Trump Campaign Looks Like a Defense Fund

From a Wall Street Journal column by Karl Rove headlined “Trump Campaign Looks Like a Defense Fund”:

We need a big scorecard to keep track of Donald Trump’s legal perils.

On Tuesday a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Trump for conspiring to defraud the U.S., conspiring and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiring to thwart Americans’ civil right to have their votes counted.

Mr. Trump was already under indictment on 40 counts for allegedly removing classified documents from the White House when he left office, mishandling them when he was no longer president, and obstructing federal authorities after they subpoenaed him for their return.

In March, Mr. Trump was indicted on dubious charges in Manhattan for an alleged campaign-finance violation that hid a $130,000 hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels while he was running for president in 2016.

He also faces another defamation lawsuit by E. Jean Carroll asking for $10 million in damages. All this after he was found liable earlier this year for sexually abusing and defaming Ms. Carroll, for which the jury awarded her $5 million. Mr. Trump may also be indicted in Georgia for attempting to overturn that state’s 2020 election results.

Mr. Trump has denied wrongdoing in each case. But if convicted on these serious charges, the former president would, absent a pardon, likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

Mr. Trump is also running to be America’s next president, which means he has serious money coming in from supporters. And his campaign fund is starting to look more like a legal defense fund. Monday’s Federal Election Commission fundraising reports show Mr. Trump has spent more money this year on lawyers than on campaigning. Politico found that his joint fundraising committee took in $53.8 million from Jan. 1 to June 30 but has spent $57 million, supplementing with cash on hand it raised last year. Of that spending, $21.6 million went to lawyers. That’s more than Team Trump spent on attorneys for all of 2021 and 2022 combined, when they put only $16 million into legal expenses.

In addition, it cost Mr. Trump’s campaign $17 million to raise that nearly $54 million. That leaves about $18.4 million for everything else—advertising, staff, travel, rallies and organization. A case can be made that Team Trump needs less of some of those things—especially television—than other candidates. Still, he’s increasingly diverting his campaigning cash to lawyers. Mr. Trump’s legal bills will grow astronomically as multiple trials approach. It’s not clear he can fund his campaign and pay his lawyers, especially in a general election.

On Monday, Mr. Trump asked donors to help fund a “massive vote-gathering operation to take on Crooked Joe in 2024.” On Tuesday his campaign appealed for money to help push a “new ad exposing the Biden Administration’s corruption.” Will that get-out-the-vote effort actually be funded? Is that ad really being run enough to have an impact? It could well be that the money raised will go to Mr. Trump’s attorneys.

Either a rising concern about these big outlays to lawyers or a growing sense among donors that Mr. Trump’s legal troubles are, well, troubling, seems to be taking a monetary toll. Politico found that Mr. Trump raised nearly $4 million from about 80,000 donors on April 4, the day he pleaded not guilty to campaign-finance charges on the Stormy Daniels hush money. By comparison, he received only $1.3 million from roughly 35,000 donors on June 13, when he pleaded not guilty to more-serious charges over allegedly mishandling classified documents after leaving office.

This suggests that some Republicans are asking why a man who has made $1 billion—1,000 millions—since he left the White House can’t pay his own lawyers, especially since the indictments he’s fighting have little to do with this campaign or his legal responsibilities as president.

Facing these multiple-front legal battles, Mr. Trump might not have enough campaign cash for the primaries, let alone a highly contested general election. His fundraising efforts probably aren’t helped by his attacks on Republican donors to other GOP candidates, whom he ridicules as “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” “RINOs”—Republicans in name only—and “traitors.” Some are unlikely to contribute if he’s the GOP nominee.

Mr. Trump’s fundraising problems are mitigated (for now) in the nomination contest by his almost 36-point lead over his closest GOP challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in the RealClearPolitics average. That’s an astonishing gap.

On the other hand, we’ve never had a major-party candidate campaign free on bail in four states, as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put it. This is the strangest election imaginable. The Republican frontrunner has a record polling lead and an unprecedented legal situation that will only get worse. No one really knows how this will play out. We’re in a political alternative universe.

Karl Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads and is author of “The Triumph of William McKinley”

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