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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Meet the Chicago Millennials Who Started a Donald Trump Super PAC

Northwestern grads Dan Gallegos and Andrew Vlahakis have never met the candidate or been to a rally in person, but they’re determined to get Trump into the White House.

Dan Gallegos (left) and Andrew Vlahakis (right) have started the Art of the Deal PAC to support Donald Trump in his bid for the presidency.  Photo: (Dan and Andrew) Courtesy of Art of the Deal PAC; (Trump) Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune

Respect for one’s elders is a concept that seems alive and well in Chicago. A young guy was behind the Biden PAC that has become the engine working to push the VP into the race. And now a couple of recent Northwestern grads have launched the Art of the Deal PAC to raise money to boost GOP frontrunner Donald Trump on his improbable road to the White House. The friends and fraternity brothers are Minnesotan Dan Gallegos, 25, who graduated in 2013 with an engineering degree and now lives in Evanston, and Pennsylvanian Andrew Vlahakis, 26, a 2011 political science grad who currently lives in Lake View.

Who are these guys, and why are they spending their free time—both have full time jobs—trying to persuade people to contribute to the self-funding multi-billionaire who recently said he thinks he’ll forgo fundraisers because they’re too much work?

Add to that, the candidate who has won their hearts is “The Donald”—he of the orange comb over sprayed stiff bouffant who defaced his tower here with his own surname, and who, before declaring his candidacy, kept his name in the headlines with his “birther” obsession. On the latter, Gallegos and Vlahakis told me via email, “We don’t think the birther issue will be a topic relevant to the 2016 election. We will say this however: There were legitimate questions at the time surrounding Obama’s birth certificate and many people urged him for years to release the full long-form version. Obama did not release this long-form version until Mr. Trump began asking. The fact that Mr. Trump was the only person to successfully elicit the long-form version confirms that he is a problem solver who knows how to get things done.”

We talked by phone Tuesday evening after work. Here’s an edited, condensed transcript of our conversation:

Have you met or spoken to Trump?

Dan: Haven’t met him; haven’t heard from him, but he definitely knows of us. After we were interviewed on Fox, there was a lot of interaction on Twitter, and we heard from people who work for his campaign.

Are there other Trump PACs out there?

Andrew: I believe there are four. Ours started earlier this summer [statement of organization filed with FEC on August 17] and was the second one registered. One other has raised money; two have not. We are the only one that has advertised and done interviews.

How much money have you raised

Andrew: I don’t want to give specific numbers; we’ve raised enough to run an ad on Drudge. We appeared on Fox News; we have an influx of capital and followers on Twitter [1,480 at presstime].

Trump has pledged not to take money from lobbyists. Will your PAC follow his lead?

Andrew: I don’t think any lobbyists would contribute to us. We’re aiming at the grass roots. If a lobbyist would come and offer money, we wouldn’t accept money from that person if they put any stipulations or commitments on it.

Dan: I totally agree. We approach it the same way. We will only take money if there are no strings.

Andrew: Donations are coming from across the country, Oregon to Minnesota to Florida. That’s the beauty of the internet and social media. It has allowed outreach beyond Generation Y or Generation X…. The response has been pleasantly surprising, eye-opening. We were college students in the heyday of the Obama years. What we’re seeing now is a different kind of happening; lots of passion and visceral reaction. I wouldn’t have predicted it when Dan and I were sitting around talking about [starting a Trump PAC].

Trump told me in an interview that Rahm and his brother Ari [the Hollywood agent] and his physician brother Zeke are really close friends. Has Rahm slipped you a secret donation?

Dan and Andrew: No.

Have you tried to raise money at Northwestern?

Dan: We haven’t reached out to anyone on campus yet; the faculty is left leaning. Maybe we’ll try the business or engineering schools.

Andrew: It’s definitely something we’re interested in exploring further. … We’ll consider it as we get closer to fall quarter.

How do you interest people in their 20s in a 69-year-old tycoon?

Andrew: The kind of interactions we’ve had have spanned all generations and geographic areas. … We’re getting passionate interactions over email and Twitter; comments from people of all ages, retirees too.

