The Corner

Politics & Policy

The GOP Tumbles From Its High Horse

Another day, another story about how the Clinton Foundation is hardly the only shady personal foundation in the 2016 presidential race:

Donald Trump spent more than a quarter-million dollars from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits that involved the billionaire’s for-profit businesses, according to interviews and a review of legal documents.

Those cases, which together used $258,000 from Trump’s charity, were among four newly documented expenditures in which Trump may have violated laws against “self-dealing” — which prohibit nonprofit leaders from using charity money to benefit themselves or their businesses.

It looks like Trump used other people’s tax-deductible donations to take care of unpleasant personal expenses:

In one case, from 2007, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club faced $120,000 in unpaid fines from the town of Palm Beach, Fla., resulting from a dispute over the height of a flagpole.

In a settlement, Palm Beach agreed to waive those fines — if Trump’s club made a $100,000 donation to a specific charity for veterans. Instead, Trump sent a check from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a charity funded almost entirely by other people’s money, according to tax records.

In another case, court papers say one of Trump’s golf courses in New York agreed to settle a lawsuit by making a donation to the plaintiff’s chosen charity. A $158,000 donation was made by the Trump Foundation, according to tax records.

In an ordinary race, reporting like this could help derail a campaign, but this is 2016, and partisans on both sides are willing to overlook virtually any sin to beat the other side. From the modern Democratic party, this is nothing new. I vividly remember the lockstep support — including from feminists — for Bill Clinton once he decided to save his presidency from allegations of an affair with an intern. Even the most famous feminists created a standard essentially granting him one free grope, and another writer notoriously offered him sexual favors to thank him for keeping abortion legal. Believe all women? 

The GOP – a party that 25 years before had ultimately united with Democrats to force one of their own, Richard Nixon, from office – acted appalled. Does character even matter anymore? Or is it win at all costs in the “permanent campaign?” 

Well, now the GOP can step off its high horse. It’s just win, baby. Who cares if a politician is corrupt, so long as he’s our corrupt politician? Under this standard, character only counts in intramural disputes (if then). After all, Bill Clinton is a corrupt liar, but he kept abortion legal. Donald Trump is a corrupt liar, but he might build a wall. When character doesn’t matter, an unscrupulous politician can always hold you hostage with policy promises — or merely by saying, “If you think I’m bad, look at the other gal.” 

Trump once famously said that he could shoot somebody on 5th avenue and not lose his core supporters. I now think he’s exactly right. His base would claim he could govern from jail if convicted and the resist impeachment on the grounds that murder wasn’t a “high crime or misdemeanor” in his capacity as president — just in his personal capacity. Similarly, Hillary Clinton could just skip the hacker middleman and email vital state secrets straight to Vladimir Putin’s iPhone, and her base would still crawl over broken glass to vote against Trump. 

On the eve of the 2000 election, the media broke the news that George W. Bush pled guilty to driving under the influence . . . 24 years before election day. Reporters fell all over themselves to amplify the story (which was itself rather hilarious given how much many of them had mocked Republicans for impeaching Bill Clinton for perjury in office), and some observers thought the news was significant enough to perhaps cost Bush his popular vote majority. How quaint. Then, a key issue was the double standard. Now, the issue is no standards at all. That doesn’t seem like progress to me.

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