I read Trump-inspired election lawsuits so you don’t have to. Unlike some observers, I read them with an open mind. If the 2020 election was — as our commander in chief alleges — a massive fraud, or a conspiracy of America’s enemies abetted by elected officials from both parties, then I want to know. As a citizen, I would be outraged. As a journalist, I would be adrenalized by the biggest scandal in our nation’s history.

What I see is that these lawsuits have not turned up a single new provable allegation in three-plus weeks. The newest filings are mere regurgitations of the first, but longer and sloppier because no one is bothering to proofread them anymore. This tells me two things:

First, there is no there there. Harold Hill is not a musician, Al Capone’s vault holds no treasures, and O.J. Simpson isn’t hunting the real killer. There’s only so much dirt that can be swept under a rug.

The MAGA march on D.C. showed Trump supporters are not a monolith, but their dedication to the president is singular. (The Washington Post)

If the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez actually created a vote-stealing machine that was later exported to the United States so that a bipartisan conspiracy could “elect” Joe Biden, while tipping the rest of the election to the Republicans; and if, for good measure, urban Democrats manufactured truckloads of phony ballots in pursuit of the same mixed results; and if, to be extra-sure of the outcome, the U.S. Postal Service engaged in wholesale theft of ballots to sell them to equally corrupt buyers; and if, to protect this vast criminal enterprise, the Justice Department and FBI turned a blind eye to the entire scheme; and if all the other unsubstantiated allegations tossed around by President Trump and his allies are true — Trump’s so-called elite strike force might not have all the goods by now, but there would at least be a fresh item or two on the shelves.

Second, the paltriness of the legal effort is a dead giveaway of the real game. Why pretend to pursue a case that you are not actually pursuing? Money. The phony legal effort is a tool cynically employed to separate Trump supporters from their cash.

It’s working beautifully. According to published reports, Trump’s personal political action committee raised $170 million in November by squeezing donors to stop the (non)steal. That’s a lot of lettuce — more money than Trump was raising in recent months for his actual campaign. And here’s the beauty part for a man on the make: Most of those millions are Trump’s to spend essentially without limits. Too bad Trump University closed down. As ex-president, Trump could have offered a seminar titled “Tearing Down Democracy for Fun and Profit.”

And the president’s personal PAC is only the tip of the iceberg. True the Vote is a Texas-based nonprofit that purports to train election observers to spot fraud. A recent initiative from the group encourages Americans to pray for election integrity. But having never raised as much as $2 million in a single year — and far less in recent years — True the Vote allegedly pitched a $7.3 million legal strategy to overturn the election results to wealthy pharmaceutical investor Fred Eshelman. Now, with the legal strategy kaput, Eshelman wants the $2.5 million he kicked in to be repaid. True the Vote insists they made good use of it.

The American Conservative Union wasted no time in rattling its tin cup. On Nov. 7, chairman Matt Schlapp blasted an appeal for donations, promising vaguely to “#StopTheSteal.” Then he followed up with another call for cash on Nov. 16. The second time, Schlapp promised “a massive project” in support of a “team of lawyers.” The group’s website includes a shameful display of what it purports to be “cancelled” votes; they almost certainly are no such thing. Conveniently, all names are obscured so that the voters in question cannot be interviewed — if they, in fact, exist.

Of course, the globe-trotting opportunist Stephen K. Bannon is in the mix. The former Trump strategist and his sometime partner in grift, Brian Kolfage, built a potentially lucrative network of “StopTheSteal” pages on Facebook — even as Bannon awaited trial on charges (for which he pleaded not guilty) that he took cash illegally from a charity promising to build a border wall. Facebook took down the pages.

I could go on. The Internet is a souk of cheap-jack merchandise — banners, flags, hats, bumper stickers, T-shirts — aimed at poor saps suckered into Trump’s phony war. This cynical commerce is a fitting end to an unseemly presidency: one more grand con, another monetized lie. There’s a massive fraud going on here, for sure. But not the one Trump is ranting about.

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