From the moment that it became plainly clear that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president in 2016, a lot of people were probably thinking the same thing: how did this happen? How'd we get here? And was there anything that could've stopped him? When millions of people turn out to support a candidate of Trump's disposition, is there anything that could've convinced them otherwise? Well, now that he's the presumptive nominee, he's pushing his luck ― abandoning self-funding is something that could hurt Trump's reputation with his supporters.
The self-funding aspect of Trump's campaign has practically been the foundation of his self-promotion, the key to his explanation of why he alone should be trusted not to sell out like so many others, despite freely admitting that he used his money to influence the political system throughout his business career. It's the notion that the real estate developer and reality TV star will stand strong where the others cave, because he's using his massive personal wealth to fund his own run for the White House, rather than being forced to beg for money from big donors.
It's not true that he's been entirely self-funding, to be clear, since he's been accepting donations through his website for months. But now, that plank of the Trump brand is going to fall away completely ― he's going to be launching a fundraising effort, with a reported goal of $1 billion for the general election.
For some perspective, previously Trump's campaign was running on a loan he made, for about $36 million. That's a hefty sum, sure ― although it's a drop in the bucket compared to Trump's own estimates of his wealth ― but that won't cut it in a general election campaign. Although again, taking Trump at his word, he'd ostensibly be able to keep self-funding to the tune of $1 billion. But clearly he's opted against spending that much of his own cash on his run, and is finally cranking up the big-time fundraising.
Incidentally, as NBC News' Ari Melber reported on Friday, the fact that Trump only loaned his campaign that $36 million means he could theoretically cut himself a check for that same amount out of his general election war chest, if indeed he starts raking in hundreds of millions of dollars. Even Trump's investment in that initial primary run that inspired so much passion and devotion in the GOP grassroots, in other words, could ultimately be reimbursed by cash from big donors over the next several months. (Update: Trump has stated he has "absolutely no intention" of reimbursing himself, according to Melber.)
Obviously, it's hard to predict which flip-flops and changes in direction will actually resonate with the voters, and maybe it's a simple truth that the Trump constituency is too far out of reach ― especially considering he's running against Hillary Clinton, who's been the target of some of the most fevered hostility from the American right for decades. But this is also perhaps the fullest, most obvious reversal he's pulled since becoming the presumptive nominee, and he's turning his back on one of his biggest strengths.