Pro-Trump Group Is M.I.A.—Just When He Needs It Most
They were supposed to rally Trump’s base and help push his agenda. But in these early, early days of the administration, they’re nowhere to be found.
In the days immediately after Donald Trump’s surprising electoral win, his aides began to publicly express interest in creating a political operation outside of the White House that would help keep his grassroots support alive. Such an outfit could help push his agenda—and potentially help him win re-election in the future.
Two and a half months later, on Jan. 30, six campaign aides who previously worked for President Donald Trump announced the start of that nonprofit group, calling it “America First Policies.”
But so far in these crowded opening weeks of the Trump administration, America First doesn’t appear to be all that active. Its first major potential funder walked away from the project. It has a vague website with little information. If it has concrete plans to support Trump, the founders are keeping them rather close—at least for now. Could the situation change? On a dime. But The Daily Beast spoke with four sources in Trump’s orbit. Not one of them seemed to know exactly what the group is up to.
Setting up these independent political groups is not easy. An outfit created from the remnants of the Bernie Sanders campaign has run into headwinds; Organizing for America, the group revived from the Obama re-election effort, was recently called “grade A bullshit” by one Democratic leader.
Still, it’s an unfortunate turn for Trump, who could use the support. His approval ratings have gone as low as 40 percent, depending on the polling outfit. His national security adviser Michael Flynn had to resign after three and a half weeks on the job. His choice for labor secretary had to step down, as have a number of less visible picks. The rollout of an executive order temporarily banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries was so badly botched, it has essentially been withdrawn; a second draft is due later this week. And then there are the steady stream of leaks portraying the White House as ill-prepared and poorly managed.
America First Policies includes Brad Parscale, who worked on digital and data enterprises for the campaign; Rick Gates, a previous deputy campaign manager; Katrina Pierson, a previous spokesperson; David Bossie, another previous deputy campaign manager; and Nick Ayers, a previous adviser to Vice President Mike Pence.
It’s early, of course; the group could become a powerhouse as the Trump administration settles in. But in the three months since Trump aides began discussing such an independent political group, there have been no additional details about the functioning of the nonprofit or its plans for the future.
Reached for comment about the nonprofit by phone, Parscale told The Daily Beast that he was not taking questions about the group’s activities. He referred The Daily Beast to Pierson and Gates, both of whom have not responded to multiple emails and texts requesting comments.
Multiple sources close to the Trump campaign and familiar with the creation of the nonprofit told The Daily Beast that similarly, they had no idea what was going on with “America First Policies.”
“You got [Nick] Ayers, you got Brad [Parscale], [David] Bossie, Rick [Gates] and Katrina [Pierson],” one former Trump campaign source told The Daily Beast. “But I don’t know what they’re doing.”
“The problem is that the president has been in office for 31 days and these guys have done nothing to support the president’s campaign,” another source told The Daily Beast.
At the start of the nonprofit, there were conversations about Republican super-donor Rebekah Mercer helping fund the endeavor, according to three high-ranking former officials in the Trump campaign. But things quickly fell apart after she began to feud with Parscale.
These officials contended that Parscale, whose digital advertising firm made some $90 million during the course of the campaign, was paid too much for his work.
During a meeting in Trump Tower in December, Mercer allegedly asked Parscale for financial details about the money his firm had earned during the campaign. She was reticent to dive headfirst into the new project without more knowledge of Parscale’s large financial haul for his previous work.
“She asked for his tax return, and he said ‘fuck you’ and she said ‘fuck you we’re done,’ said one source, describing the meeting. “Mercer won’t have anything to do with Parscale.”
Mercer did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast.
“It was a disaster of a meeting and Bekah walked out and she took her contributors with her,” the source continued.
Now it is unclear where the group is getting its money—or if they are receiving contributions at all.
“I haven’t seen any evidence of any work that they’re doing or any fundraising they’re doing,” a previous Trump campaign official told The Daily Beast.
It is unclear whether President Trump is aware of the makeup of the nonprofit but during the campaign at least, he was no fan of Rick Gates, multiple sources told The Daily Beast.
“Trump had ordered Bossie to fire Gates about six times,” one source told The Daily Beast.
There were a number of reasons as to why Trump reportedly wanted Gates out, who joined the campaign alongside former campaign manager Paul Manafort in the summer of 2016. A Washington Post story from June 2016 detailing a company called Left Hand Enterprises LLC, caught Trump’s attention according to sources. The report detailed how the Trump campaign had quickly cut $730,637 worth of checks to the newly-formed LLC over a five day period in May 2016. The payments were initially intended for a direct-mail campaign, specifically in Nebraska and Indiana.
Once it became clear that the two states were no longer competitive, the mail campaign was axed and it remains unclear as to where the money went after the fact.
As for America First Policies’ other members, they are not without controversy either.
Pierson, a previous Tea Party activist, who became a prominent television face for Trump’s campaign often made inconceivable claims on air including that President Obama had started the war in Afghanistan and that Hillary Clinton suffered from the medical disorder dysphasia.
Bossie joined the Trump campaign in September of 2016 and had spent years previously investigating the Clintons including the infamous Whitewater real-estate affair. He left Citizens United to join the campaign after the group’s involvement in a historic Supreme Court ruling that ended a number of restrictions on political spending for corporations.
But it was Parscale who was making the most money during the campaign—and caused the most unease for America First afterward.
According to a former campaign official, “people were very concerned,” with how much Parscale was making throughout his time with the Trump campaign. His web firm, Giles-Parscale, received $11 million in August and $8.3 million in July of 2016 alone.
The White House has not responded to a request for comment about America First Policies.
But its future success is uncertain at the moment.
As one source told The Daily Beast, “No major donor is going to give them money.”