In the wake of Donald Trump’s apocalyptically bad fundraising report, a new word seems in order to describe the exercise in grift being played out on the national stage. Call it a scampaign.
The presumptive Republican nominee’s FEC filing, released yesterday, is quantitative confirmation that Trump is not running a presidential campaign so much as another of his success-immune business schemes. At the end of May, Trump had $1.3 million in cash on hand — less than the price of most apartments in Trump Tower — and managed to raise $3.1 million over the whole month. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, raised $27 million and ended the month with $42 million. Mitt Romney, that loser, raised $78 million in May 2012.
Even more alarming is what Trump has done with the money he does have. Twenty percent of the campaign’s May expenditures — $1.1 million — were reimbursements to businesses that Trump owns. The Daily Beast has a partial list: Trump Plaza, Trump SoHo, Trump Café, Trump Grill, Epic Trump Wine Manufacturing, Trump Restaurants, Trump National Golf Club, Trump International Golf Club, Trump International Hotel, Trump Ice.
And, on top of all of this, it appears that Trump may be taking a salary.
There’s obviously an element of incompetence here, the exigencies of national campaigning being just one of the panoply of things about which Trump is utterly and proudly ignorant. There’s also an element of sloth. Fundraising is the drudgework of political life, and Trump hates drudgery.
But there’s also the specter of unseemliness — which hangs around Donald Trump with unusual persistence. There is the Trump Network (his maybe-a-pyramid-scheme vitamin operation) and the American Communications Network (the maybe-a-pyramid-scheme tech company he promoted) and Trump University. It was just last month that Trump was facing questions about $6 million supposedly raised for various veterans’ organizations.
With Trump, it’s always a question whether you’re getting played.
With Trump, it’s always a question whether you’re getting played, and as the question pertains to his presidential run, the FEC filing effectively proves that the answer is yes. Would someone worth “TEN BILLION DOLLARS” be pinching the edges of the toothpaste tube? Would he be trying to bilk donors out of their money — not to build campaign infrastructure and start advertising, but simply to cover his own out-of-pocket costs?
Of course not. And potential donors know it. Any money-man who was thinking about getting behind this effort is going to reconsider. Every right-leaning super PAC is going to look around for alternatives. No one wants $1 out of every $5 that he donates going to fill the coffers at Mar-a-Lago.
#related#But that is what is happening. Just like his opponent on the Democratic side, Trump has no qualms about turning the advantages of public life to private gain, about erasing the line between public service and private enrichment — and even for pennies. Trump has always been concerned, first and foremost and solely, about his own bottom line. Now, he’s simply taken the grift national.
It’s Scampaign 2016, and we’re proving a nation of suckers.
— Ian Tuttle is the Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow at the National Review Institute.
[Editor’s Note: This article has been amended since its initial posting.]