I still can’t quite believe that even as big a huckster as Donald Trump thinks he can get away with this. But it’s starting to seem like Trump was probably lying when he announced with great fanfare a week ago that he was converting some $50 million of loans to his campaign into simple contributions. This would mean that he could no longer use future contributions to pay himself back for those loans. In other words, he couldn’t have either small donors or GOP fat cats reimburse him for his “self-funded” primary campaign.
This news comes from Ari Melber and Alexandre Jaffe at NBC News. Back on June 23rd, on the heels of the Trump campaign’s catastrophic and humiliating May FEC report, he grandly announced that he was forgiving the debt and that he would file the relevant paperwork with the FEC that day.
But that apparently never happened. The FEC has no record of such a filing.
To be clear, Trump was under no obligation to notify the FEC of this action until the June FEC report which gets finalized tomorrow. But they said they were doing it that day but didn’t. Even if the FEC just hasn’t been able to process it for some reason, the campaign could easily settle the matter by simply providing the documentation to reporters.
They now claim that they’re filing those documents in their June FEC reports. That would be perfectly reasonable. But Trump’s the guy whose campaign lied repeatedly about giving a million dollar contribution to vets groups and tried to skate on doing it at all until he was finally caught. With any other campaign, I’d figure this is reporter overzealousness. With Trump, I’m pretty confident they’re lying, or at a minimum playing for time, hoping that some opportunity presents itself where forgiving the loan becomes unnecessary.
But this new wrinkle to the loan story points to a bigger picture which is probably the best way to understand this bizarre and still totally unexplained story of the emails to MPs in Northern Europe. I didn’t fully get it myself until David Kurtz pointed it out to me yesterday. The whole blow up about Trump’s dismal May FEC report was only a little more than a week ago. It terrified Republicans because it showed that Trump’s campaign was essentially broke going into the convention. It must also have been humiliating to Trump personally. For both reasons, since then, Trump’s been on a storm. He’s spamming people all over the world, probably hitting up old AOL accounts whose owners died in the 90s. He claimed to forgive the campaign debt, a source of major anxiety to big Republican donors, both because they didn’t want to contribute money he’d use to pay himself back but also because they were spooked by what looked like a sign he didn’t have nearly enough money to seriously contribute to his campaign, let alone self-fund. On top of that he’s been running ads on Facebook and really begging for money anywhere and everywhere.
Here’s a Trump ad that showed up in my Facebook feed this morning. My Facebook feed. If you’re a Trump supporter or someone at the RNC, does this ad on my Facebook timeline give you any sense that this campaign even remotely has its act together in fundraising terms? Do you want a free thank you hat? Thank you.
They’re clearly desperate to raise money fast. But not just because they need a lot of money to compete against Clinton in the fall. Look at the calendar. The terrible May FEC report came out just ten days ago. It was only after that report that Trump’s campaign seemed to kick into high fundraising gear or perhaps better to say fundraising mania. The key is that the June FEC report is baked as of today. And then everything is frozen in place until that report is released on July 20th.
Late July … what’s that? Right, during the Republican convention which runs from July 18th to the 21st. If the June report is anything like as awful as the May report it’s catastrophic. And that catastrophe will land right during the convention, the worst possible time imaginable. Put that all together and it means Trump had to raise a huge amount of money in about a week. Even if July and August are amazing fundraising months that wouldn’t necessarily matter because right now he needs to convince Republicans that his campaign isn’t a joke. So he’s got until midnight tonight to raise as much money as possible. If the number ain’t good, it’s a PR time bomb set to go off during the GOP convention.
Put this all together and you start to get a sense of why Trump has gone from fundraising indifference into a kind of manic fundraising blizzard in a matter of days. It also likely gives us a sense of why he’s sending his emails to parliamentarians in Iceland and Finland and Australia. No, not because he’s that desperate that he wants their money but because they’re in a such a panicked rush they’re throwing everything at the wall they can.
At first, we thought he’d gotten the foreign politician emails from a crooked or stupid list broker. Having researched it a bit more, that seems less and less likely. It seems more like these were lists simply floating around the Trump Organization, tied to some earlier business venture, and someone in the campaign just decided to toss them in the hopper too. Admittedly, this seems like a preposterous theory. But all the conceivable explanations are equally preposterous. And yet one of them must be true since it definitely did happen.
What’s odd is that Republicans and conservative activists have spent generations raising huge amounts of money with precisely the kinds of red meat messages Trump specializes in. He should be able to raise tons of money. Ben Carson did that last year and raised more than anyone else in the race. Of course, it all seems to have been pocketed by the consultants running the campaign since the whole operation was essentially a direct mail scam masquerading as a campaign. Perhaps Trump’s June report will show great numbers. It wouldn’t be for lack of trying. But for now, all signs point to the familiar mix of incompetence, lies and desperate nonsense, all aimed at avoiding another massive embarrassment three weeks from now in Cleveland.