Donald Trump now has a $100 million weapon to wield against US democracy.
The defeated and disgraced ex-President’s huge war chest, nearly all amassed within six months of leaving office, was built on his ravenous calls for cash from supporters bought into his delusional lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
It is the latest sign, along with trips to win his favor by GOP candidates and his party’s incessant efforts to wipe the history of his crimes against the Constitution, that Trump’s threat to basic political freedoms is far from over.
It takes little imagination to know what Trump will do with his funds, which are likely to grow significantly in the months ahead. Barely a day goes by without him spinning more outrageous lies about election fraud. Last week’s new revelations about his efforts to pressure the Department of Justice over the election he lost and more disturbing details of the January 6 attack that emerged in the House select committee’s first hearing clarified the history of Trump’s bid to destroy the US political system.
It is now clear that first in Georgia, and then by trying to wield presidential power to force the Justice Department to declare the election soiled by fraud where none existed, the ex-President sought to incite a coup to stay in office. When that failed, he called a mob to Washington, incited it with false claims of voter fraud, and then it invaded Congress, obliterating a peaceful transfer of power.
Trump’s assault on the values underpinning the Constitution did not end when he left the White House. Ever since, he has made acceptance of his massive election confidence trick the entry point for many Republican candidates seeking his valuable endorsement in the midterm elections next year. The House Republican Party has become a vassal for his extremism, including with its absurd, whitewashing claim that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, rather than Trump, was responsible for the worst attack on the US Capitol in 200 years.
And while his anti-democratic scheming may alienate millions of Americans in a general election, and some Republicans may eventually pine for a change, Trump is already the prohibitive favorite for the 2024 GOP nomination, after convincing a huge minority that he was unfairly ejected. Republican-run states have hurriedly rewritten election laws in a way that penalizes Democrats and would make it easier to overturn the result next time if Trump were the candidate and he was again rejected by a majority of voters.
This record of malfeasance – and Trump’s enduring appeal to Republican voters – is why it is not possible to turn away from the former President and just move on. Early in his presidency, the Trump show – with its crazed West Wing antics and his craving for attention – was exhausting and distracting, but ultimately not a threat to the republic. But while many Americans wish he no longer dominated the headlines, it’s now clear that warning signs are flashing everywhere about Trump’s future intent. If anything, the peril he poses to democracy has grown in the last six months, as much of the Republican Party itself has turned against cherished bedrock political values.
A war chest built on a lie
The Trump political organization’s $102 million cash reserves represent an unprecedented war chest for an ex-President at this stage of the election cycle, CNN’s Fredreka Schouten reported on Saturday, when Trump’s team announced its fundraising totals for the first half of the year. Its 3.2 million contributions to two political action committees mean that Trump can be a dominant kingmaker in the midterm elections and he has more than enough cash to finance his own demagogic rallies.
It does not necessarily follow that Trump’s candidates will always win. He failed, for example, to elect Texas Republican Susan Wright in a special election run-off for a House seat last week. But his fundraising muscle gives him the ability to try to remake the party in his own fraudulent image. He can marshal primary opposition to Republicans like Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who defied GOP leaders to serve on the January 6 panel. Trump’s influence can also help shape lower levels of leadership in the states — at the political epicenter where elections are administered and decided.
The size of his haul —- which his team said includes nearly $82 million raised in the first six months of this year and some funds donated in 2020 and transferred this year — is a commentary on the political state of the nation and his own character: he is raising funds on the power of a lie that millions of Americans want to be true and that is fundamentally altering politics.
DOJ revelations complete chain of wrongdoing
Trump’s continuing strength emphasizes why it’s so important to thwart House Republicans in their attempts to rewrite history about his past outrages. Friday’s disclosure of documents showing how Trump sought to force the DOJ to collude in his effort to steal the election was just the latest evidence of his attempts to pressure the department – and one of the most shocking revelations yet about his anti-democratic behavior.
