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Trump cranks up false, inflammatory messages to rake in campaign cash

The fundraising pitch from Donald Trump was neither accurate nor subtle.

It read: “1 MONTH UNTIL ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE! THEY WANT TO SENTENCE ME TO DEATH.”

The message blasted out to his supporters was a reference to the former president’s sentencing scheduled for July 11, when he faces fines or possible jail time after being convicted on 34 charges of business fraud in connection with hush money paid to an adult-film star. A death sentence is not under consideration in the case. Neither is a “GUILLOTINE,” as another fundraising pitch suggested last week.

The incendiary emails are part of a concerted strategy that has allowed the campaign to erase a financial lead that President Biden’s campaign had opened up in recent months, according to people close to the former president who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak for the campaign. But experts in small-dollar fundraising say the solicitations are aggressive even by the standards of Trump’s frequently hyperbolic and inflammatory language.

“I think those are clearly an escalation over and above some incredibly heated rhetoric and some irresponsible rhetoric we’ve seen over time,” said Matthew Hindman, a professor at George Washington University who studies digital emails. “The fact that those messages continue to be sent out tell us about something. The rhetoric has been driven by user response and user donations. If this extreme rhetoric continues to generate funds, it’s going to be rewarded with an even more extreme response next time.”

The Biden campaign condemned the messages as laying the groundwork for more violence. “Convicted felon Donald Trump is so obsessed with his own election loss that he’s become unhinged,” spokeswoman Sarafina Chitika said. “The American people have had enough of Trump’s dangerous rhetoric.”

Campaign finance records filed Thursday showed the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and an allied super PAC raised $171 million in May. The surge left Trump and the RNC with more cash on hand than Biden and the Democratic National Committee, the reports showed.

The campaign claimed that it raised $53 million online in the 24 hours after the verdict, but verifying those totals was impossible Thursday because WinRed — the platform that many small donors use to contribute to Republican campaigns — will not file its Federal Election Commission report for this period until July.

Trump has been on an aggressive fundraising tour in recent weeks, asking billionaires and some of the party’s top donors to donate millions of dollars while promising to enact favorable industry policies on taxes, oil industry mergers, environmental regulation and other issues.

Aides are planning an aggressive push around the sentencing, advisers said, betting his supporters will be especially motivated by a potential prison sentence.

“The driving force behind President Trump’s record-breaking fundraising success is the American people being fed up with Joe Biden’s sky-high cost of living, open border policy, and weak foreign policy that has created chaos and war all over the world,” said Karoline Leavitt, a spokeswoman for the campaign.

One person with knowledge of the pitches said donations increase any time Trump seems to be under attack or argues that he is being treated unfairly. That’s particularly true when he is generating wall-to-wall news coverage during an event like the hush money trial in New York.

Some recent pitches have raised eyebrows even among longtime Trump observers and advisers. Emails falsely claimed that the FBI wanted to shoot Trump during a court-authorized search of his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida for classified documents he allegedly unlawfully retained after leaving office. “Put Biden on Trial,” one read. “Darkest day in American history!” another read.

Trump’s warning of “ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!” resembles his tweet calling for his supporters to come to a rally Jan. 6, 2021 — “Be there, will be wild!” — that helped inspire violent extremist groups to buy weapons and make attack plans. Former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon said on the eve of the rally that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” and the rally turned into a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol.

After the election in 2020, Trump and his campaign raised more than $100 million on false claims that the election was stolen. Those emails and fundraising pitches came under scrutiny by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith, who pursued an investigation into whether anyone committed wire fraud by raising money off false election claims, according to people with knowledge of the investigation. No one has been charged related to the inquiry, but multiple witnesses were asked about who drafted fundraising language and whether anyone raised concerns about the claims being false at the time.

More recently, Trump has used terms such as “bedlam” or a “bloodbath” to describe possible outcomes if he loses the November election. “If we don’t win, you know, it depends,” he said when asked directly about the possibility of violence in an April interview with Time magazine.

Trump — who faces criminal charges in three other cases beyond the New York hush money case — has made resisting his prosecutions a core campaign theme, repeatedly saying he would take revenge on his political opponents and aligning himself with supporters prosecuted for participating the Jan. 6 attack. Trump’s mug shot from a Georgia state court indictment accusing him of trying to overturn the 2020 election has become the dominant symbol of his campaign, spawning merchandise from T-shirts to hats and magnets to trading cards.

Some of his advisers have hoped that he would curb using language about seeking “retribution” in a second term, noting that several friendly interviewers have given him chances to do so. But Trump has repeatedly declined opportunities to rule out prosecuting his political opponents.

When the New York jury convicted Trump in May, his campaign immediately responded with a fundraising solicitation calling him a “political prisoner,” adopting the term he has used to glorify Jan. 6 defendants. Advisers describe watching the donations roll in and growing frustrated after the WinRed committee’s website briefly stopped functioning.

“BREAKING FROM TRUMP: JUSTICE IS DEAD IN AMERICA!” one of the emails read. “Their sick & twisted goal is simple: Pervert the justice system against me so much, that proud supporters like YOU will SPIT when you hear my name. NOW IT’S TIME FOR ME & YOU TO SHOVE IT BACK IN THEIR CORRUPT FACES!”

The campaign sent out about 300 fundraising pitches during the trial, many of them with false and misleading claims. The spike in fundraising marked a reversal after the campaign struggled for much of 2022 and 2023 to raise money online, with some Republican consultants saying donors had been asked for too much, too often by Trump.

“Rhetorical gimmicks like this poison the well for every other Republican trying to raise money online,” one GOP consultant said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “It burns out small-dollar donors. The Trump campaign is printing money on this, but when you’re already talking about the death penalty in June, what are you going to say in October?”

Hindman said the campaign is unlikely to dial back its rhetoric as long as the money was flowing. On a recent afternoon at Mar-a-Lago, Trump gave two wrestling stars signed hats and photos of his mug shot.

One of the wrestlers, podcaster Logan Paul, laughed and called him a “gangster.”

“No way! No way!” Paul said, holding up the mug shot.

“Isn’t it crazy, though?” Trump responded. “And it sells.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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