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Opinion 63 million suckers, just waiting to be conned

(Brittany Greeson for The Washington Post)

President Trump’s reelection campaign is raising ungodly amounts of money for next year’s election. As of the end of September, it had already raised $165 million and spent $100 million of it. Much of those contributions from eager Trump fans are being funneled into Facebook ads that fire right back at them.

But with all that money floating around, everybody wants to get in on the action, as Politico’s Maggie Severns reports:

As President Donald Trump raises money for his reelection campaign, he’s competing for cash with a growing mass of pro-Trump PACs, dark money groups and off-brand Facebook advertisers neither affiliated with nor endorsed by Trump’s campaign, which have pulled in over $46 million so far.
The groups mimic Trump’s brand in the way they look and feel. They borrow the president’s Twitter avatar on Facebook pages, use clips of Trump’s voice in robocalls asking for “an emergency contribution to the campaign” and, in some cases, have been affiliated with former Trump aides, such as onetime deputy campaign manager David Bossie. But most are spending little money to help the president win in 2020, POLITICO found.

And that’s before we even hit 2020. Just imagine how much these groups are going to pull in once the general election comes.

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This is a new version of an old story on the right, one dating back decades. It began in the 1960s, when entrepreneurial conservatives such as Richard Viguerie realized that the grass-roots force that enabled Barry Goldwater to win the Republican presidential nomination was a fruitful market waiting to be exploited (Rick Perlstein has a lively history of how it happened).

In those days, the resource was lists of addresses, and the pitch came in direct mail, both with urgent appeals to save the country from godless liberals and in offers for a thousand different products. What those early right-wing go-getters learned was that miracle arthritis cures and requests for donations to fly-by-night political groups were merely different varieties of the same snake oil.

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Each new political movement on the right, whether it was the rise of the religious right in the 1980s or the tea party in the 2000s, brought with it a new set of grifters looking to cash in. Sometimes they have something to sell, such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee hawking “biblical” cures for cancer. But there’s no easier grift to pull off than the one Severns documents, because the donors don’t expect anything for their money apart from the warm feeling of knowing they’re helping Trump get reelected.

So all you need to do is come up with a name that sounds legit (“Trump MAGA 2020 Committee” or some such); buy yourself a list with email addresses of marks (or, ahem, leads); start blasting out emails begging for donations to hold off the despicable Democrat secularist socialist elites who want to destroy America; and watch the money pour in.

Even the semi-legitimate ones are essentially pulling a scam. Some of these groups do indeed spend a portion of their contributions on pro-Trump advertising, but it’s only after they pay hefty fees to the consultants who set up the group in the first place.

From time to time in the past, someone on the right has lamented the way their voters are so easily exploited by the grifters in their midst. But in the Trump era, such protestations have become pointless. If there’s anything Trump has proven, it’s that the conservative rank and file are not just easily hoodwinked; they’re practically begging for you to take their money.

They didn’t just elect America’s biggest con artist, the man who created Trump University and the Trump Network and the Trump Institute and the Trump Foundation and all his other scams. They rallied behind him with an absolutely rapturous fervor, long after everyone understood exactly what he is. They cheer every lie he tells them, repeat every bizarre argument he makes and treat him like a demigod walking amongst us. If these suckers aren’t asking to be separated from their money, who could be?

It should be noted that the Trump campaign is none too pleased about the proliferation of pro-Trump scams; they’ve issued statements condemning these outside groups and demanding they cease their activities. Obviously, any dollar that goes to one of these groups is a dollar that might otherwise have gone to the campaign.

There’s another likely reason Trump’s aides are mad: They know how the boss feels about these sorts of things. As one senior administration official said about the orgy of graft that was his inauguration, “The president was really surprised to read all about the inauguration and who was trying to buy access and how, because the president doesn’t get any of that money.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you run a scam, as long as Trump gets his taste.

But whether Trump is concerned about the wannabe Trump campaign groups is beside the point. With 63 million suckers out there just waiting to be conned, there’s no way he or his campaign can stop it.

Read more:

Jonathan Capehart: Mike Bloomberg’s campaign manager: Trump is winning the race, and Democrats don’t realize it

Henry Olsen: The Trump campaign has a terrible 2020 strategy

Jacob Frey: Minneapolis mayor: We saw Trump stiffing cities for his other rallies, so we told him to pay up

Greg Sargent; At fundraiser, Trump reveals reelection strategy: Cruelty, lies, hate

Paul Waldman: Trump’s reelection campaign just got a lot tougher

Paul Waldman: What will Trump offer the voters next year? Probably not much.