On a December 27, 2020, call, Trump pressured acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue to falsely declare the election “illegal” and “corrupt” even after the department had not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud.
“Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen,” Trump said on the call, according to Donoghue’s contemporaneous notes provided to the House Oversight Committee.
As with the ex-President’s attempt to have Republican local officials find new votes to overcome President Joe Biden’s election victory in Georgia, Trump’s attempt only failed because officials honored their own oaths to the Constitution. But the disclosure of these notes prove how Trump was happy to use the vast powers of the presidency. If he ever reached the Oval Office again, it’s likely that the former commander-in-chief — impeached twice for abusing power — would feel even more justification to wield presidential authority in the service of his own personal and autocratic goals. And even if he remains in the political wilderness, Trump’s well-financed claims of voter fraud will continue to corrode the political system and damage faith in democracy in multiple, and possibly even violent, ways among his millions of supporters.
A new Trump presidential run — based on claims that the previous election was tainted by widespread fraud – would infect yet another election with mistrust and further weaken faith in the country’s system of democratic government.
One of the keys to the ex-President’s appeal to his supporters and a central facet of his political method is his relentless assault on truth day after day. His banishment from social media hasn’t stopped his exhaustive efforts to get his message across. On Sunday afternoon, for instance, Trump issued a raging statement through his Save America PAC, filled with his usual parade of flagrant lies about the election.
“Even the Justice Department has no interest in the crooked and corrupt 2020 Presidential Election. They are only interested in hurting those who want to reveal how totally dishonest it was,” Trump wrote.
‘Nobody off-limits’ in investigation
As the Delta variant of the coronavirus plunges the US back into a long battle against the pandemic, the Justice Department notes did not perhaps get the attention they deserved on Friday.
But in many ways, the revelation represents a missing piece of evidence that completes the chain of events dating from Trump’s immediate post-election attempts to claim election fraud, through his pressure on the states to change the results and the violent uprising against the certification of Biden’s win on January 6. The fact that this aspect of Trump’s behavior was not previously known bolsters the argument that – despite the GOP’s success in derailing an independent, bipartisan commission into the mob attack and the reason it occurred – the select committee appointed by Pelosi is hugely important.
While the Justice Department evidence fills in the blanks about what the ex-President was doing before the insurrection, the powerful opening hearing of the committee last week — with its harrowing testimony from police officers about being beaten and abused by Trump supporters — comprehensively debunked the idea that the mob was engaged in peaceful protest, was a “loving” crowd, as Trump has claimed, or that its members were acting simply like “tourists,” in the words of one pro-Trump House Republican.
New details of what was going on behind the scenes in the Trump administration also appear to expand the case for wide ranging testimony from key political and official figures — including Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill.
The Democratic chairman of the select committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny on Saturday that subpoenas and documents for testimony could start going out before the end of August.
“There is nobody off-limits in this investigation,” Thompson said.
The chairman also appeared to indicate that members of the committee are taking Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn’s admonition that they find the “hitman” who ordered the assault on Congress almost as an unofficial mission statement.
“I think the members of the committee, when they heard it, you know, it was one of those moments,” Thompson said.
Amid rising speculation that key Trump allies in the House, like Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, could be called to testify about their conversations with Trump in the run-up to the insurrection and on the day itself, Kinzinger pledged the committee would follow the truth.
“If that’s the leader, that’s the leader,” Kinzinger said on ABC “This Week” on Sunday, raising the prospect of a subpoena to the House GOP boss, who has anchored his hopes of winning the speakership on Trump and from whom the Illinois Republican is now estranged.
“If it’s anybody that talked to the President, they could provide us with that information. I want to know what the President was doing every moment of that day,” Kinzinger said.
With every piece of new evidence that emerges, it is becoming ever more clear that January 6 – the day of the most appalling attack on US democracy in generations – did not mark the end of Trump’s scheming. There are more than 100 million reasons why the fundamentals of the republic are still in danger.