The Fundraising Pulpit

Devin Nunes
Devin Nunes; drawing by John Cuneo

In mid-March, as infection rates in his home state grew, Devin Nunes, Republican congressman from California, tweeted to his almost million followers a Breitbart article titled “Democrats Pushed Impeachment While Coronavirus Spread.” Nunes has exploited President Trump’s impeachment at every opportunity, often for his personal benefit. In February, shortly after Trump’s acquittal by the US Senate, he sent an e-mail addressed to his “top supporters.” It read: “GET THE EXCLUSIVE IMPEACHMENT SCOREBOARD T-SHIRT!” When recipients clicked the accompanying graphic of a white T-shirt stamped “IMPEACHMENT: DONALD TRUMP 01, DEEP STATE 00,” they landed on a page offering the shirt for any amount between $25 and $2,800. Since this purchase was a federal contribution to the Nunes campaign, donors were instructed to state their employment status. A prominent red-framed box with a checkable “I’m retired” in bolded letters signposted the target demographic.

With the exception of Trump, few in public office are as adept at tickling the ids and wallets of conservative retirees as the forty-six-year-old Nunes. His contributors gush over his talents. “Thoughtful and direct,” one woman in Michigan who gave $585 in dribs and drabs over the last two months of 2019 told me. “A smart man, he looks for the truth,” said a Pennsylvania retiree who donated $75 during the same period. Since 2017, Nunes’s campaign has raised more than $20 million, about half from small donors. Nunes is a master of multiplatform marketing. Whether delivered from a committee dais, Fox News segment, self-published webzine, podcast, or at the front of a press conference, his sales pitch is elemental in its simplicity and limitless in its permutations: conservatives are under attack. “We must fight back” read the subject line of a recent Nunes e-mail. Donate.

Nunes offers an inexhaustible inventory of conspiracy theories. He stars in them as the heroic congressman ferreting out a truth that evil Democrats wish to bury. As soon as one conspiracy theory is debunked, a new one appears. The Obama administration hid an incriminating stash of Osama bin Laden papers, for instance. Witnesses to the murder of a US ambassador in Benghazi were intimidated. Ukraine tried to interfere in the 2016 election against Trump. Nunes’s tales often feature the so-called Deep State, an amorphous enemy that includes government officials inclined to constrain Trump with facts or legal statutes.

As the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes helped drive the GOP response to both the Mueller and impeachment investigations. During the hearings he and his colleagues unleashed a slew of procedural complaints, creating a narrative of injustice that became ready fodder for fundraising pitches. Most of their ire focused on committee chairman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, whom they accused of running an unfair process and of “outlandish attacks”…

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