Trump Banks on His Political Capital

Contributed by Amara Willey.

You may have noticed another Donald Trump-related drama unfolding earlier this month. When he presented the GOP with a cease and desist order not to use his name in fundraising efforts, the GOP flatly refused to follow it. This may have seemed like just another stunt of his, but let’s follow the money.

Before we do that, though, there’s another related story. The Republicans have been actively blaming the mainstream media for trying to divide the party, an idea that CNN reporters vehemently refuted and pointed to many examples of how Republican congress members had criticized the former president.

In a Washington Post opinion piece published at the end of November, columnist Jennifer Rubin declared that the Republican party had split in two, based not on policy differences, but rather on values and character.

Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) explained that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and former President Trump differed very little on policy though since McConnell’s speech condemning Trump after the impeachment hearing, the enmity has been evident. “It’s not a policy debate. This is a personality issue.“

Portman continued,It has the potential to hurt the party. It’s already making it more divided. But let’s get back to the policies. That’s where we agree, that’s where the American people want us to focus.”

Still a number of Republicans have attempted to discredit that idea. For example, former ambassador to the United Nations and current Director of the Save America PAC, Nikki Haley claimed in a Fox News interview that the wedge in the GOP was entirely in the imagination of the media. She said, “The liberal media… Wants to stoke a nonstop Republican Civil War.“

Haley continued to dissemble, suggesting that perhaps the former president’s actions following the election “were not his finest.”

This is where the money part comes in. After Donald Trump‘s cease and desist letter to the GOP, the party and the former president had an almost immediate rapprochement. Trump explained that his letter had to do with not wanting those people who had voted for his impeachment to be supported by GOP money connected with his name. Coincidentally, the Republican national committee announced several days later moving a large donor fundraising event to Trump’s Mar A Lago property.

Trump has been encouraging his supporters to give directly to the Save America PAC, headed by the previously mentioned Nikki Haley, instead of donating to the GOP. He has made it clear that he intends to fund primary challenges for those Congress members who denounced him.

Vox suggested that the former president may have more than political revenge in mind. And blaming the media for divisions in the GOP may be just another Trump diversionary tactic.

Whether Trump chooses to follow a path of revenge or not, there is another potential benefit he could reap from funneling money away from the GOP. The Save America PAC is a type of political committee that has relatively few restrictions on what it can do with donations. We have already seen that much of the $31.5 million raised just after the election was not used to fund legal challenges or help with the Georgia runoff‘s, as had been purported, but instead was being funneled into other uses, like paying down campaign debt.

“If you were going to direct a lot of money from a political committee to yourself, this is the way to do it,“ Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told Vox in an interview earlier this month.

Trump can use money from the PAC to hold events at his hotels, fund travel, or pay for “consulting fees.“

“There aren’t a lot of restrictions on travel expenses, so he can rent his own plane for himself and pay himself to fly around the country,“ Lebowitz said. “He can pay Ivanka and the rest of his family very large amounts as consultants for the PAC. He can rent office space for himself.“ 

Meanwhile, McConnell has made it clear that he will continue to back his fellow incumbent senators, despite Trump’s stated desire to punish some of them. McConnell still influences the use of the Senate Leadership Fund.

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