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Trump could be liberalism’s greatest gift ever — here’s why

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- Commentary

Since the day he was elected, President Donald J. Trump has generated more revenue for liberal nonprofit, media and political institutions than perhaps any other U.S. president in modern times. These institutions owe their biggest foe a huge debt, as nearly by himself, President Trump has clarified their purpose, refreshed their brands and mobilized their consumers.

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Having stripped them of their power, he has essentially gifted these institutions with more cash than they have ever had. Liberal institutions now know what their conservative brethren knew from their creation: in politics, victims can make more money.

This Trump effect on liberal institutions has been clear in three key areas: legal rights, media companies and electoral politics. For years, these institutions were influential but not profitable. Under Trump, they are historically profitable, though much less influential.

Regarding legal rights, Donald Trump has called for police to “file any charges you want” against protestors, urged the FBI chief to jail journalists and is now moving to target legal U.S. immigrants, which has enraged and mobilized the entire legal rights community. But no legal rights institution owes a greater debt to Donald Trump than the last one you would think of, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU enjoys a clear brand and a small fiscal footprint, generally raising $4 million per year in online donations. However, immediately after Trump’s election, the ACLU reaped the most donations in its 100-year history. It received over $15 million from 241,480 donors, with almost half of it ($7.2 million) coming in the five days after November 8th. The ACLU called it “unprecedented in our history,” noting that in the five days after the 2012 presidential election, they received $27,806. In other words, those five days after Donald Trump’s election netted the ACLU nearly 26,000 times more money than the five days after the election of Barack Obama, the constitutional law scholar.

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That was before Donald Trump took office. On Friday January 27, 2017, seven days after taking office, he signed a Presidential Executive Order often referred to as the Muslim immigration ban. That was on a Friday. That weekend alone, the ACLU received $24.1 million from 356,306 people in online donations, six times its annual online fundraising target. An ACLU spokeswoman had a one-word reaction: “Wow.” She could have added four more: “Thank you, President Trump.”

Despite declaring them “the enemy of the people,” “dishonest,” “the lowest form of life” and “scum,” Donald Trump loves the media, and he has given media companies what they long for: cold, hard cash. In the fall of 2016, Les Moonves, the now #MeToo impugned chief executive officer of CBS Corporation, said out loud about Trump what every media company was thinking: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Two years ago, many media companies feared bankruptcy and irrelevance. In 2006, total newspaper ad revenues were $49 billion: by 2016, it had fallen to $18 billion. Two years later, many vulnerable media companies are now setting records for fiscal performance.

Donald Trump’s pet name for America’s most prestigious newspaper is “the failing New York Times.” Before his election, the Times might have lived down to that nickname. The print journalism business model was in crisis. The Times’ balance sheet was so fragile that, following the 2008 financial crisis, the Times requested a $250 million loan from its largest shareholder and undertook a $225 million sale and leaseback of its brand-new Manhattan headquarters.

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Since Trump’s election, however, the Gray Lady’s hair has turned quite gold with grief. In the 16 days after the 2016 election, 132,000 people bought new subscriptions. On July 27, 2017, the Times had more online and paper subscriptions (3.3 million) than ever before. It now enjoys over 2.2 million digital subscriptions; its podcast, The Daily, is downloaded 500,000 times a day; and its monthly page views are approximately 1.5 billion. All sources of revenue — advertising, subscriptions and sponsored content — climbed nine percent in Q2 2017 compared to the prior year. Operating profit rose from $9.1 million in Q2 2016 to $27.7 million in Q2 2017. Adjusted operating profit also surged, going from $54.5 million in Q2 2016 to $67.1 million in Q2 2017. At that time, its stock was trading at a nine-year high, with a market capitalization of roughly $3.2 billion. The Times’ D.C. Bureau Chief Elisabeth Bumiller explained: “Trump has been very good for the ‘failing New York Times’”.

Then there’s CNN. Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked CNN as “fake news” and “fraud news” and said that “Your organization is terrible,” throwing CNN’s White House Correspondent (and possibly Trump’s least favorite journalist) Jim Acosta out of the Oval Office and having Acosta heckled at his rally (resulting in death threats). Before 2016, CNN earned more revenue from being included in cable TV packages than from advertising and faced an existential fiscal crisis from cord cutters giving up on cable. Then came Trump. Ironically, CNN was the first major news outlet to provide the Trump campaign constant lavish coverage, which paid immediate dividends. In 2016, CNN’s average daytime audience climbed over 50 percent and its prime time audience 70 percent. That year, CNN made almost $1 billion ($300 million from the digital side) during the most profitable year in its history. In Q1 2018, CNN saw its advertising revenue rise 32 percent year-over-year, while advertising revenue on cable news grew 25 percent overall. In short, CNN’s turnaround started with Trump and might end without him.

