The battle is lost. The Supreme Court and the electoral college have spoken. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, so adept at resetting the rules for political advantage, admitted that Donald Trump would not be the next president.
But the money that goes into Trump’s political coffers suggests that defeat will not put the future president into the political shadows.
Trump has been fundraising since the election, quickly bringing in $ 200 million or more because of his false claims that the vote was rigged.
His campaign bombarded his supporters with emails and texts – up to 30 a day – asking for donations to a fight fund to challenge the outcome. But with the elections settled, that’s not where the money is going.
Most of the money goes to Save America, an organization formed as a Steering Political Action Committee (Pac) soon after the election. Leadership Pacs were designed to allow individuals to raise funds to support a preferred candidate, and Trump cannot legally use the proceeds to directly fund a candidacy himself, like another presidential bid in four years.
But Brendan Fischer, campaign finance specialist at the Campaign Legal Center, said Trump’s fundraising was unprecedented and demonstrated unmitigated political ambition.
“I can’t think of any other president who set up a leadership PAC immediately after losing an election and starting to fundraise for it with fury. It’s very unique, ”he said.
“I think this will essentially be the vehicle for Trump’s political operation after the White House.”
Trump raised the money in a flash of appeals for donations to what was billed as an “official election defense fund” without clearly mentioning Save America. An aggressive sales pitch was built around the president’s false claims that the election was rigged – even if one court challenge after another was overturned.
“We need YOUR HELP to DEFEND the integrity of our election,” an email said.
Another email had the subject line: “The recount results were BOGUS. “
The money has poured in, but most of it will go a long way to fight the outcome of an election that is already settled. Some were used to pay off Trump’s campaign debt, and 25 cents of every dollar goes directly to the Republican Party. The remainder goes to Save America.
“We expect there will be well over $ 100 million in the Pac leadership account at this point,” Fischer said. “This is exceptional. That’s a lot of money, way more than any other leadership I think Pac has ever had.
Fischer said it was an indication that Trump was not planning to quietly withdraw from the political scene to write his memoir.
“The creation of his Pac leadership is certainly an indication that Trump plans to remain very active in politics and aims to remain a major political player,” he said.
“Because Executive Pacs are loosely regulated, he could use the funds not only to keep his campaign staff on the payroll, but to reap financial benefits as well. He could use Pac leadership to pay himself a salary, to pay a salary to family members. You can do a lot of things with it. “
Jennifer Victor, associate professor of political science at George Mason University, said the smart move would be for Trump to use the money to fund the election of political loyalists to keep Trumpism alive.
“Is he smart enough as a political operator to use this money to essentially build a broad coalition in which he is the center and the stealer of money that could strengthen his political position?” It’s hard to say because so far his political movement has been so focused on himself, ”she said.
“He should have an interest in building the Republican Party around Trumpism, which has happened naturally in recent years. But to make it a permanent feature of the Republican Party, he would then have to use the political capital that has built up around his name for the benefit of the party, which means giving it to other candidates.
Victor said it created a headache for the Republican leadership if they hoped to get beyond Trump.
“He will not only be a former president and candidate, but a candidate who won the second-highest total of votes of any American candidate, just behind Joe Biden. So he has this huge base of followers. At the same time, he has always challenged democratic standards and the standards of the Republican Party, ”she said.
Then there’s Trump’s stated desire to run for president again in four years.
“Save America cannot be used to support Trump’s campaign, but there are a number of ways it could be used to lay the groundwork for a job candidacy in 2024,” Fischer said.
“Where it will probably be most useful is to fund Trump’s campaign for another candidate. He can potentially pay for rallies in support of another candidate. It can be used to pay for advertisements that appear regardless of the candidate they support. “
This could include funding for a job application by one of their own children. Speculation is already revolving around the possibility of Ivanka Trump running for the US Senate in Florida.
All of this maintains the president’s political profile and influence within the Republican Party, especially since he has shown himself adept at turning other people’s campaign events into de facto Trump rallies.
What Trump cannot use the donations to do is resolve the legal and financial issues he faces when he leaves the White House, which could stand in the way of future political ambitions.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr is leading a criminal investigation into Trump’s business dealings. New York State Attorney General Letitia James is leading a civil investigation after the President’s former lawyer Michael Cohen told Congress Trump inflated the value of his assets to secure bank loans, then had reduced them to reduce taxes.
Investigations were recently expanded to examine consultation fees that may have been paid to the president’s daughter, Ivanka. She responded to the news of the investigation by calling him politically motivated harassment.
Trump loses his protection from criminal prosecution when he leaves office. Although he claims to have the power to forgive himself before leaving the White House, such a ruling would apply only to federal crimes, not charges brought by New York or any other state.
The president also has to deal with huge debt repayments. Trump has personally guaranteed around $ 420 million in debt owed by his companies, which must be repaid in the coming years, according to the New York Times.
Most of these debts are contracted with Deutsche Bank. Reuters last month reported that the bank was trying to sever ties with the president.
The Trump Organization, the president’s umbrella group that is currently overseen by his two sons, owes Deutsche Bank around $ 340 million. The loans, which are against Trump’s properties, begin to mature in two years.