If anyone ought to be able to appreciate a clever, small-time con, it’s President Trump. After all, he’s the creator of Trump University, the Trump Network, the Trump Institute and any number of other schemes to separate gullible people from their money.
But the president does not like it when you use him as the bait in your con and don’t cut him in for a taste:
President Trump’s campaign has issued a stinging rebuke of a group run by a former top campaign aide that has been accused of misleading donors about how it is using their money.
The statement by Trump’s campaign Tuesday makes no mention of the president’s former deputy campaign manager, David N. Bossie. But people close to Trump told The Washington Post that it is specifically aimed at Bossie and the organization he founded in 2005, Presidential Coalition. [...]
Despite its stated goal of supporting conservative candidates who back Trump, just 3 percent of the $15.4 million that Presidential Coalition spent in 2017 and 2018 went toward direct political activity, according to the report.
The bulk of Presidential Coalition’s spending went toward fundraising, administrative costs — including Bossie’s salary — and the apparent purchase of books written by Bossie that the organization offered to donors, the [Campaign Legal Center] said.
What Bossie’s group did was send out mail solicitations that looked a lot like they were seeking donations for the Trump campaign, or at the very least political activities that would benefit Trump, but much of it apparently went into Bossie’s pocket.
If you knew nothing about the conservative movement, you might be appalled by that kind of deception. But the truth is that this kind of scam is absolutely central to how the American right has operated for decades. It’s not that there aren’t a few con artists on the left; there certainly are. But only the right treats its entire constituency like nothing but marks to be swindled, a few dollars at a time.
It comes from a variety of conservative figures, whether it’s former politicians, pundits or political consultants. All you need is some seed money to buy a list of suckers who have donated to conservative causes or given their names to a publication like Human Events or World Net Daily, and you’re off.
For instance, here’s a story about Dick Morris getting nearly $2 million in donations to fight Barack Obama, virtually none of which went to fighting Barack Obama. Here’s a story about tea party groups paying prominent conservative radio hosts to promote them, and using the proceeds to keep paying the radio hosts. Mike Huckabee uses his email list to hawk scam “biblical” cancer cures. Herman Cain will help you cure your erectile dysfunction. Ben Carson sold “glyconutrients.”
This story goes way back to the 1960s, when the rise of the conservative grass roots — and the mailing lists that they produced — created an opportunity for right-wingers of an entrepreneurial bent. As historian Rick Perlstein details, it amounted to a “strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers ... designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place — and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.”
The political pitches and the snake-oil pitches are aimed at the same population of the angry and credulous, people who spend hours every day watching Fox News and then, when they get a letter asking them to contribute $45 (in honor of our 45th president!) to a group like the Presidential Coalition claiming to have Trump’s back, whip out the checkbook to give all those rotten libs the what-for.
From time to time, a conservative will raise an objection to these endless cons that course through their movement like a virus (here’s Jonah Goldberg in 2015 lamenting “The Right Wing Scam Machine”), but the critiques are few and far between. And Bossie has been part of that world for some time.
In addition to his work for Trump, Bossie is president of Citizens United, which you know from the lawsuit that bore its name, but which exists mostly as a producer of the occasional low-budget documentary that no one watches.
But according to the group’s 2016 tax form (the most recent I could find), it took in $8.8 million in revenue, and Bossie’s total compensation was $468,992, at the same time as he was working on Trump’s campaign. Which of course doesn’t count what Bossie has been making from the Presidential Coalition.
Now I’m sure Trump is well aware of how milking conservative voters for cash is a time-honored tradition. But as Politico reports, one Trump adviser said that the president was angered because "this was the equivalent of taking from him.” Another said, “The thing Trump hates is for anyone to make money off his name.”
Anyone else, that is. If anybody is going to use the Donald Trump name for a grift, it can only be Donald Trump.