Time to see Trump as a normal politician: grubby, grasping, corrupt and banal

Donald Trump isn't really a Republican. He’s a cheap crook — which, come to think of it, is the same thing

By Lucian K. Truscott IV
Published March 13, 2021 8:00AM (EST)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Let's say you're an American political figure and you recently lost an election. Now you're plotting a comeback. What would you do? Well, you might sit down with the people who ran your campaign last time and go over what happened — states you carried and why you were successful, states you lost and why your strategy didn't seem to pan out. 

Maybe you'd sit down with some of the people who were on your campaign but left for one reason or another, listen to what they think happened, do a little probing into what went on behind the scenes — the kind of stuff you wouldn't have necessarily heard about when it happened. What mistakes did they spot along the way? What might the campaign have done differently? 

Or maybe you'd call up some brand new people and ask them what they think you should do, what your strategy should be if you want to stay in touch with the people who voted for you and hope to inspire new people to get on board. 

Or maybe you could sit down with that well-known, well-respected political consultant who has been right there in the red-hot center of American political life, the man everybody would turn to if they were looking to make a comeback. You know who I'm talking about! Dick Morris!

That Dick Morris, you ask? The top adviser to President Bill Clinton who had to resign from his campaign in the middle of the 1996 Democratic Convention after he was photographed on a hotel balcony in the arms of a prostitute? The one-and-the-same Dick Morris who was described by the prostitute as having a fondness for sucking her toes? The Dick Morris who allowed the prostitute to listen in on his campaign strategy calls with the Big Guy, his candidate, the president of the United States?

Yes, that Dick Morris. That's who Donald Trump met with early this week during his quick trip from Mar-a-Lago to his gilded residence in Trump Tower in Manhattan. The New York Times reported this week that Morris had been "encouraging him to take on the party he once led," because of course the way to stay in the good graces of your party and your voters is to pick a fight with them. 

Trump is so grubby and grasping that he sent a "cease and desist" letter to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, instructing all three of the top Republican political campaign arms to stop using his name and likeness in their fundraising campaigns. He then proceeded to suggest that people should instead donate to his own "Save America PAC at DonaldJTrump.com."

The RNC soon wrote back to Trump, informing him that they had no plans to stop their use of a "public figure" (i.e., him) in their fundraising efforts, which were in any case "core, First Amendment protected speech." 

What do you figure big tough-guy Superman did next, huh? Tell the RNC to stuff it and get in line and stop your whining? That's what "war time president" Donald Trump would have done! But what's this? You say the Man From Mar-a-Lago, the man who when he lost the presidency by seven million votes would simply not be denied, that tough guy just sat there and wimped-out and wrote back to the RNC and just caved? "I fully support the Republican Party and important GOP Committees," Trump bleated, tail firmly fixed between his legs, "but I do not support RINOs and fools, and it is not their right to use my likeness or image to raise funds." 

It wasn't RINOs and fools who were using Trump's name and likeness.  It was the establishment Republican hacks Trump keeps saying he wants to drum out of the party, the very same establishment hacks on whose asses he is now planting placing big, fat juicy kisses.

What do you figure happened between Trump's big "cease and desist" threat and his craven caving?  

Well, one possibility is that he turned into just another political hack and went straight back to what he does best, fleecing rubes out of their hard-earned cash and putting it where it belongs, which is under his control. He doesn't want his followers to donate to them. He wants them to donate to him.

This is what ordinary politicians do, even within their own political parties. Politics is a zero-sum game. Every dollar going to someone else is not going to them, so they set up personal PACs and take every dollar they can get. Trump OK'd a whole bunch of leaks about what his plans were for the political money he's raising. He's going to endorse Republican candidates in the 2022 midterms and bind them to him with campaign cash from his personal PAC. Gee, sounds a little like a political hack, doesn't it? Endorsing schmucks you've never met in your life and couldn't care less about and then spreading some cash around.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Trump's part-time critic and part-time slavering fan-club cheerleader, gave a very peculiar interview to Axios while Trump was meeting with expert political adviser and toe-sucker Dick Morris in New York. "What I'm tryin' to do is just harness the magic," Graham said. "To me, Donald Trump is sort of a cross between Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan and P.T. Barnum." 

After pouring on that bucketload of faint praise, Graham went on to tell Axios what he thought Trump could do for the Republican Party while out of office: "He can make it bigger. He can make it stronger. He can make it more diverse. And he also could destroy it."

Because Trump's enthusiasm for broadening the base of the Republican Party beyond his MAGA-hat wearing hordes is so well known. Or not.

Graham may be a leech-like little suck-ass, but he's always been a clever leech-like little suck-ass. He knows that Trump has always had only one big goal in life and that is to feather his own nest, which is where the "could destroy it" speculation comes from. Trump doesn't care whose backs he walks over on his way to that pile of cash on the other side of the political river, and if they're Republican backs, so be it.

Republicans, currently fumbling around in the wilderness of being out of power for the first time since Barack Obama's first term, are so addicted to Trump they think they have to depend on him to win in the midterms. What they're forgetting is that Trump turned out his voters for himself, not for down-ballot candidates. He spent more time dancing to "YMCA" at his rallies than he did introducing other Republicans. And those he did take the time to campaign for lost, like Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the now-former Republican senators from Georgia. As did the last big candidate he backed in an important Senate race in the South, Roy Moore, defeated by Democrat Doug Jones in a 2017 special election. The Republican Party may look at Trump as their Superman, but so far he's been kryptonite when it comes to endorsements.

Money is the connective tissue in everything Trump has done politically since losing the presidency. In the two months following Nov. 4, he used his campaign of lies that the election had been stolen from him to raise some $255 million. Some of that money went to the RNC, but a huge chunk of it went straight into Trump's PAC and can be used to staff up his post-presidential political activities, including paying for travel and even more fundraising.

We got a glimpse of how Republicans — even "good" Republicans — slip and slime the money they raise with the internecine warfare that came to light last week in the Lincoln Project. That group of anti-Trump do-gooders managed to raise at least $87 million during their campaign to unseat Trump last year. A third of that, $27 million, was cycled through payments to a "consulting firm" owned by one of the project's founders. At least some of that money was used to pay salaries and other expenses of the project's other founders.

You can expect Trump to do the same thing. Look for a similar roundelay with the funds raised by Trump's PAC, which can be used to pay salaries to his family members, if he chooses, or to pay consultants friendly to Trump and his family, not to mention pay for travel, hotels, five-star meals and all the rest of it. I'll bet Trump has already set up a political office at Mar-a-Lago and is paying himself exorbitant "rent" from his PAC money for the space, the way he charged the Secret Service "rent" at Mar-a-Lago and his golf courses as president.

Trump didn't drain the swamp. He filled it up and fleeced it. This is what ordinary, corrupt, greedy politicians do. They come up with ways to use the business of politics to fill their own pockets. Trump was never a good businessman. He wasn't a good politician either. He was always just a cheap crook like the rest of them. 


Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives on the East End of Long Island and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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Commentary Dick Morris Donald Trump Editor's Picks Elections Lindsey Graham Republicans Trump Corruption