Trump illegally turns White House into campaign vehicle
The Trump family at the ribbon-cutting for the Trump Hotel in Washington D.C. in October 2016. This week, Trump has doubled the normal rates so he can rake in more than the usual amount of money at the hotel. Hundreds of people involved in the unethical use of the nearby White House for campaign activity during the GOP convention this week are staying at the hotel, shelling out money that goes into the president's pockets. Trump can't even resist fleecing his own campaign if it means more money for him. | Evan Vucci / AP

Never in modern history has the White House been used as a prop for a president seeking re-election. Until the current president, every prior inhabitant of the “people’s house” maintained space between their roles as head of state and their status as a candidate seeking office.

This separation of official and campaign roles, like so many other democratic norms, was trashed by Trump over the last few days as workers started hauling in stage equipment, lights, poles, and boards to convert the White House lawn into a showplace for a president obsessed with imagery made for television. He plans to deliver his acceptance of the Republican nomination on Thursday from the White House itself.

Trump has been throwing democratic norms overboard since he first took office, with his most recent violation coming when he lashed out at Democratic nominee Joe Biden during speeches in the Rose Garden and when he filmed campaign videos in the Oval Office and in White House briefing rooms.

His planned acceptance speech on the White House Lawn Thursday night, however, is thus far his most outrageous violation of laws that say federal facilities cannot be used for political campaigning.

Trump has not even attempted to cover up his naked exploitation of his office to save campaign funds he would otherwise have to expend.

Several weeks ago, he told the press that the White House is “a very convenient location that would be by far the least expensive location. There would be very little in terms of that tremendous traveling, security with airplanes, and everybody flying all over the place. I think it would be a very convenient idea.”

The convention speech he will give on Thursday is a purely political activity. The law is unequivocal in its requirement that all expenses connected with political campaigning, including travel, should be borne by the Trump campaign, not by the tax-paying public.

Lights and staging stand on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Washington. Trump plans to use the White House as a prop when he speaks to the Republican National Convention Thursday from the White House. | Patrick Semansky / AP

While the stage equipment being set up on the White House lawn is clearly visible, there is a lot of other work going on in secret inside the White House. That work is also designed to enhance the White House as the site of other campaigning by the president and is also illegal.

There are large windows on the ground floor of the White House that allow reporters to look inside and see what is going on. These have been boarded up on the inside with cardboard, preventing anyone from telling what is going on in there.

NBC reporters said that at one time, the large French doors swung open, allowing reporters to briefly see workers inside engaged in construction work.

NBC also reported that the stage setup with overhead lights resembles an outdoor music festival, with large speakers off to the side of the stage. It is clear then that there will be a live audience present when Trump delivers his remarks, unlike the situation at last week’s virtual Democratic convention during which the Democrats adhered to safety measures designed to protect against spread of the coronavirus.

Why would Trump, who ignored the coronavirus danger at his big rally in Tulsa, Okla., earlier this year, worry about endangering people on the White House lawn? As far as he is concerned, there is nothing to worry about especially since, unlike Tulsa, he pays nothing this time and he endangers public health at the expense of the public itself.

Even better for Trump, locating the political campaigning at the White House enables him to not only save campaign cash but to actually turn a profit for himself. Connected campaign activity and housing for many convention staff are going on at the nearby Trump International Hotel, where room rates have been doubled, enabling the president and his family to rake in even more money than usual at the property. Trump is ripping off everyone, even his own campaign, to line his pockets.

Originally, Trump had tried to pull off a huge in-person convention, first in North Carolina, then in Florida, but ended up canceling only a month ago.

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John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.