MSNBC has also reaped extraordinary benefits from President Trump and opposing him relentlessly. Donald Trump insists that NBC/MSNBC is driven by “Trump hate” and dismisses MSNBC anchors “crazy” Joe Scarborough and “dumb as a rock” Mika Brzezinski. Primarily because of Trump, MSNBC has just enjoyed the best results in its history in Q1 2018. It was their best quarter ever in primetime, with almost 1.9 million viewers, up 30 percent from Q1 2017, and was the second most watched cable news network in prime time after Fox News. “The Rachel Maddow Show” was the highest rated show on cable news among adults 25-54, with 664,000 demo viewers representing MSNBC’s largest quarterly delivery ever.

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Finally, there is the Democratic Party. After Hillary Clinton lost the election Donald Trump expected to lose, the Democratic Party confronted the darkest of scenarios: unified Republican control of the White House and Congress, the loss of a Supreme Court seat, a schism between the Clinton-Sanders wings of the party and a historically low number of state legislative seats. Defeated, in debt and riven internally, the Democrats were in despair.

Then Donald Trump revived the Democratic Party. President Trump has turbocharged the political gender gap, almost single-handedly motivating a record number of women to run for office, primarily as Democrats. Over 36,000 women contacted Emily’s List about running for office in 2018, compared to 920 in 2016. In the upcoming 2018 elections, 476 women (356 Democrats, 120 Republicans) ran for the U.S. House of Representatives (a new record, up from 298 in 2012), and a record 185 women are now their party’s nominees (143 D, 42 R). For the U.S. Senate, 54 women (31 D, 21 R) ran in 2018 (another record, up from 40 in 2016), and 62 women (41 D, 21 R) ran for governor (another record, up from 34 in 1994).

Donald Trump has also become the Democrats’ greatest fundraiser. Women’s donations to federal candidates in 2018 are up 182 percent from 2016, with women now comprising 46 percent of all donors. June 2018 was the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s best month of the 2018 election cycle, raising $15.2 million, having broken its record for May fundraising with $11.2 million and having raised $177 million for the entire 2018 election cycle. In Q2 2018, non-incumbent Democratic House candidates raised over three times the amount they did in the same period in 2014. Over 40 House Democratic candidates outraised Republican incumbents in Q1 2018, half of which were women. In the nine key 2018 battleground Senate races, Democrats have currently outraised Republicans in direct contributions. Current prognosticators now favor a Democratic takeover of the House and small losses in the Senate in 2018, a result of significant money raised, good (and increasingly female) candidates and the white-hot passion of the Democratic voting base.

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With his election, Donald Trump has demonstrated the classic difference between power and money. He selected two men for the Supreme Court who will for decades threaten the very rights the ACLU was created to protect. The ACLU is powerless to prevent this historic legal development, but now they are $40 million richer. From the Oval Office, Donald Trump and his staff have irreparably damaged the credibility of the U.S. media with his withering attacks on “fake news” and their insistence that “truth isn’t truth.” The New York Times, CNN and MSNBC have all, by most any measure, had thumping years.

These developments underscore this oddly inverse relationship between power and money. Donald Trump has taught liberal institutions a bitter lesson — sometimes it’s more lucrative when you lose. For this, Fox News is the gold standard, which often emphasizes unwinnable issues (e.g. “The War on Christmas”) just so that they can lose them and profit from the loss. Liberals have been traditionally bad at making money but good at making policy (e.g. Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare). They have now been put in this strangely advantageous position of victimhood, completely unable to prevent Republican policies, and their bank balances have almost never been better.

Donald Trump appreciates money. But as president he now deals in power and is likely as politically powerful as he will ever be (i.e. controlling both the White House and Congress). But some of his policy decisions have alienated wealthy Republican interests, which may reduce his power. Most glaringly, Trump’s rivalry with the Koch brothers has cost him their political support and they are now refusing to support several key 2018 Republican races, intending to undermine Trump’s political and electoral agenda.

With Donald Trump in the Oval Office, many liberal institutions have never made so much money, had higher ratings or been in a better position to win elections. These groups owe Donald J. Trump their undying gratitude and their unending opposition. Two years ago, these groups were bereft, impoverished and hopeless. Then came Trump. It may be hard to fathom, but when it comes to raising money for liberal organizations, Donald Trump is the GOAT.


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