Former President Donald Trump’s first return to Washington, DC, since he left office last January, has revived treacherous factions within the MAGA faithful: rival groups that have spent the time since his departure plotting a way back to the power and who intend to support others. outside.
The former president will be in town Tuesday to address the America First Policy Institute, a relatively new Trump-aligned nonprofit group, which this week convened countless experts and MAGA-loving policy loyalists for a two-day conference at the basement of a hotel. away from the capitol building. The agenda, AFPI says, has many legislative goals drawn up ahead of what they hope will be a Republican return to power in Washington after the midterm elections and beyond.
A source close to Trump told The Daily Beast that despite the cloud of investigations hanging over his head, the former commander-in-chief has been “excited” about his return to the swamp.
The keynote address will offer “an opportunity to present a binary contrast between America under Trump and America under Biden,” according to the source, who speaks regularly with the former president.
“People are thirsty for solutions,” said this person.
But just because the group successfully wooed Trump doesn’t mean Trumpworld has broader plans to cede authority to him.
Instead, ardent pro-Trump sources told The Daily Beast that AFPI, a nonprofit organization created shortly after Trump left the White House, has become an enemy of MAGAland. These critics point to what they see as an ineffective and glaring organization that has not scored tangible victories on behalf of the former president, as he attempts to stake a claim as a gatekeeper for a possible second Trump administration.
And raising tens of millions of dollars in the process.
“It’s a mile wide and an inch deep, and it’s all sizzling and has no substance,” a current Trump adviser, who remains in favor with the former president, told The Daily Beast. “They are burning through donor money and doing nothing meaningful to advance a coherent political agenda, and everyone who is paying attention knows it.”
“They launched a bunch of ‘hubs’ and spread too thin what little talent the organization has,” continued the Trump adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Trump’s seal of approval is all they really have going for them.”
Similarly, former Trump administration official Peter Navarro told The Daily Beast that the Washington, DC-based pro-Trump group is nothing more than a “Trojan horse” that will put “RINO” employees “(Republicans in name only) in a second Trump administration. and encourage the “same mistake[s]” when it comes to personnel in a potential second Trump term.
“People are using Trump’s good name to defeat him,” Navarro said of the “incompetent” group of “fraudsters.” “Trumpism without a Trump coup.”
That comment didn’t sit well with AFPI communications chief Marc Lotter, who responded to Navarro when contacted by The Daily Beast.
“It is unfortunate to see Mr. Navarro, a former Hillary Clinton supporter, become the DC swamp creature he once loathed,” he said. Lotter also instructed Navarro to visit the AFPI website “for a wealth of research building on the Trump administration’s successes, including tough stances on China and President Trump’s continuation of China tariffs.”
AFPI was created last spring, and with a board packed with top Trump White House alumni, it has been heralded as a kind of “White House in waiting.”
The nonprofit’s president, former Small Business Administration Director Linda McMahon, is joined by a number of former officials, including former Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, former Acting National Policy Council Director Brooke Rollins and former economic adviser Larry Kudlow. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump reportedly serve as informal advisers, according to Axios.
Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and White House Special Counsel Kellyanne Conway contribute to the organization’s fundraising power, and there’s plenty.
AFPI launched with a $20 million first year budget, according to Axios. (Unlike other AFPI bigwigs at the conference, Conway was followed by supporters and news cameras.)
Despite some in Trump’s orbit taking aim at the group, McMahon told guests at the private event Monday that the “20+ policy centers” that are part of the group are packed with “patriots” and “doers.” that will mark the beginning of the “America First Agenda”.
That assessment did not square with a former White House aide.
“I don’t see much going on with AFPI other than cable news interviews and press releases about the people they’ve hired,” the aide told The Daily Beast. “I know they’ve raised a ton of money from supporters of President Trump, but most of it goes to staff salaries and operating costs.”
A Trump spokesman did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment Monday afternoon.
If the group is primarily a flashy donor trap, the first clue came early.
AFPI made its first public appearance in the political space a year ago, when it endorsed Trump’s ill-advised First Amendment lawsuit against social media companies. The organization’s leaders even spoke alongside the former president at the televised announcement event, directing supporters to a website where they could supposedly register as co-plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit.
“We’re really looking at the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Americans,” AFPI President Brooke Rollins said at the time.
But the site didn’t actually allow anyone to sign the lawsuit. Instead, he sent people to a separate fundraising page for an entity within AFPI, called the Constitutional Leadership Association.
And whatever contributions AFPI made to the legal effort over the next 10 months, they were not enough. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in May.
Fundraising, by contrast, is turning out to be a hit.
While the public doesn’t know who all of AFPI’s donors are, it’s clear that the group has put up a lot of money. On Monday, Politico reported that it has a current operating budget of $25 million.
But thanks to Federal Election Commission filings, one source of those millions is clear: Trump himself. In June 2021, the leadership of his PAC gave the group $1 million—at that time, the only external gift that the PAC had given. A few weeks later, the AFPI backed his lawsuit on social media.
AFPI also exhibits a fair share of overlap with other groups into Trump’s sprawling, Byzantine dark money machine, with a focus on fundraising.
The Daily Beast reported that three AFPI officials, Bondi, former Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and former Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, are also on payroll for a Trump-backed super PAC. Bondi alone has put hundreds of thousands of dollars at the forefront of that effort.
Those same officials are also on board with another nonprofit organization, called Make America Great Again Policies, along with Donald Trump Jr. girlfriendKimberly Guilfoyle. That group, however, does not appear to engage in any publicly known activity.
The same Trump adviser noted that the patina of Trump’s affection for the group obscures a long-standing deep rift.
“Trump’s seal of approval is all they really have going for them. But in reality, with very few exceptions, the people involved are much more aligned with Jared Kushner’s vision for the country than with Trump’s,” the person said. “That’s why Navarro has been criticizing them so openly.”
Trumpworld has long been divided by discord between two factions: the more corporate and polished Kushner wing, and the rabble-rousing populist camp, embodied by aides like Navarro and Steve Bannon.
AFPI emerged when that conflict was at its height—in the months following Trump’s ignominious departure from the White House in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack, an event that drove the beak between the two factions even deeper.
“They’re making a play to be the epicenter of Trumpworld in DC, so having Trump return to the capital for the first time since he left and bringing all these lawmakers together will go a long way toward that,” a Trump adviser said. . he said. “DC isn’t necessarily the place where no one wants to go on vacation, but it’s a smart move to host this event there.”
Lotter dismissed other points of criticism from those at Trumpworld, telling The Daily Beast: “The fact that President Trump is closing this event shows his support for AFPI’s work to continue policies that put America first!” .
Do you have a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast here