The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mike Lindell has become the platonic ideal of a Trump supporter

Michael Lindell laughs with President Donald Trump during a “Made in America” roundtable event at the White House on July 19, 2017. (Alex Brandon/AP)
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By spring 2016, a lot of people had gotten more than their fill of advertisements for MyPillow, particularly on Fox News.

“[W]hen does MyPillow’s ad agreement expire?” one person tweeted at the network that March. “I’ve started changing it to CNN every time it comes on to revolt.” Someone else estimated that they’d seen the ad more than 4,000 times on the network — probably a bit of hyperbole but not necessarily.

One regular Fox viewer, though, was intrigued. That August, Donald Trump reached out to the star of those ads, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, inviting him for a meeting at Trump Tower. Lindell would later tell the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal that Trump said he was “fascinated by Lindell’s business management and how Lindell manufactured all of his products in the United States.” Trump asked for some pillows and Lindell obliged, with Trump later telling Lindell he “really liked” the pillow.

Bear in mind, Trump was relatively busy at the time, given that he was the Republican nominee for president that year. Lindell told People magazine that he was uninformed about politics before meeting Trump and that he “learned a little bit about what each party was” before sitting down with Trump.

An underrecognized part of Trump’s campaign in 2016 was precisely this sort of glad-handing. Trump used his celebrity in an effort to woo skeptics, including in politics and the media. Part of his appeal to voters was that he was accessible in a way that most candidates weren’t, that he needed the job less than the job needed him. And, just like that, it seems, Lindell was on Team Trump.

When Trump was inaugurated the following January, Lindell was there. Trump gave Lindell a lapel pin commemorating the day, which Lindell was “really humbled” by, he told the Business Journal. A few months later, Trump invited Lindell to the White House to participate in a “Made in America” business roundtable. He began by praising Lindell.

“Michael was a supporter of ours right from the beginning, which I really appreciate,” Trump said. “It’s good to see you here. It’s fantastic. And I actually bought a couple of pillows, and they’re very good. I have to tell you, they’re great. I’ve slept so much better ever since.”

You can’t buy that kind of advertising, no matter how big your budget.

In June 2018, Lindell had moved up the ladder a bit, getting a shout-out when he joined Trump at a rally in North Dakota.

“I have never seen so many ads for so long,” Trump said, referring to the MyPillow spots. “And you know what? I think he gets them for, like, peanuts. First of all, he does make a great product. Great pillows. I actually use them, believe it or not.”

Trump again noted that Lindell had been a supporter from “day one,” which wasn’t really the case.

“I said, ‘You know, I want you to be my ad buyer,’ ” Trump added. “Because I guarantee you, he makes great deals. So, I haven’t asked him yet. Will you be my ad buyer, please, Mike?”

The crowd laughed and cheered — but Trump apparently wasn’t kidding.

In June 2020, his reelection looming, Trump gathered aides at the White House to discuss his campaign’s advertising strategy. Bard Parscale, then Trump’s campaign manager, reportedly buttonholed Lindell before the meeting to ensure his blessing on Parscale’s strategy. As Michael Bender reports in a new book on Trump’s campaign, Trump did ask Lindell how he thought the television rollout was going and Lindell offered a thumbs up for campaign team.

“They’re doing great!” Lindell reportedly said. “I’ve talked to them before, and they’re talking to my team.”

Two months later, the New York Times reported that the Trump campaign had started using a firm called LifeBrands, a company that helped develop MyPillow’s advertising strategy, to buy ad time in swing states.

2020 seems to have been Lindell’s coming-out year nationally. He appeared with Trump at a 2019 rally in the CEO’s home state of Minnesota where Trump again hyped both the pillows and the ads. But he attracted the most attention when he appeared at the White House during one of Trump’s idiosyncratic briefings at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.

He was there to tout his company’s transition to producing cotton masks to halt the spread of the coronavirus. But given the microphone in front of the media in the Rose Garden, Lindell’s commentary went a bit off-topic.

