Depending on who you are, Donald Trump is either a clever outsider who stood American presidential politics on its head, or he is a skilled con artist who is running the biggest scam in history on America and Americans. I come down on the side of the latter of those possibilities.
This story didn't get a lot of front page level coverage, but Trump filed for reelection on the same day he was inaugurated. And according to the Federal Election Commission, as of March 31 his reelection campaign had already received over $3 million in contributions. By way of comparison, neither Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, nor Clinton filed for reelection until some two years into their terms.
On May 7 USA Today pointed out some of the advantages of this arrangement for Trump. For example, since the campaign style rallies he has held are paid for not by taxpayers but by his campaign, they are treated as private events, making it easy for Trump to have protesters removed. And former federal election commissioner Larry Noble told USA Today that by making these appearances campaign events, Trump has reneged on his election night promise to be the president of all Americans. Instead, Noble says, Trump has created a situation where
"We didn’t have any period when we could look at the president as the president of the whole country."
The rallies, which so far have received a fair amount of media coverage, allow Trump to continue pumping up his base and attacking his enemies. Since they are partisan, not presidential events, Trump can basically say whatever he wants. And of course, Trump being Trump, he does.
Keeping the base active also does something else. It keeps the money rolling in. As USA Today noted, the requirement that rally attendees have to have tickets helps to build the Trump campaign's list of supporters.
That ticketing allows the campaign aides to grow Trump's already massive database of supporters and their addresses — another way to solicit campaign donations and to mobilize Trump-friendly voters for policy battles he' s waging in Washington.
So Trump has been in reelection mode since day one of his presidency. And as an official 2020 candidate he continues to receive donations. But what if, somewhere down the line, he decides to drop out? Recently he said he missed his old life, and that he didn't realize being president was as hard as it is. So it's not completely out of the question that he would step aside after one term. There's also the possibility that the investigation into his campaign's ties with Russia could lead to his resignation or impeachment. If he winds up quitting after one term, for whatever reason, he will likely have a campaign coffer with millions in donations from working class Americans who support him. What will become of that money?
Thanks to federal election rules, he can't simply take it and do with it as he pleases. One option is he could return it to the donors. But don't count on that happening. He could also donate it to other candidates or to the Republican party. Or he could donate it to charity. And it's that third option that we need to be suspicious of.
When it comes to charity, Trump has a history of using funds for his own purposes. As David Fahrenthold reported last year in The Washington Post, Trump's previous charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, had on several occasions violated rules on "self dealing," using foundation money for things that benefited officers of the organization -- namely, Donald J. Trump. Fahrenthold's reporting got a lot of attention, coming in the middle of a presidential campaign. But would the dealings of an ex-president get the same kind of scrutiny?
Donald Trump simply can't be trusted with other people's money. It's bad enough that he scammed well-heeled donors with his Trump Foundation. But should he choose to walk away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with millions of dollars in campaign funds, a lot of that money will have come from small donations given to his campaign by people who probably don't have a lot of money to spare. The saddest part of the whole affair is that while his history says he may be running the world's most high profile con, his campaign will have raked in millions of dollars more before we have the opportunity to find out.