Apr 18, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Inside Trump's shadow grievance campaign

Photo illustration of Donald Trump, a cassette tape, notification bubbles and pieces of tape.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Jabin Botsford–Pool/Getty Images

With former President Trump tied up in court for much of the next six weeks or more, supporters are staging events and creating an online chorus that the trial-bound Trump later touts on social media.

Why it matters: The Trump loyalists, operating separately from his campaign, are amplifying Trump's grievance-fueled messaging well beyond his online rants and indignant statements before and after court sessions in Manhattan.

Zoom in: These groups and individuals are creating Trump-adoring content that ranges from sympathetic to the sort of indignant, critic-bashing attacks that can sound like they came from Trump himself.

  • Elon Musk told his 180 million followers on X that the New York hush-money case — in which Trump is accused of falsifying business records to cover up a $130,000 payment to a porn star to keep her from publicizing their affair — "is obviously a corruption of the law."
  • Trump reposted Musk's tweet.

Right-wing activist Laura Loomer is pumping out partisan research that seeks to link Judge Juan Merchan to liberals. Loomer hosted a pro-Trump rally this week near the Manhattan courthouse where Merchan is presiding over the hush-money case.

  • Trump and his son Don Jr. shared a promo for a 30-minute documentary criticizing the prosecutors in Trump's four criminal cases. The film, "Chasing Trump," was produced by American Greatness, a conservative web site run by author and publisher Chris Buskirk.

Conservative personalities — including Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Newt Gingrich and former White House official Stephen Miller — are among the Trump friendlies who've generated dozens of easily shared pro-Trump radio and TV soundbites this week.

  • Their posts have been staples of Trump's Truth Social feed as well as his campaign's feed.

Reality check: Many of the posts and messages put out by the pro-Trumpers doesn't dwell on the evidence in the New York case or Trump's other indictments — which involve allegations that he led a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, tried to change Georgia's election result and illegally kept classified documents.

  • Instead, they largely repeat Trump's claims that the prosecutions of him are politically motivated — the products of a vast Democratic conspiracy.

Between the lines: Trump has expressed frustration at the prospect of being in court four days a week, not being able to post on social media as much as usual, and being under a gag order.

  • On Truth Social he's called Merchan a "Trump Hate Judge" who "won't let me respond to people that are on TV lying and spewing hate all day long."
  • "I want to speak, or at least be able to respond," he wrote before Tuesday's court session in New York.
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