While Trump gears up for a possible 2024 bid, he has some clear vulnerabilities as a general election candidate. Not only have the Jan. 6 Committee hearings damaged his reputation, especially with independent voters who are key in general elections, but those hearings appear to have threatened a prime source of Trump support: Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, including the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal and, most important, Fox News. Fox News has been a central pillar of the Trump machine; if it were to turn against him, it would put the viability of the machine at risk.
If Fox break its ties to Trump, the network would be likely to seek out another candidate as the conservative standard-bearer — with DeSantis a front-runner, although the competition for the Fox imprimatur would be intense.
Trump is the subject of a wide array of lawsuits and of a host of criminal and civil investigations. The Washington Post reported on July 30 that:
Trump is facing historic legal and legislative scrutiny for a former president, under investigation by U.S. lawmakers, local district attorneys, a state attorney general and the Justice Department. Authorities are looking into Trump and his family business for a medley of possible wrongdoing, including his actions leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol and how he valued his various assets for loan and tax purposes.
The filing of formal criminal charges against Trump, much less a conviction, would have a major impact on his prospects as a candidate.
At the same time, it would be a fundamental mistake to underestimate Trump’s prospects. In a Wall Street Journal column last week, Karl Rove described the amount of money awaiting Trump should he decide to run for a second term:
The former president controls four political-action committees — Save America; Make America Great Again, Again! Inc.: Trump Make America Great Again PAC; and Make America Great Again Action. The PACs’ cash on hand as of June 30 came, respectively, to $103.1 million, $10.3 million, $7.3 million and $700,000, giving Mr. Trump more than $121 million at his disposal.
Fred Wertheimer, founder and president of Democracy 21, a campaign-finance reform advocacy group, wrote in an email responding to my inquiry that Trump cannot directly transfer this money into a Trump for President 2024 committee,
But he can arrange the money in a way that the money will be spent only on his campaign. Trump can consolidate all his PAC funds into one super PAC, which is informally known as a single-candidate super PAC. The super PAC must make expenditures ‘independent’ of the candidate it supports and it makes all of its campaign expenditures to support one candidate, in this case Trump. But everyone gets around the ‘independence’ requirement by having close political associates control the single-candidate super PAC. It’s a wink and a nod situation.
In addition to the political action committees cited above, the network of fund-raising organizations and tax-exempt advocacy groups at Trump’s disposal include the America First Policy Institute, The Conservative Partnership Institute, America First Legal, American Moment, the Center for Renewing America and the Claremont Institute, Save America JFC joint fund-raising committee, Save America leadership PAC, Trump Victory, and Make America Great Again Policies Inc.
Tracking the flow of money to and from these organizations is exceptionally difficult because the organizations continuously transfer money between themselves. For example, in the 2019-2020 election cycle, America First Action, a SuperPAC, reported contributions of just over $20 million from America First Policies, Inc., a nonprofit charitable organization categorized as a 501c4 under IRS rules, according to the Federal Election Commission. During the same period, America First Action, the SuperPAC, gave America First Policies $2.04 million to cover the cost of “in-kind payroll/offices expenses.”
Trump has a vast array of 501c3 and 501c4 nonprofit tax-exempt advocacy groups that serve multiple purposes. They perform what Peter Singer, a senior fellow at New America, describes as a “shadow government” function, “filled with people who either have been or want to be in government — or both,” a way station for prospective political appointees. These advocacy groups, Singer continued, can “set a political party’s agenda,” giving a 2025 Trump administration a “jump-start.”