary voters also found that 6-in-10 Haley voters would not support Trump in the general election if he were the GOP nominee.

    Asked if he would vote for Trump this year, Levine, who voted for Trump in 2020 and described himself as belonging to the "Ronald Reagan wing of the Republican party," said didn't feel the former president was after his vote.

    “Until Donald Trump wants my vote. As of now, I'm still barred. So unless and until he asks for my vote, the question is somewhat premature and academic," he said. "I'm interested in someone who's looking forward as to how they're gonna make our lives better rather than looking back and seeking revenge on our perceived political enemies."

    The Trump campaign wouldn't say if it was pursuing Haley donors.

    Karoline Leavitt, national press secretary for Trump, instead emailed a statement saying: "President Trump welcomes all Americans, including Republicans, Independents, and even disillusioned Democrats, to join the greatest political movement in history so we can end Joe Biden's chaos and make America strong, safe, and successful again."

    Trump's VP pick might determine where Haley donors go

    But one thing that will keep Levine from voting for Trump is Tulsi Gabbard, the former Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii.

    Gabbard, who is rumored to be on Trump’s potential vice-presidential short list, was the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2016. A rising progressive star, she resigned that position to serve as a senior advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

    “I was unaware that there was a Bernie Sanders wing of the Republican Party,” Levine said. “If he nominates Tulsi Gabbard, I will not be voting for him. I might as well support Bernie Sanders.”
    Munir and Vickie Lalani, donors to Nikki Haley's campaign attended a fundraiser with her in Dallas, Texas, in February 2024 Submitted

    For his part, Lalani said he had not made up his mind about donating to Trump, for whom he voted for in 2020.

    “I'm still hoping that a credible candidate is put out by “No Labels,” he said. "I wish they would go and convince Nikki. Lots can happen. Will he reach out to Nikki for a VP position?”

    Contributing: David Jackson, USA TODAY

    Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy is a White House Correspondent for USA TODAY. You can follow her on X @SwapnaVenugopal

    This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Permanently barred?' Not! Donald Trump reaches out to wealthy Nikki Haley donors

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