The New York Times reported this past weekend on Donald Trump's 2020 political operation and the brazenly underhanded tactics it employed to swindle its unsuspecting donors. As we've discussed, the tactics and the scope of the scam were breathtaking.
To briefly recap, the Times found that Team Trump 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.
The Republican was presented as a politician who was effectively fleecing his own supporters, and while the former president didn't like the reporting, he also didn't contest any of its specific details.
The original article added that the tools Team Trump relied on are being "exported ... across the Republican Party, presaging a new normal for G.O.P. campaigns." To bolster the point, the New York Times published a follow-up report yesterday:
The political arm of House Republicans is deploying a prechecked box to enroll donors into repeating monthly donations — and using ominous language to warn them of the consequences if they opt out: "If you UNCHECK this box, we will have to tell Trump you're a DEFECTOR."
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which is responsible for electing Republicans to the U.S. House, apparently intends to "increase its volume of recurring donations," and settled on a plan that borrows from the Trump 2020 playbook.
Indeed, just as the former president's operation relied on pre-checked yellow boxes with provocative fine print, the NRCC this week also turned to pre-checked yellow boxes with provocative fine print. The Times' report added, "Those donors who do not proactively uncheck the box will have their credit cards billed or bank accounts deducted for donations every month."
What's amazing is not just the details, but also the context: the revelations about the Trump campaign's ugly fundraising scam should've been deeply embarrassing to both the former president and his party. But now that shame has been rendered irrelevant in many Republican circles, the NRCC has decided to engage in eerily similar tactics.
"We need to know we haven't lost you to the Radical Left," the pre-checked yellow box on the National Republican Congressional Committee's donation page read this week. "If you UNCHECK this box, we will have to tell Trump you're a DEFECTOR & sided with the Dems. CHECK this box and we can win back the House and get Trump to run in 2024."
All of that text is bolded. Below it, in text that isn't bold, the box added, "Make this a monthly recurring donation."
In other words, you could uncheck the pre-checked box and just give to the NRCC once, but if you do, Republican officials will tattle on you to Donald Trump, letting him know you're "a DEFECTOR." What's more, by unchecking the box, the former president won't run again and Republicans won't regain the House majority.
Has the NRCC lost you "to the Radical Left" or not?
Imagine being an official with a major American political party -- ostensibly in an advanced democracy -- and thinking such predatory tactics are acceptable.
This appeal came on the heels of a different recent NRCC fundraising pitch with a similar pre-checked yellow box. "If you want Trump to run for President in 2024, check this box," it read. "If we flip 5 seat and the House RED, Trump says he'll run. Uncheck this box, we lose."
Trump didn't actually say this, of course. The National Republican Congressional Committee simply wants to separate its supporters from their money.
In recent years, many have probably heard the expression about Republicans "fearing their base." But fundraising tactics like these point to something more pernicious: Republicans think their base is made up of suckers to be exploited.