The New York Times reported over the weekend on Donald Trump's 2020 political operation and the brazenly underhanded tactics it employed to swindle its unsuspecting donors. As we discussed yesterday, the tactics and the scope of the scam were breathtaking.
The good news is, the former president took the time to respond to the allegations. The bad news is, the Republican's response failed spectacularly to address the core elements of the story.
To briefly recap, the Times found that Team Trump, facing a financial shortfall, set up a default system for online donors: by adding easily overlooked pre-checked boxes and opaque fine print, the then-president's operation was able to fleece unsuspecting donors for months.
Not surprisingly, banks and credit card companies were soon inundated "with fraud complaints from the president's own supporters about donations they had not intended to make, sometimes for thousands of dollars." Some donors even "canceled their cards" just to make the recurring payments to Trump stop.
While some refunds in national campaigns are common, Trump-Pence 2020 ultimately had to refund $122 million to contributors, which is unheard of: the then-president, the RNC, and their shared campaign accounts "refunded far more money to online donors in the last election cycle than every federal Democratic candidate and committee in the country combined."
It was against this backdrop that Trump issued a 373-word written statement yesterday, responding to the New York Times' revelations. I read it with great interest, because the available evidence seemed so overwhelming. Indeed, since the facts made it seem as if the former president is an unrepentant con man, treating his own supporters like suckers, I was eager to see his proof to the contrary.
The Republican began by describing the reporting as "highly partisan" and "a completely misleading, one-sided attack piece" -- rhetoric that may have made Trump feel better, but did not constitute an actual argument. Eventually, the statement added this:
"In fact, many people were so enthusiastic that they gave over and over, and in certain cases where they would give too much, we would promptly refund their contributions. Our overall dispute rate was less than 1% of total online donations, a very low number."
Perhaps the former president is confused. The problem is not that "enthusiastic" Trump supporters voluntarily "gave over and over." Rather, the problem is that his donors involuntarily "gave over and over" because his campaign was running a scam, relying on pre-checked boxes and opaque disclaimers that were designed to be overlooked by unsuspecting contributors.
If these supporters wanted to give "over and over," the Republican operation wouldn't have found it necessary to rely on tricks and underhanded gimmicks to exploit these donors.
As for the idea that the dispute rate was "a very low number," that isn't true at all. At issue is hundreds of thousands of transactions, far exceeding the totals from other modern presidential campaigns. What's more, the total doesn't include the donors who didn't notice the recurring contributions, or were too embarrassed to contest the charges after their president took advantage of them.
What about the rest of Trump's statement? Oddly enough, the Republican never actually got around to pointing to any specific errors or misstatements in the Times' reporting. In fact, most of the former president's statement peddled unrelated nonsense about his bonkers belief that the 2020 election was "massively rigged and stolen."
In other words, Trump would have the public believe that the revelations about his latest scam are "misleading," and to bolster his point, he wrote a grand total of two sentences -- both of which were wrong.
Given an opportunity to defend his efforts to rip off his own backers, the former president apparently couldn't think of anything persuasive.