Who Benefits From Trump’s Appearances? Spoiler: Trump.
He’s always counted on other people doing the right thing—like paying their taxes—so there’s no need for him to do the same. Shared sacrifice is for suckers.
Donald Trump is doing Dallas on Sunday, his second appearance at a CPAC conclave since leaving the White House. Only speakers slavishly devoted to Trump are booked, like the governor proud to be called a “female Trump,” South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, Florida sidekick Sen. Rick Scott, and Donald Trump, Jr. who’s become a warm-up act for the old man.
Junior droned on about all the things dear old Dad was supposedly right about: Ukraine, Russia, the election, cancel culture, Hunter Biden (adding a riff on the First Son’s artwork), and a swipe at Dr. Fauci’s shortcomings as a pitcher and a scientist. He ended by declaring that “children is worth fighting for.” That’s as bold as it is grammatical.
Conspicuously absent from the schedule are regulars like Sen. Ted Cruz (“a family obligation”) and Mike Pence. After being left for dead by the boss, the vice president who did his constitutional duty and certified Joe Biden’s win is booed so regularly by the MAGA faithful when he ventures out—at the Freedom & Faith Coalition, throwing out the opening pitch at the minor league Indianapolis Indians' home opener in April—he can’t risk showing up even in this warm bath of conservatism.
Trump himself will close the show with a late Sunday spot that doesn’t interfere with his golf or a chance to crash a wedding at his club. He’ll take the stage right after the announcement of the winner of the presidential straw poll—undoubtedly him—and riff from there, figuratively and literally at our expense.
At the February episode of CPAC in Orlando, he didn’t pretend to give a speech but simply held a rally in their state-of-the-art hall that cost him nothing. CPAC managed everything and travel came out of his $100,000 yearly allowance. Officially, his Secret Service doesn’t provide protection at rallies but they inevitably do, although often more manpower is required to keep order given the threat of violence that follows Trump wherever he goes. The extra security costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. If history is any guide, Trump won’t pay a cent of it.
Trump’s ex-presidency is likely to prove as expensive to taxpayers and his gullible donors as his presidency. His goal is to live his best life as the center of attention but without dipping into principal, or principle. Only chumps do that.
When he does have to pony up, he cheaps out. For a stand-alone rally in Ohio in June designed to punish highly regarded Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzales for voting to impeach him, he went downmarket. No one in the annals of the Lorain Fairgrounds had ever gone so low as to lease only the parking lot, and not the grounds. A committee formed to deal with the unusual request negotiated a price so potentially embarrassing to Trump he insisted on an NDA. MAGA fans might stop underwriting his life if they realize he’s got more important things to do with their donations than book a place with seats.
But just as it’s not the heat but the humidity, it’s not the venue but the security that will kill you and to that expense Trump says “not my problem.” In the village of Wellington adjacent to the fairgrounds, keeping the crowd under control on their way to the parking lot consumed one-third of Wellington’s annual budget for police overtime. When I inquired if Trump would be reimbursing the town, Mayor Hans Schneider quickly said, “No.” It’s early days, how was he so certain? He’d already asked and was informed a check would not be in the mail.
Trump’s a geyser of money, shooting out appeals inspired by one outrage or another, the latest suing for being banned from social media. This week’s action against Facebook and others is like his 60-plus court challenges to the election with a goal of raising money, not setting precedent. In the initial filing, he misinterpreted the First Amendment and filed in friendly Florida rather than as required in federal court in California. Still it’s the perfect Trump combo: a brief and a press conference and, presto, another legal defense fund.
Trump’s grifting nature and need to outsmart the chumps is so deeply ingrained, he’s actually making money off his ex-presidency. Last week, The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold laid out a cache of Secret Service bills obtained by a public records request revealing that Trump pocketed $566.64 per night for his detail to sleep at Bedminster and $680 at Mar a Lago. The startling but incomplete tally to date has taxpayers spending at least $50,000 at his properties on his behalf since Trump moved out of the White House. That’s in six months. Remember that the most traveled president charged the government $2.5 million for lodging over four years in office. Calculate life expectancy, do the math, and weep.
For the whole of his life, Trump has counted on other people doing the right thing—like paying their taxes—so there’s no need for him to do the same. Shared sacrifice is for suckers. His agents will take a bullet for him, even if he’s gouging the government. Cities will cover peacekeeping services when he invades a place for his own gratification knowing he’ll ignore their invoices. As with the vaccine, his followers can skip it to make a political statement because others have gotten theirs. He’s a chronic free-rider.
And such a scofflaw that Albuquerque recently turned his $211,000 debt for standing guard at a campaign rally that injured officers when it turned violent over to a collection agency, hopefully the kind that hounds people. The surrounding county gave up and wrote off its $139,183 unpaid bill as a bad debt. Will the other dozen cities owed close to $2 million turn to 1-800-Deadbeat? Trump’s a one-man Defund the Police movement.
It’s silly to expect Trump to act ex-presidential when he never acted presidential in the first place. When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked him to hold off on his recent Sarasota rally out of concern for the dead and missing in the collapse at Surfside, Trump went full speed ahead anyway. How does a real estate developer and Co-Conspirator #1, of no fixed address other than two country clubs, under multiple criminal investigations, get away with holding subsidized attacks on democracy, elevating Ashli Babbitt into a Jan. 6 martyr, and blaring the theme from Titanic so it’s heard a mile away? The metaphor didn’t escape Trump critic Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who described the former president as the guy on the sinking liner “running around trying to find women’s clothing to get on the first lifeboat.”
At this time in retirement, Jimmy Carter was building houses, Bill Clinton retrieving hostages, George Bush painting portraits, Barack Obama as quiet as a tomb.
It would be some consolation for the attack on the Capitol by “lovely” people if impeachment denied him some of the perks of office. Instead, he’s collecting an annual pension of $219,000, and given an office and staff to arrange his affairs. When he can spare the time out of the limelight, he will be able to, gulp, build a library automatically branded Trump. He can flit from Orlando to Wellington to Sarasota to Dallas sowing hate on our dime.
And as a former president in unimpeached standing, Trump is entitled to one last rally, entirely free of charge: a full state funeral with all the pomp, circumstance and glitz his then unbeating heart desires, lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda and then buried in Arlington Cemetery should he wish, in the company of William Howard Taft and in sight of the eternal flame burning for John Kennedy. The country is big enough to give it to him and he’s small enough to take it.