The politicians who bet big on backing President Trump’s election lies are raking in the benefits.
Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz announced Tuesday that he’d raised $5.3 million in the first three months of this year, a massive sum for a senator who isn’t up for reelection until 2024.
Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley raised $3 million during that same stretch, his team leaked on Monday. That figure likely would have been even higher if he hadn’t paused active fundraising for three weeks in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol; that stretch brought in $600,000.
The senators have three things in common: They’re both eyeing potential presidential bids in four years. They’re Ivy League-trained lawyers who’ve rebranded themselves as anti-elite populists. And most importantly, they led the charge in the Senate to block the certification of President Biden’s victory, a transparent move to curry favor with Trump’s supporters, which they refused to back off even after Trump followers violently stormed the Capitol in attempt to stop the proceedings in their tracks.
Their strong fundraising hauls show their anti-democratic marketing ploys worked.
But their numbers would look even more impressive if freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene hadn’t raised a staggering $3.2 million from 100,000 separate donors during the same period. She certainly doesn’t need the money—she’s in one of the safest seats in the country. But she used the outrage over remarks in which she promoted violence, spouted anti-Semitism, and embraced QAnon, to scream that Democrats were canceling her by removing her from her committee assignments. And it paid off.
Greene was explicit in explaining how she did so well, saying was because she “stood my ground and never wavered in my belief in #AmericaFirst policies” while promising to “never backdown!”
She’s right about the GOP base’s political motivations.
Cruz and Hawley probably wouldn’t love to be lumped in with Greene—she’s a fringe figure even in their eyes, while they see themselves as serious senators with legitimate bids to be president—but their methods aren’t all that different. The three lawmakers are among the GOP’s best practitioners at producing outrage porn, trolling the libs, and bear-hugging President Trump in order to get ahead. Greene’s particularly strong haul shows that there’s almost no limit to how far you can go in the GOP in terms of fundraising—any backlash will only fuel further fundraising.
That’s why it shouldn’t be so surprising that Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s loudest lackeys, has kept fundraising throughout his ongoing sex trafficking investigation, using the attacks against him as fodder for his fundraising emails.
It also explains why the National Republican Senatorial Committee made up a new “Freedom Award” to give to Trump last weekend, and why many GOP senators shrugged when Trump used his speech the next night to call Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a “dumb sonofabitch.” And it explains why the National Republican Congressional Committee posted an impressive fundraising quarter even though a majority of its members and most of House GOP leadership voted against certifying Biden’s election victory even after pro-Trump rioters tore their building apart. Trump has successfully convinced a majority of the Republican Party that Democrats stole the election from him with rampant voter fraud, and they’re looking to back people who fought back hard against this supposed, completely unsubstantiated “steal.”
Firebrands have long been successful fundraisers in the GOP, and in the Trump era that meant embracing the president and his harshest rhetoric. Trump’s own massive fundraising and political success proved this, and down-ticket Republicans were happy to successfully steal his playbook.
The biggest House GOP fundraisers last cycle who weren’t in leadership were Reps. Devin Nunes of California, Dan Crenshaw of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Elise Stefanik of New York. Nunes and Jordan have been two of the House’s loudest Trump boosters, while Stefanik built her national profile by defending Trump against impeachment. Crenshaw also delights in trolling the libs, and while he’s criticized Trump some, most of it happened after the election.
The top Senate GOP fundraiser last cycle was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose pugnacious pro-Trump fealty helped him raise more than $100 million in his reelection battle.
Plenty of lawmakers haven’t reported their quarterly fundraising hauls yet, and being controversial isn’t alone enough to become a fundraising superstar: Colorado GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert raised $700,000 in the past quarter, a strong if not overwhelming amount for a freshman in a marginally competitive district. But her top Democratic opponent brought in $640,000, showing being a lightning rod has its pluses and minuses—it can spur fundraising against you just as easily.
But the fundraising success Cruz, Hawley and Greene achieved in the wake of their embrace of the lie that the 2020 presidential election was rife with voter fraud shows that the GOP base will only reward such behavior. And it clearly illustrates the dangerous political and financial incentives that currently power the Republican Party.