Are you guys Republicans? Who’d you vote for in 2008 and 2012?

Andrew: I voted in ’08 for McCain, Romney in ‘12 ; in ’08 I was a registered Independent and in ’12 a registered Republican.

Dan: I did vote for McCain and then Romney. But I wouldn’t say I identify totally with the Republican Party. I feel betrayed by its leadership. Congress is a disaster. Promises they ran on were broken. I’d be a Republican if I had to declare, but my view is that Republicans are not conservative enough.

Should Trump sign the loyalty oath in South Carolina [which would require him to pledge to support the GOP’s eventual nominee and not to run as a third-party candidate]?

Andrew: It seems like it’s a maneuver for political reasons to single out Mr. Trump; it’s not protocol to ask for a loyalty test. …. Ross Perot dropped out [in 1992] for a period. Had he not dropped out, he might have been elected president.

Dan: I think they’re trying to single [Trump] out. … He should take the oath and see what happens down the road. I don’t think he’ll be boxed-in in one state. Then again, I don’t know what kind of ramifications there’d be if he took it.

Ed note: After this interview, a Trump associate told Politico that Trump planned to sign a similar loyalty oath from the RNC. I asked Dan and Andrew for a response. They emailed the following:

We don’t think the pledge is going to be a significant factor in the primary since Mr. Trump is leading substantially both nationally and in key primary states. We are confident that he will secure the GOP nomination and the general election that follows.

Keeping my ear to the ground on this GOP battle, I get the sense that Trump might be slipping, and then there’s this poll out that shows he and Ben Carson tied at 23 percent in Iowa. Does that worry you?

Dan: The media has always considered him a joke, not a serious candidate; that’s repeated by everyone in the media. In another Iowa poll he’s leading Carson by 7 percent.

Andrew: So we’re not concerned that there’s one poll that shows him and Carson tied.

Dan: Also consider this poll: one shows that 65 percent are for outsider candidates—Trump, Carson, Fiorina—not for Jeb or Walker. … There are only negative stories in the media; once you start going to rallies, you feel the energy, the tremendous response, you find many different ethnic groups, it’s diverse; once you see it, you see that he’s really very obviously a likable person.

Have you actually gone to those rallies and watched him in the flesh?

Andrew: We haven’t been to any events in Iowa at this time, but we’ve probably seen all the interviews on YouTube.

Dan: The rallies are streamed live on CNN and MSNBC.

How did you feel Trump did in the first debate?

Dan: What struck me most is just how unfair the debate moderators treated him. The first question Bret Baier asked, who will not support the nominee? He was trying to single Mr. Trump out, to embarrass him, to erode his support. And then the Megyn Kelly question, the four or five things he called Rosie O’Donnell. Kelly didn’t provide any of the context in framing the question. She made it seem like he called woman names just for fun. In actuality we think the comments on Rosie O’Donnell were well deserved.

Andrew: I think he did fine; he’s gotta be himself. That’s part of the appeal, the energy, the tone, the direct talk, straight talk.

I believe that Hillary, for all the problems she has now, will be the Democrats’ nominee. Do you think Trump will have trouble with women, especially given the historic nature of a Hillary candidacy?

Dan: Mr. Trump has a higher favorability rate among Republican women than men. [60 recent of GOP women voters vs. 57 percent of GOP men; but among independents or Democratic leaning women voters, that favorability number drops to 17 percent.] That won’t be an issue. Also, I think that it’s highly doubtful Hillary will be the candidate. Potentially, she faces criminal issues. She may be in prison and won’t be allowed to run. In the latest release of her emails, 150 of 7,000 had missing pages, now classified…As secretary of state dealing with foreign heads of state, she had to know. I would hope [the Justice Department] is going to be honorable and prosecute her fairly. And remember she deleted 30,000 emails…We have no idea what was in them. Could have been top-secret spy photos. … She’s just not likable. Her joke about wiping the server clean with a cloth, about Snapchat—it’s just really talking about this in a very patronizing way.

I think just about everyone in the media is shocked by Trump’s popularity and the persistence of that popularity. How do you explain it?

