After Election Day in November, then-President Donald Trump’s campaign furiously sent out donation solicitations to Trump’s followers, vowing to use the money to fight the election results. His followers acquiesced, a new report finds, and among those who stormed the Capitol in January, donations spiked to new highs after he lost the election.
Among the first 311 people to be charged in the Capitol attack, NBC finds, donations to Trump increased by 75 percent in the five weeks following his loss in the election, compared to the five weeks prior to the election. One man, NBC found out from campaign filings, donated 40 times after Trump lost the election — once, five times in a single day, when Trump tweeted that he wouldn’t concede. In total, previous reports have found, Trump raised $207.5 million in just 19 days following his loss to Joe Biden in the election.
The campaign told its followers then that the money they donated would go toward legal fees for fighting the election results, but that was only true if a donor gave more than $5,000. Otherwise, 75 percent went toward the new political action committee that Trump formed in November, and the other 25 percent went to the Republican National Committee.
At the end of the day, the Trump campaign, as of Federal Election Commission filings from last month, only spent $6.8 million of what it raised post-election on legal fees — for challenges that all ended up failing anyway.
The fundraising efforts for a candidate who already lost the election were so egregious that even a GOP lawmaker, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) called them a “scam” and a “big grift.” As far as the GOP goes, however, Trump’s tactics seemed to have just been the start of a new era for Republican fundraising.
Republicans “are increasingly realizing that the best way to appeal to GOP voters is to ape his strategy of acting more like a shock jock than a politician,” wrote Amanda Marcotte for Salon earlier this week. Recent fundraising efforts seem to be revealing a pattern: A Republican can do something racist or otherwise heinous and not only do they not face consequences, they can use the momentum of the backlash to raise more funds.
Take the case of conservative Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel, formerly the state treasurer. Last week, he posted a blatantly racist tweet that was derogatory toward Mexicans and Muslims. Then, when Twitter banned his account for 12 hours, he sent out a fundraising plea claiming that he was being censored by big tech. When he came back, Ohio Capital Journal reporter Tyler Buchanan pointed out in a tweet, “[Mandel’s] account posts a *tweet* claiming he was canceled from *Twitter*. I’ll leave it to you to assess the logic on that one.”
An Ohio political play, in four acts: pic.twitter.com/t0ap1ttkno
— Tyler Buchanan (@Tylerjoelb) March 18, 2021
This fundraising tactic extends to Republicans at various levels of government across the country. Complaining about “cancel culture” seems to have become a means to an end of either raising money or “playing victim,” as Marcotte wrote, after being called out for “acting like crude bigots and jerks.”
Their recent outcry over what they spun into the left’s attempt at “canceling” Dr. Seuss, for instance, ended up as a fundraising opportunity for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). The NRCC offered a copy of The Cat in the Hat to donors who gave $25 — never mind the fact that it was the Seuss estate that made the decision to discontinue publishing some of his books with racist imagery, and that The Cat in the Hat wasn’t one of them.
Sometimes the victimization ploy isn’t directly linked to fundraising but still ends up serving the same cynical purpose of making Republicans appear more sympathetic, which they can use to fundraise under the guise of “cancel culture” victimhood. After Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wisconsin) recent racist remarks about the Capitol attack, for instance, he went on a press tour publicizing how the left was silencing him for his remarks, writing an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal and going on Fox to complain as much.
Though Johnson doesn’t appear to have fundraised directly off that stunt, the play at victimization is part of what allowed Trump to raise hundreds of millions off his followers after he lost the election.
“The Republican cult of victimhood is dangerous because if you believe that you have been wronged by forces beyond your control, you may also believe that you are justified in fighting back by any means imaginable,” wrote Max Boot for The Washington Post. In national politics, fighting back for the average person can often look like shelling out cash.
GOP fundraising in some ways follows old patterns but still appears to be getting bolder. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado), for instance, this week came under fire for fundraising off of Monday’s shooting in her state that left 10 dead. As Democrats floated gun control measures to attempt to contain gun violence, Boebert’s office sent out a fundraising email just hours after the shooting. “They want to take our guns, the email read. “We cannot lose this right.”