The RNC’s $2 million “Stop the Madness” anti-impeachment campaign won’t win any truth-in-politics awards, but it marks a new high point in public exposure for one of the Republican Party’s most overlooked assets: its own personal website suffix, .gop.
The primary website for the drive, stopthemadness.gop, uses the .gop suffix operated by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Originally conceived as a safe space for “Republicans and all who identify with the GOP movement” to establish their websites, .gop is one of hundreds of new top-level domains approved in 2014 by internet authorities as alternatives to old familiar suffixes like .com and .org.
“The .gop registry is a technology endeavor dedicated to positioning the Republican Party at the forefront of innovation and advancing Republican principles,” the RSLC writes on its website, describing .gop as “the place where you can find conservative people and ideas on the web.”
Sprinkled among those are some websites that don’t exactly advance Republican principles, such as the satirical “Putin/Trump 2020 campaign” blog at Putin2020.gop and the long-running “asshat.gop,” which consists of nothing but a photo of President Trump.
It turns out you don’t have to be a Republican to register a .gop domain. Some top-level domains have rules and restrictions on who is allowed to use them—to register a domain ending in .scot, for example, you must be a member of the Scottish community. But .gop isn’t one of them. It’s open to anyone willing to pay $20 a year for a domain.
Now, with the GOP’s no quid pro quo website giving the suffix new exposure, more Trump critics may be moving in.
The most recent addition in this vein is Putins.GOP, set up last Friday by 63-year-old network engineer and amateur domain prospector Michael Monsport. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Monsport said he’s been grabbing domains for prospective resale since 1996, when he scored “astronaut.com.” Lately he’s been snarfing up domains critical of Trump, whom he dislikes, but it wasn’t until he saw one of the GOPs anti-impeachment ads that he realized he could be erecting anti-Trump sites in the Republicans’ own internet backyard.
“I register names out of anger, irony, and profit,” Monsport said. “I’ve got all sorts of dot-coms, ‘QueensGrifter,’ ‘TrumpsATraitor.’ When Nancy Pelosi said, ‘All roads lead to Putin,’ nobody registered it. So i did…”
“But I didn’t know .gop was available,” Monsport added. “That they administer the domain yet they didn’t buy up all the potentially problematic ones is really odd to me.”
Despite the initial fanfare in 2014, .gop domains peaked in popularity at about 3,000 registered addresses in September 2015, just before the first round of unrenewed domains dropped out of the system and sent the numbers plummeting. Today there are about 1,200 .gop domains, largely Republican politicians and regional party offices, according to statistics from nTLDstat. (The RSLC declined comment for this article.)
During the 2016 campaign season, the .gop was so neglected that neither the Trump campaign nor the RNC registered DonaldTrump.gop. It was finally picked up by a former Clinton campaign staffer one month before Election Day.
“I was actually surprised it was available,” said Matthew Ortega, a political web consultant. “I just started searching a bunch of terms and after a while I collected a bunch of these.”
Despite drawing middling traffic, Ortega held on to DonaldTrump.gop, and today he redirects incoming visitors to another website he runs cataloging corruption allegations against the Trump administration.
He said he might have grabbed more of the GOP’s online real estate if the $20 registration fee didn’t go to the Republicans. “That’s one of the reasons I haven’t gone hog wild buying the domains,” he said.