One of the more remarkable things about Team Trump, as an enterprise, is that there doesn’t appear to be a single person in it who gives even a passing thought to what we once labeled “ethics.” Whether it is an artifact of Trump’s attachment to B- and C-tier conservative thinkers or intentional selection on his part is unclear, but the trend is relentless.
Now we learn that Trump’s current campaign manager, as in, the one running his 2020 campaign as we speak, has been taking cash for paid speeches to foreign groups. The Washington Post reports that the already sketchy Brad Parscale was given an undisclosed sum for a speech to “Romanian politicians and policy elites” only one day before special counsel Robert Mueller submitted his report on, among other things, 2016 Trump campaign shenanigans.
No, this is not typical. The Post quotes various People With Ethics to explain how unusual it is, but in general, the top managers of presidential campaigns do not take paid side gigs making themselves available to foreign “policy elites” because it looks extremely terribly bad to be collecting cash payments from foreign groups with keen reasons to want to sway U.S. policy in their favor. It looks like access-selling, because it is access-selling.
Parscale is blunt about why he’s accepting these engagements: He likes free stuff, and you’re a jerk for trying to take away his childhood dream of getting free stuff.
“We did not grow up with the opportunity to travel internationally, and speaking opportunities have allowed me to share my talent with other professionals in a university setting while having a brief break from the rigorous campaign schedule that I maintain,” Parscale said. “This speaking engagement was fully vetted and approved through the necessary channels in advance.”
Indignant tone aside, we can glean a few things from that. First, he’s implying Trump himself signed off on this cash grab, since there’s nobody else in the campaign of whom the campaign’s manager could ask approval. That seems unsurprising. And second, he’s fully aware that he’s doing these gigs to “share his talent with other professionals,” i.e., as self-marketing efforts. even as he heads the reelection campaign of a (sigh) sitting U.S. president.
He couldn’t wait until the campaign was over, or his current client was out of office? Is he hard up for cash? Is his “rigorous campaign schedule” leaving him bored and pining for the Romanian countryside? It is, for now, a mystery. But Trump’s underlings and hangers-on continue their tradition of ignoring every ethical boundary and constraint, and Republican lawmakers continue their tradition of redrawing those ethical boundaries to suddenly allow whatever acts each individual con artist comes up with.
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