Andrew: I think it’s his energy, willingness to be frank, say what others are thinking but aren’t willing to say.

Dan: People are tired of being lied to, tired of politicians, politically correct standards, and politicians making promises while things in this country are getting exponentially worse. Eleven trillion dollars in debt over the terms of the last two presidents. People want someone who has a real track record, who runs a very successful company, who has management skills, competencies, going to enable him to fix the economy. …. We need a good manager, someone who understands the economy, a positive bottom line, who can stop the hemorrhaging of wealth, the massive debt.

Is Trump really a Republican and conservative? He has supported a single-payer health systemabortions; on some issues he has been further left than Hillary.

Dan: I think he has seen the light. The best example is abortion, where he describes a friend thinking about having an abortion, but decides not to. And that baby grew up to be a great person. It’s a really visceral example as to why abortion should not take place. As he has said often, growing up in New York, everyone was a Democrat and he had to get along with Democrats.

Andrew: People’s views evolve over time. As we see more of his concrete plans on immigration, taxes, replacing Obamacare, I’m comfortable with his politics; a lot of attacks on him are coming from career politicians who are shocked and stunned that he’s so far ahead that they’ll grasp at anything to counter his momentum.

What about some specific plans from Trump to “Make America Great Again.” I just read an article that described Trump as wanting to raise taxes. 

Andrew: He has a detailed immigration plan, and the next issue he’s going to tackle, and soon, will be taxes. I think we’re going to have to re-evaluate the tax code. I don’t think taxes go up. Taxes get revamped. … I don’t have direct insider knowledge, but from everything I’ve read and heard in terms of a release of a plan, on safe ground with saying that he’s looking to overhaul the tax structure.

If he gets the nomination, who should he pick as VP?

Dan: I don’t know. I mean, we like Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, but it’s too early to talk specifics and he doesn’t have to pick from that group [competitors for the nomination]. It might be good idea to choose someone with a political background.

Perhaps he should pick a Hispanic; he’s going to lose a lot of crucial support because of his views on immigration.

Dan: My father is an immigrant from Mexico. He came to the U.S. legally and he supports Mr. Trump.

The ad you posted on Drudge showed a photo of the White House with the White House fence looming in the foreground, below the line, “If Fences Don’t Work, Why Does Barack Obama Use One?” Is that fair? Obviously the Secret Service requires that that there be a barrier between the White House and the public.

Dan: The ad has been successful. We posted it on twitter and it got a huge number of retweets. It shows the hypocrisy of Obama saying it wouldn’t work, that it’s not a serious plan. He has one at the White House. It’s just the hypocrisy of Obama. He sends his kids to a school that has armed guards on the rooftop. Other places are required to be gun-free.

Trump’s attacks on Jeb Bush are so personal. Is he going too far?

Andrew: Some remarks might be on the edge, but I think [Trump] is speaking from the heart, saying what others are thinking. It’s no worse than George W. running ads suggesting that John McCain fathered a baby out of wedlock. Politics is vicious.

Dan: I’d agree. Jeb is low energy. If we Republicans want to beat the Democrats, we need a candidate who is not low energy, who can encourage people to get out and vote.

We’ve seen Trump’s daughter on the campaign trail—and he caused some cringing when he said that she has such a nice figure that if she weren’t his daughter he’d date her—but we haven’t seen his wife at all. She’d be First Lady, after all; should he give her a more public role?

Andrew: I think he should bring his wife in. I’ve seen interviews with his wife several years back; very elegant, speaks five languages, very smart. But he’s not required to bring her out.

What am I missing?

Dan: How important it is to get young people involved. One of the biggest values for us is to amplify the voice of the young. We know how to reach young people. Donald Trump will solve issues—the student loan crisis, the lack of good employment for people who go to college and can’t find a job when they graduate. That will be the focus of our advertising, unshackling young people from collectivism. It’s hip and cool today to be a socialist. For millennials, that’s not going to take them to the Promised Land. We need to restore values that made this country the best example of freedom in human history.

Most important question, last. If Trump moves into the White House should he revamp that hair?

Andrew: I think the hair’s fine.

Dan: Yes, keep the hair.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.


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