What Trump's Unhinged Fundraising Emails Say About His Campaign
His messages started out optimistic, but went outright apocalyptic as the campaign wore on.
Trump at a Michigan rally in October. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
I don't remember exactly why I signed up for Donald Trump's campaign emails, but since January, his fundraising notices have been landing in my inbox like notes from an annoyingly insistent pen pal. In those months, I've seen Trump's email trajectory course go from confident and arrogant to pleading for donations in exchange for such perks as the "Donald Trump Gold Card" to, finally, the desperation and paranoia of a man possessed by conspiracy theories.
Back in February, Trump was killing it with one-liners during the Republican primary debates; he had a huge lead over the other candidates, who were drying up and blowing away one by one. Trump's email tone, if you can believe it, was almost humble and extremely positive—carving out a JFK-esque better tomorrow–style message:
During the primary season, as it became apparent that Trump might actually win, people were outraged by his bizarre comments about, for instance, torture. In his emails, though, Trump was more even-keeled. "I am just a messenger and it's clear that our voices are being heard," he wrote to his supporters.
Trump also boasted that since he was self-funding his campaign he couldn't be bought and would not bow to the special interest groups and donors:
By the end of June, though, the press was reporting that the Trump campaign was dangerously low on cash. All of a sudden, the Trump of the emails went from being a man on an amazing journey to being a man on an amazing journey who wanted you to pay for it:
Soon, the whole self-funding thing was forgotten. Trump is first and foremost a salesman, and soon his fundraising efforts—the MOST SUCCESSFUL fundraising in HISTORY, he reminded me—had baroque bells and whistles attached. In early August, I was being asked to become an Executive Member of his campaign with a Trump campaign Gold Card, which could be mine for a one-time induction fee of $100. Trump didn't really specify what perks you'd get with a Trump Gold Card—but I assume the card would confirm I hated ISIS and Hillary Clinton:
At the same time, he was asking me to get involved in other ways—in an August 4 email whose purpose was seemingly to remind his fans what they liked about him, he asked us to vote on the first thing he should do the minute he took office. Two of the options were "Defeat ISIS" or "Build the Wall"—as if he would just turn on a switch marked "Defeat ISIS" that Obama had been ignoring:
As August wore on, Trump got rid of Paul Manafort (the second campaign manager to get the boot) and flirted with professionalism as a candidate. In his emails, he vowed not to get derailed by nasty attacks that those disrespectful Democrats would surely pull:
Oh, and Gold Cards were cheaper now:
(This Gold Card would be replaced by the Trump Black Card in October. Trump didn't explain what the difference was between the Trump Gold Card and the Trump Black Card—but he implied that the Trump Black Card was of a higher status than the Trump Gold Card, which would make me really angry if I already invested in a goddamn Trump Gold Card. Anyway.)
Oh, and I was also offered the chance to win a coffee with Ivanka Trump at Trump Tower, or lunch with Eric Trump. This is the sort of literal selling of access that is OK to do, I guess:
Then came the debates, which Trump prepared for by asking me to take a "Trump Debate Preparation Survey." One of the questions was, "Should I refer to Clinton asCrooked Hillary during the debates?"
Speaking of the debates, you remember how Trump's performances in those events were bizarre and embarrassing? Wrong! Trump won all three debates, and if you heard otherwise, it was because the entire Media Establishment was against him:
When the media began reporting on the increasingly awful allegations of sexual harassment and even assault, Trump's emails finally ditched that hopeful tone altogether. The "Clinton Cartel," Trump wrote in mid-October, "is going to bombard you with the nastiest lies and attacks you've ever seen. And the 24/7 media machine will back up her attacks," and the "media is Crooked Hillary's #1 cheerleader, so I've never counted on them to be fair or balanced to cover my vision to make American great again."
This marked the final turn in Trump's emails. First he had been encouraging them to imagine an America made great again. Then he was beseeching them for money to fund a fight against the machine. Now he's rallying his supporters like it were the coming of the apocalypse. This is from October 21:
As Election Day approaches, Trump's position seems increasingly desperate—one anonymous staffer who spoke to New York magazine compared the vibe to Hitler in the bunker—but Trump is undeterred, at least in his emails. The last one he sent to me offered me the chance to win a ticket to his election-night victory party in New York. "It's going to be a HUGE night," Trump wrote. "The party of the year, because it'll be a party celebrating America's future and the American people rising up to take back our country."
He's back to being an optimist. We'll see what he emails out on November 9.
Follow Harmon Leon on Twitter.