Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is holding off a revolt by his loyal campaign contributors for now, even as other donors angry about Republican failures in Congress reject pleas for cash to support the party's 2018 campaign.
McConnell, attempting to rebound from stinging defeats on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail, has generally maintained buy-in from his "roster of several hundred committed donors" cultivated since the 2010 election cycle, especially high rollers that write seven-figure checks to the Kentuckian's super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund.
That's not to say they're pleased.
McConnell's donors are frustrated with the collapse of Senate legislation to repeal Obamacare and unhappy about the outcome of a September special election in Alabama. SLF spent $9 million of their money in that campaign but still failed to push appointed Sen. Luther Strange past fiery culture warrior Roy Moore, a retired judge.
But in contrast to the disappointed GOP donors who are shunning Republicans' requests for money to finance their war chests and the campaign committees charged with defending the party's congressional majorities, McConnell's backers are giving him a chance to deliver tax reform before they consider pulling the plug.
"We are now on pace to do at least as well as we did in 2015 when the fate of the Senate majority hung in the balance. Donors who engage at our level get the difficulty of dealing with a narrow margin in the Senate and they appreciate McConnell is working hard to expand it," SLF President and CEO Steven Law told the Washington Examiner.
The super PAC had raised $11.2 million this year, through Sept. 6, per Federal Election Commission filings.
To play it safe, McConnell's team over the past several weeks appears to have paid supporters in Washington and contributors around the country extra attention.
His super PAC the night of the big Alabama loss issued a memorandum explaining the results before the race was called, to get ahead of any backbiting. McConnell is spending this week's Senate recess traveling to meet with donors and raise money. Party insiders accustomed to being in contact with his office say their calls are being returned a little quicker lately.
Yet Law, a longtime McConnell confidant, said that he felt SLF was protected from the pressures other Republicans are experiencing because most of SLF donors give because of the leader. He described them as "long-game players" who aren't necessarily "party people" or interested in face time with members of Congress.
That apparent confidence belies the intense scrutiny the majority leader is under after he failed twice in a two-month period to wrangle 50 votes for legislation to partially repeal Obamacare and suffered his first rebuke in a Republican primary in more than five years.
McConnell's stumbles have given voice to critics of his at-times domineering leadership, and led to doubts about his effectiveness — grumbling that was present but muted during the string of legislative and political successes the leader experienced during most of his nearly nine years atop the Republican conference.
Republican donor Dan Eberhart, discussing his decision to meet with Steve Bannon to hear out the former White House chief strategist's plans to primary Republican incumbents next year with the specific intent of taking out the majority leader, described McConnell this way:
"It seems like McConnell's star is fading and Bannon's is rising," said Eberhart, who runs an investment firm. This disenchantment has impacted the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Republican Senate campaign committee run by Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado but overseen by McConnell.
The NRSC, which unlike McConnell's super PAC and affiliated political nonprofit, One Nation, has donations capped by federal limits, raised a scant $4 million in July and August, less than the $4.8 million the organization collected in June, as the Senate GOP's effort to repeal Obamacare ground to a halt.
Senate Leadership Fund could see a similar drop-off beginning in January if tax reform is still languishing.
"Folks are willing to give him a lot of latitude, understanding the difficulties of his coalition. But he needs a win," said a Republican operative with deep ties to the donor community. "If you can't get tax reform through, then what the hell are we even doing in charge?"
Large institutional Republican donors, especially those in McConnell's orbit, tend to be sympathetic to his plight.
The Kentuckian's majority rests on a razor-thin 52 seats. On any piece of major legislation, McConnell has to navigate President Trump's unpredictable policy choices — and Twitter broadsides — on the one hand, and resistance from a handful of independent-minded Republican senators on the other.
In a crowd less susceptible to Trump's charms than Republican voters or the mid-range NRSC donor, that has bought McConnell some measure of goodwill, and time to right the ship before they consider divesting, said Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist who was at the majority leader's side as a top adviser as he cultivated his network.
"Mitch McConnell's network of donors is among the most sophisticated and serious consumers of political news," Holmes said. "They're not confused by our system of government nor are they flummoxed by how a bill becomes a law. So, they appreciate the leader's steady conservative hand amidst the noise and distraction."