“God gave us grace on November 8th, 2016″ — that is, the day of Trump’s election — “to change the course we were on,” he said, then encouraging Americans to use the time at home provided by the pandemic to “get back in the Word, read our Bibles, and spend time with our families.”

“Our president gave us so much hope where, just a few short months ago, we had the best economy, the lowest unemployment, and wages going up. It was amazing,” he continued. “With our great president, vice president, and this administration and all the great people in this country praying daily, we will get through this and get back to a place that’s stronger and safer than ever.”

It wasn’t the first time that Lindell had overlapped his evangelicalism with his politics. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2019, he declared that Trump was “chosen by God” to serve in that role. But by 2020, he was evangelizing for Trump directly. He spoke at the Republican convention that August on behalf of the state of Minnesota, for example, decrying the “terrible Democratic leadership” of the state that had “manifested into so much of the destruction of my great state and country.”

He didn’t get everything he wanted. Lindell pushed Trump to consider using the plant oleandrin to help treat the coronavirus, perhaps in part because he had a financial stake in a company that sold such a treatment. Trump didn’t bite.

But when Trump needed allies later that year, Lindell was right there. After Trump lost reelection, he amplified his long-standing and false claims that rampant fraud had occurred. Lindell deployed his own personal wealth to help make that case.

Lindell seized upon the idea that electronic voting machines had been used to flip votes, a claim for which there remains no credible evidence. But Lindell dug up all sorts of noncredible evidence that he packaged into a series of infomercials purporting to show with “absolute” certainty that fraud had occurred. One that aired on One America News was preceded by a lengthy disclaimer, distancing the conspiracy-theory-friendly network from this particular bit of theorizing.

Of course, that was also after Dominion Voting Systems, the target of many of those conspiracy theories, had started slapping defamation lawsuits on purveyors of the false claims. When Lindell appeared on Newsmax in February, the network’s anchors similarly scrambled to shut down his false fraud claims. They weren’t interested in being taken to the cleaners.

Lindell seems less concerned about that possibility. He was served with a suit later that month; MyPillow countersued in April. That countersuit included a lengthy document purporting to show how fraud had occurred. Instead, the evidence presented more strongly suggested that Lindell had been snookered by unscrupulous “experts” willing to generate consulting fees by telling him what he wanted to hear. But Lindell clearly seems to actually believe it.

How else to explain Lindell’s most infamous White House appearance? In the waning days of Trump’s presidency, Lindell showed up at the executive mansion to discuss how Trump might remain in power. He was photographed waiting outside the Oval Office holding a set of notes that included mentions of declarations of martial law. The notes mentioned purported “foreign interference” in the election, a charge that has remained central to Lindell’s claims in the months since. Trump reportedly didn’t grant him an audience.

There are many Americans who went from apolitical in 2016 to fervent, die-hard Trump supporters in the five years since. Few, though, have the financial resources of Mike Lindell — supplemented by the “Lindell Legal Offense Fund,” a solicitation effort that Lindell is promoting. With that cash in hand and with the former president muffled by his bans from social media in the months since Trump left office, Lindell has taken up the public fight on Trump’s behalf. He started his own social media platform centered on free speech (but banning some swear words). He’s been holding events in support of Trump, including a rally last weekend in Wisconsin.

“The Daily Show’s” Jordan Klepper briefly interviewed Lindell at that event. Lindell repeated his various unfounded allegations of fraud and of the results of various “audits” and of Trump somehow being returned to power by August — a claim Trump has apparently echoed — before becoming frustrated and storming away. Lindell has used his money to create his own pro-Trump universe online and in the real world and he wasn’t going to have some punk from “The Daily Show” start making waves.

These days (again, like Trump), Lindell isn’t even enamored by Fox News, a network that acknowledged Trump’s loss soon after it occurred and that has been less likely to entertain the wild theories espoused by the former president’s most die-hard supporters.

“I want to say something. Shame on you, Fox,” Lindell said at the Wisconsin rally. “This is disgusting what they’ve done to our country.”

Yet over on the network itself, there’s an ad featuring Mike Lindell, encouraging viewers as always to buy one of his pillows.

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