It was the morning of Monday, Aug. 8, when FBI agents showed up at Mar-a-Lago to execute a court-approved search warrant. It was that afternoon when Donald Trump announced to the world what had happened at his business/home.
And it was that evening when the former president’s political operation tried to capitalize on the developments with a fundraising pitch, telling prospective donors he’s facing “political persecution.” (Donors were asked to donate between $45 and $5,000.)
At face value, this might seem counterintuitive. Trump stands accused of illegally taking highly classified national security secrets to a glorified country club, and refusing to give them back. It seems inherently odd for a scandal-plagued former president to effectively tell contributors, “There’s reason to believe that I committed a variety of felonies, so you should definitely give me more of your money.”
But that’s basically what the Republic did — largely because he and his team assumed it would work. As The Washington Post reported, these guys assumed correctly.
Contributions to Trump’s political action committee topped $1 million on at least two days after the Aug. 8 search of his Palm Beach, Fla., estate, according to two people familiar with the figures. The daily hauls jumped from a level of $200,000 to $300,000 that had been typical in recent months, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss nonpublic information.
It’s worth noting for context that Trump’s fundraising machine hasn’t run with its usual efficiency of late. In the first half of 2022, the Republican’s PAC raised $36 million, which is an impressive sum, but it was the lowest haul since he left the White House. Those who wondered whether the former president’s power was starting to weaken saw the drop in fundraising as compelling evidence.
But last week seemed to change the equation. Faced with the possibility of legal accountability, Trump’s followers grabbed their wallets. The result, as the Post put it, was a “cash bonanza.”
In the abstract, this may seem like little more than a curiosity. After all, whether the former president’s PAC is flush with resources or not doesn’t have much day-to-day impact on our politics.
But let’s not lose sight of the perverse set of incentives: If Trump were to “lower the temperature” in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search, donors would likely send him less money. Relatedly, the more Trump lies about his latest scandal, and the more he lashes out wildly at federal law enforcement and the rule of law, the more contributions he receives.
We saw something similar after he lost in 2020: The more Trump embraced the Big Lie, the more his followers filled his coffers.
And so, naturally, he’s thrown caution to the wind, declaring on a nearly daily basis that the “corrupt” FBI “broke into” his home. Yesterday on his Twitter-like platform, the former president even promoted an article that referred to the bureau as “the Fascist Bureau of Investigation.”
The Post’s report added, “Such menacing rhetoric from Trump and other Republicans has drawn criticism and concern that they could spark further violence against federal officials.”
So long as the former president keeps receiving financial rewards for outbursts, there’s little to suggest he cares.