Opinion: Trump is financially ruining the Republican Party

Photo/Mark Peterson/The New York Times / A toy figure of former President Donald Trump is displayed at a rally in Quemado, Texas, on Feb. 3, 2024. “Donald Trump is someone you should think carefully about hitching your financial fortunes to. The guy is a gifted carnival barker, no doubt. But when it comes to serious business, he is a bad bet,” writes NYT columnist Michelle Cottle.
Photo/Mark Peterson/The New York Times / A toy figure of former President Donald Trump is displayed at a rally in Quemado, Texas, on Feb. 3, 2024. “Donald Trump is someone you should think carefully about hitching your financial fortunes to. The guy is a gifted carnival barker, no doubt. But when it comes to serious business, he is a bad bet,” writes NYT columnist Michelle Cottle.

Donald Trump is someone you should think carefully about hitching your financial fortunes to. The guy is a gifted carnival barker, no doubt. But when it comes to serious business, he is a bad bet. Many of his ventures, from vodka and steaks to casinos and "university" degrees, have flopped like dying fish. Declaring corporate bankruptcy seems to be one of his favorite hobbies. And even when he wriggles away from failure largely unscathed, the other parties involved aren't always so fortunate. Where money is involved, anyone still foolish enough to crawl into bed with him should be prepared for the experience to end in tears.

Which leads me to gently note: Hey, Republican Party, pay attention! You are being herded toward potential financial ruin. The red flags are smacking you in the face. Wake up and smell the grift!

One might assume that a presidential nominee who generates as much devotion as Trump would be a financial boon to his party. One would be wrong. With Trump, everything is about Trump. Other candidates and committees are an afterthought, left to squabble over his scraps. Which might not be problematic if the party's money machine were whirring along smoothly. But it is not. Whether we're talking about the battle for Congress or the basic health of the state parties, the GOP is going through a rough financial patch, fueled in no small part by the MAGA king and his minions.

The most recent campaign finance reports show that his campaign coffers are notably lighter than President Joe Biden's. Crunching the numbers, Axios noted recently, "The Biden campaign and the DNC ended February with more than twice as much cash on hand ($97.5 million) as Trump and the RNC ($44.8 million)." While the Republican base may be smitten with Trump, plenty of big-money donors are skittish about bankrolling his nonsense. The former president has been scrambling to close the gap, leering at potential funders as if they were contestants at the Miss Universe pageant.

Now with Trump the de facto nominee, some top donors will hold their noses and start paying their tributes. But how do you build a strong party when at least part of your money is going to the nominee's eye-popping legal bills? Being multiply indicted costs big bucks (more than $100 million and counting in his case). The former president has avoided paying those expenses with his own money so far, instead relying on his fans' donations to accounts related to his 2020 election-fraud lies. But those accounts are drying up. Fresh income streams must be found. Anyone need a $59.99 Bible?

Asked in February if she thought Republican voters would support the Republican National Committee footing Trump's legal costs, Lara Trump, soon to be the committee's co-chair, declared, "Absolutely." I mean, what else is a good daughter-in-law supposed to say? Still, this possibility has raised enough eyebrows among donors that another Trump lackey, Chris LaCivita, who now oversees the RNC's operations, has vowed that committee funds will not be used for such.

Except! That doesn't rule out slippery arrangements like the one in the invitation to an April 6 fundraiser being hosted in Palm Beach, Florida, by the Trump 47 Committee, the fundraising effort by the Trump campaign and the RNC. Individual attendees may contribute up to $814,600, with donations distributed accordingly: The first $6,600, the maximum allowed by federal law, will go into Trump's campaign coffers. The next $5,000 (again, the legal limit) will flow to the Save America PAC, which is the primary vehicle used to pay Trump's legal bills. The next tranche, up to $413,000, will go to the RNC, which, as noted, has effectively been turned into a Trump family joint. Anything remaining will trickle down to the party committees in various states.

So to review: Under the new fundraising agreement, the entity handling Trump's legal bills takes its bite before the party committees receive a penny. That smells about right.

As you might imagine, there are better places those dollars could go to help Republicans this election cycle. Multiple state parties have been plagued by financial troubles, including in Arizona, Michigan and Georgia — battleground states that could easily decide not only the presidential race but also control of the Senate and House. But time and money are being wasted on Trumpian drama, with factional infighting, poor leadership and, of course, legal troubles.

Rarely has a political party been more desperately in need of a leader who can calm the waters, unify the feuding factions and charm the money men and women. Instead, Republicans have fallen in line behind a guy who has zero loyalty to the party, who cares only how it can serve him and who would rather strip it for parts than invest a nickel in its general well-being.

This deep into the Trump era, no one can say they weren't warned.

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