As Donald Trump’s chief strategist in 2016, Steve Bannon helped shape Trump’s “America First” campaign. Now, Bannon is inadvertently helping to test Trump’s 2020 reelection message: “Me First.”

On the eve of this week’s Republican National Convention, federal authorities arrested Bannon aboard a Chinese billionaire’s $28 million, 152-foot yacht and charged Bannon and three other men with defrauding donors giving to a private effort to build a wall along the border with Mexico. Bannon and his alleged co-conspirators had promised donors that “not a penny” would go to the organizers and “100 percent” would go to the wall. Instead, they allegedly used donations for such things as home renovations, boat payments, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments, credit-card debt, travel, hotels and consumer goods. Bannon allegedly squirreled away $1 million for himself and another organizer, much of it funneled through a nonprofit Bannon created called Citizens of the American Republic, ostensibly devoted to “economic nationalism and American sovereignty.” To top it all off: The small section of the wall the group did build was so poorly done that it is now in danger of falling into the Rio Grande.

Give Bannon credit: The alleged fraud perfectly captures the cynicism and self-dealing among leaders of the American right at this moment. As the president seeks reelection, the moral rot of Trump and his retinue has spread to the core.

At the National Rifle Association, chief executive Wayne LaPierre and other leaders have drained millions of dollars from the organization, the New York attorney general alleged this month, much of it for private jets, security, yachts in the Bahamas and personal payouts.

On Tuesday, Jerry Falwell Jr. said he had resigned as president of Liberty University, which he had used as a forum to vouch for Trump’s moral integrity and religious bona fides. Falwell acknowledged a multiyear affair in which he is accused of watching his wife have sex with a pool boy.

On Monday, the New York state attorney general, Letitia James, reported that the Trump Organization has refused to hand over some documents and that Eric Trump canceled an interview with prosecutors looking into whether the company paid proper taxes when a lender forgave more than $100 million of debt on a Trump hotel in Chicago.

Separately, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., continues to seek Trump’s financial records as part of an investigation into payoffs made in 2016 to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump — and potentially into Trump business dealings.

Last week, a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort (now doing prison time over his ill-gotten gains), was a “grave counterintelligence threat” because his receptivity to Russian outreach during the campaign made the Trump campaign vulnerable to “malign Russian influence.”

These developments are on top of former adviser Roger Stone’s prison sentence (which Trump commuted); former Trump adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea (which Trump’s Justice Department wants dismissed); the upcoming trial of two associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani; and former Trump aide Michael Cohen’s three-year prison sentence for what he called “my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.”

But the biggest swindle happens in front of our eyes: a president using his office to promote his business properties around the world, to push for tax policies that benefit his businesses, and to pressure foreign countries to help his campaign.

Former national security adviser John Bolton attributes our current pandemic woes to the president’s pursuit of self-interest: Trump ignored early warnings “because he didn’t want to concede that the pandemic . . . could have a dramatically negative impact on the U.S. economy and therefore his ticket to reelection.”

At the convention this week, we see Trump stripping the GOP of policy (the party declined to approve a platform) and replacing it with a cult of personality. He has stacked the speaking program with members of his family, his friends and himself — nightly. The lead consultant to the convention? A guy who produced “The Apprentice” for Trump and was a judge for Trump’s Miss Universe pageant.

Trump is using federal property — the White House itself — as a political backdrop for his campaign. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, using Israel as his campaign backdrop, is one of a host of officials violating laws and rules in ways previously unimaginable to play overtly political roles in the convention.

With Trump in charge, is it any wonder those around him are also taking a “Me First” approach? The same day as Bannon’s yacht-deck arrest last week, We Build the Wall posted a picture of Trump on Facebook. Written across the photo: “The Most Honest Man in Washington!”

The jockeying for the post-Trump future of the Republican Party has started, says Post columnist Max Boot. (The Washington Post)

Read more: