A new line of inquiry emerged during the House Select Committee’s second January 6th hearing on Monday: did Donald Trump use his Big Lie to swindle his small-dollar donor base out of hundreds of millions?
The answer is not so simple.
In the 18 months since Mr. Trump left office, one question has dominated conversation around his repeated claims of voter fraud. Is he an actual charlatan, or simply very stupid?
Because if Donald Trump truly believes the election was stolen, then he’s not a charlatan—he’s just the victim of disingenuous figures in his own political orbit using his gullibility for their personal gain.
Figures like Rudy Giuliani, who Committee Vice-Chair Liz Cheney claimed in her opening statement Monday had advised the Former President on election night from the bottom of a whiskey bottle.
Innocent by Virtue of Stupidity
As plausible as it is that the Former President has lost touch with reality, let’s remember that Trump has relied on the narrative that his stupidity absolves him of criminal intent for years. For example, remember that “perfect phone call” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky? Or how it wasn’t collusion with Russia because “his people were too incompetent to organize a conspiracy”? Or how his hush money payments to Stormy Daniels didn’t qualify as campaign finance violations because, well, he didn’t understand campaign finance law?
And it’s this narrative that Trump’s handlers are relying on now. He really believes the election was rigged and stolen, they say. So his ignoring absolutely all evidence to the contrary, including ignoring the advice of his most senior advisors, is justifiable. Which means it’s not wrong of him to use it in fundraising material, because he really believed that his ‘Stop The Steal’ campaign was stopping the steal. Right?
Except, we know he didn’t.
A grift by another name is still a fraud…
How do we know this? Well…
Representative Zoe Lofgren, of California, wrapped up Monday’s Select Committee hearing “by laying out how Mr. Trump’s campaign, a related political action committee and his allies raised $250 million by claiming they were fighting widespread election fraud at a time when they knew there was none.”
“Throughout the committee’s investigation, we found evidence that the Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors as to where their funds would go and what they would be used for, so not only was there the big lie, there was the big rip-off,” Ms. Lofgren said. “Donors deserve to know where their funds are really going. They deserve better than what President Trump and his team did.”
As noted in the above-linked article from the New York Times, the Trump campaign raised nearly 250 million dollars in the name of an ‘Election Defense Fund’ that did not exist. “In reality, the money ended up being used for a range of other purposes, including a $1 million donation to the personal foundation of Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and $204,857 to Trump hotels, the committee said.”
Following Monday’s hearing it was revealed that Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News host (who also just happens to be Donald Trump Jr.’s fiancé and worked on Trump’s 2020 campaign), was paid $400 a second for her 2.5 minute speech at the Jan. 6 Stop the Steal rally.
But, wait. If Trump really believed that the election was rigged and stolen—as is required for the premise that his election fraud claims are evidence of anything other than criminality—then why would he use the funds he raised to Stop the Steal for anything other than stopping the steal?
That is, if it wasn’t all a grift, then why does it walk, talk, and act like a really big fraud?