But in this case, the “ramparts” were a fundraising webpage and “able-bodied” meant anyone with some cash to pass along. There were three components to nearly every one of these messages: a falsehood about the election, a mention of Trump and a request for money.
As a legal effort, it was a complete failure, with Trump’s claims only sporadically making it to court and then lawyers almost always being asked to leave while laughter hung in the air. As a political effort, it was actually worse, yielding no result other than the disgrace of an insurrection. But as a cash grab? Boffo.
The money flowed over an arrangement of political action committees like champagne does on a tower of glasses in a movie wedding. The topmost glass, the one that got most of the champagne, was the Save America PAC, a newly created entity controlled by Trump. Overflow went into his campaign committee and to the Republican Party, but only after Save America got its cut. And as fundraising data later revealed, that cut was substantial: The PAC absorbed $31.5 million as Trump struggled against his inevitable ouster from the White House.
Nor was this a normal political action committee. Save America is a leadership PAC, meaning that although it is limited in how much it can give to other political action committees — such as for candidates — it is largely unlimited in how the money can otherwise be spent. If Trump wants to hire the Blue Angels to transport him to a campaign rally on a luxury yacht and pay himself $100,000 for his time, Save America can provide. It’s like a Trump Organization where he doesn’t even have to put his name on a gold-plated apartment building.
But, of course, putting his name on things is the entire reason Trump wants the PAC. He wants to keep his campaign’s well-worn fundraising hose attached to its spigot and to be the guy who decides which Republican wins which race. The former president wants every Republican who goes to Washington to be as Trump-branded as the swag in the Mar-a-Lago gift shop. And Save America is how he plans to do it.
There’s just one problem: The Republican Party also wants some say in which candidates it is putting up for election. This has long been the tension between Trump and his party: He wants everyone to be loyal to him and his goals, while the party, for understandable and historical reasons, would prefer to build its own institutional power. That’s why the party exists, after all — to serve as a sort of savings account for the power that the political right has accrued. But then Trump showed up, and he saw that savings account and licked his lips, as he does.
The GOP has done yeoman's work for five years in pretending that it's an equal partner with Trump, but the reality of the situation has become sharply apparent in the past few days.
The thing about Trump raising money from his supporters is that the pit is not bottomless. If a Trump fan has $50 he wants to contribute to a political cause, Trump wants $50, not $25. So if the Republican Party is out there trying to raise its own money for its own candidates, that risks peeling away some of those dollars. If the Republican Party further has the gall to use Trump in an effort to raise that money — by, say, sending an email such as the one below, received last week — it’s an unacceptable affront.
This is totally normal behavior, mind you. Political parties have long used their most prominent members to raise money without issue. That’s because usually those people are also invested in building the political and institutional power of the party. But Trump isn’t, not really.
So, on Saturday, Trump’s legal team sent cease-and-desist letters to party fundraising committees demanding that they stop using his name and likeness in their appeals. His ostensible concern was that the party might use the money to support members of the House such as Liz Cheney (Wyo.) who voted to impeach him in January or senators such as Mitt Romney (Utah) who’d later supported his conviction. That they were Republicans didn’t matter. They were anti-Trump.
The party did its best to smooth things over. In a letter responding to the request, the Republican National Committee reportedly pointed to a conversation between Trump and Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in which he offered his support for how his name was being used. (McDaniel, of course, used her maiden name — Romney — for professional purposes until it became somewhat less helpful a few years ago.) The committee also moved a planned speech by Trump from a hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., to Mar-a-Lago.
As Cheney might have warned, though, negotiation and compromise with those hoping to drain your power is not always a successful strategy. So, on Monday evening, a new missive from the Save America PAC:
“No more money for RINOS. They do nothing but hurt the Republican Party and our great voting base — they will never lead us to Greatness. Send your donation to Save America PAC at DonaldJTrump.com. We will bring it all back stronger than ever before!”
Give to me, not them.
Last month, the America Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life asked Republicans whether they considered themselves more loyal to Trump or to the GOP. A third picked Trump, including half of those who voted for him last year. But that’s still 37 million people who are more Trumpist than Republican and who might heed a call to prioritize Save America over the RNC. If 5 percent of them gave an average of $20? That’s $37 million more for yacht rallies and primary challengers to McDaniel’s uncle.
Beyond the short-term resources fight, Trump’s effort bears bigger risks. There is a reason the Republican Party tries to build its own institutional power: It means that the party’s success isn’t dependent on any one Republican. Trump’s effort to shift that power to himself risks having it evaporate once he leaves the scene.
That eventuality, of course, is of no concern to Trump.