Donald Trump’s Last (We Hope) Grift

“I am your retribution,” Trump famously tells his supporters. But not without your contribution, he may as well add. “These WITCH HUNTS are conceived by political operatives for purposes of ELECTION INTERFERENCE!” ` another fundraising email. “But as long as YOU are by my side, I know nothing they throw at me will stop our MAGA MOVEMENT.”

Laugh, but it seems to be working. In April, his campaign announced that it had raised $76 million. “Donald Trump is the master of this,” attorney Moss said. “There is no one who matches his ability to spin and refashion a negative into a positive. He gets that from the father,” Fred Trump, also a real estate developer of questionable ethics. “That’s what his father taught him: You’re always winning. You’re never, ever losing.” In the 24 hours after his conviction, his campaign claims, it raised nearly $53 million.

Earlier this year, daughter-in-law Lara Trump was installed as head of the Republican National Committee, as part of a purge that Politico described as a “bloodbath,” with some 60 staffers dismissed. The point, people who know the RNC’s internal workings say, is to ensure that as much cash as possible is funneled to Trump’s presidential campaign, as opposed to down-ballot races. The party apparatus was always going to stand behind its chosen candidate; now it just looks like it won’t stand behind anyone else.

Miller, The Bulwark’s editor, related the story of an RNC employee who, in early 2017, voiced concern about the Trumpian direction of the party on high-level conference calls. One day, while the staffer was at his desk, the phone rang. On the other end was Jared Kushner, the president’s immensely influential son-in-law, “kind of checking in, making sure he’s on board,” as Miller put it. “That’s just how the Trump family rolls.”

Fortune does seem to favor the shameless. In April, the RNC and the Trump campaign asked other candidates using his name, image, or likeness to donate 5 percent. “Any split that is higher than 5% will be seen favorably by the RNC and President Trump’s campaign,” the letter not-so-subtly advised.

The new Trump functionaries at the RNC are using the lie that Trump won the 2020 election as a loyalty test. As I understand it, any high-ranking official who says otherwise should be looking for another job. The committee’s counsel, Charlie Spies, was forced out of his job in early May because he had defended the integrity of the 2020 election in a 2021 speech.

If that’s not enough, this election cycle has seen $32 million spent by the Republican Party and Trump-affiliated committees at Trump properties. “Trump and his family are in the unique position to profit directly from his public service,” said nonprofit OpenSecrets, which chronicled the questionable spending. “Special interests in Washington have caught on.”

Another windfall may come later this summer, if Trump manages to sell his shares of Truth Social, the social media company founded by his associates. Truth Social went public in late March. Originally valued at $8 billion, the sparsely used platform has seen its share price tumble. Trump won’t be allowed to cash out until late September, but when he does, he could reap a windfall of more than $1 billion. “There are legal issues that pop up that throw that into doubt,” Snell said of the complex financial machinations that have turned a floundering social media company into a golden goose for Trump. “There could be an investigation.” True, but none has been announced so far, and the election is approaching.

Now or Never

In the fall, when Americans head to the polls to vote, the fate of Donald Trump and the fate of the American republic will converge in a way entirely new to American politics. “If Donald Trump wins in November, if he becomes president again, the two federal cases”—the classified documents and January 6 cases—“are gone. He will end them immediately on Day One,” said Moss, in reference to the charges brought against Trump by special counsel Smith. “He can order the whole thing shut down as president, and no one could stop it.”

Trump’s return to the Oval Office would make it impossible to actually prosecute him. That would have to wait until at least 2028, by which point phone calls made to Georgia election officials eight years before may not have the same legal potency they once did. That’s assuming he willingly leaves office in 2029, which is something short of guaranteed. It’s now or never.

“These next six months are all about him having a life outside of jail,” Moss said. Trump is fundraising as much to stay out of the federal penitentiary as he is to return to the Oval Office.

“The message about our system of criminal justice is an unhappy one,” Harvard Law School constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe wrote in an email. “Sadly, its elaborate safeguards, theoretically designed to minimize erroneous convictions, do much less for the innocent than they do for guilty. And when the alleged crimes are crimes against democracy itself, the old adage that justice delayed is justice denied casts an especially dark shadow.”

I invite you back to Trump’s resort in Baja California. The marketing materials for the project show modern glass towers set on the cliffside. “Mr. TRUMP is personally involved in everything that his name represents,” the attractive brochure says. Staring out over the barren ground beyond the chain-link fence, I could very much believe it.

The question is whether Trump will get away with one more grift. If not, he could find himself behind a fence, and a tall one at that, far from Baja California.