Virtually any day of the year, there is no real reason why you or anyone else should be watching CNBC. If you are someone who follows or cares about financial news, you really probably shouldn’t be watching television to keep up with it. If you are someone who likes watching a bunch of gray-faced old sourpusses sit at a long desk and testily interrupt each other about various topics, you should probably reconsider some shit about your life, and also there are a near-infinite number of near-identical shows that are better. Jim Cramer is still on the network, too, somehow. He may not even know that. He’s just like that all the time, yowling and hopping and mushing buttons and then someone turns a camera on for a half hour. It’s dark.
But during the early rounds of the NHL Playoffs, there is an excuse to watch CNBC. On Tuesday night, the network carried Game 4 of the series between the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets, a 2-0 Jets win that the network complemented with... more or less the ads that would otherwise be running on CNBC at night. This meant a lot of helpful information about reverse mortgages and opportunities to invest in gold and other elder-baiting garbage. During the first period, this also meant a minute-long ad from an organization called The Committee To Defend The President, starring a real woman by the name of Amanda Head and featuring a musical score pulled from the acclaimed album Kind Of Sounds Like A Christopher Nolan Soundtrack. It was, even by the standards of the Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job Universe in which we now live, pretty nutty.
It’s worth noting that the ad above is identical to the one that ran during the hockey game with one exception: The number that viewers are encouraged to call to, uh, get people to stop being so mean to our Big Wet President is different than the one that appeared onscreen.
Response to the ad, to the extent that anyone watching the game seemed to notice it at all, was not especially positive.
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The spot itself is weird enough on its face—Head, who identifies herself as “The Hollywood Conservative,” is so uncharismatic that she seems deeply and almost poignantly medicated, and even by the prevailing standards of this kind of umbrage-milking grift-o political garbage it’s hard to tell what the hook or call to action even is. A closer look reveals that this all is even stranger and infinitely cheesier than it seems.
For one thing, the number that appeared on the version of the ad that aired during Tuesday’s game had previously been put to use for similar purposes, if ones less explicitly linked to the good name of President Horny Pastry.
The number, like the Committee To Defend The President website—and its comparatively obscure Twitter account and predictably, hilariously popular Facebook account—belongs to a prolific lawyer and lobbyist named Dan Backer. Back in 2016, this organization was known as Stop Hillary PAC; for a brief period, it described itself as “a project of Stop Hillary PAC.” In 2017, Stop Hillary PAC officially became the Committee To Defend The President. Given that Stop Hillary PAC first came into existence in 2013, this seems in some sense to be the end of a long journey. But it’s probably more useful to think of it as the most recent metamorphosis in the endless political grift that is at the heart of reactionary American politics.
The Center For Public Integrity’s Dave Levinthal wrote a history of Stop Hillary PAC in 2017 that follows the oafish hustle from its initial stages as a Ted Cruz support group through its refusal to abide by repeated FEC requests to remove Hillary Clinton’s name from its own—federal law prohibits using the name of a candidate in that way—through its current incarnation. One highlight from that long, low grift is a fundraising letter that the organization sent during the 2016 primary season from “Donald and Ted” that did not include either candidate’s last name and which began “Let’s face it—it’s no surprise we don’t agree on everything.” When pressed by the Center For Public Integrity, Stop Hillary PAC explained that Donald and Ted were the first names of the organization’s political director and chairman. The organization raised and spent $6 million in 2015 and 2016, with almost 80 percent of those donations coming in amounts of $200 or less; “of those who contributed more than $200,” Levinthal writes, “the most common occupation listed for such donors is ‘retired.’”
Backer, who registered the Committee To Defend The President’s website and is the counsel for Stop Hillary PAC, is the common denominator here, as he is elsewhere throughout the right-wing griftoverse. In 2017, Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman and Tarini Parti pegged Backer as the man behind a site called American Action News that effectively functioned as an online fundraising arm for Stop Hillary PAC and more than a dozen other political action committees created by him or his clients. “If you want to spin those random threads of information to make me out to be a younger, hopefully better looking Steve Bannon,” Backer wrote in an email to Silverman and Parti, “well thanks.”
Because organizations like the Committee To Defend The President are technically Hybrid PACs and not traditional Political Action Committees, they can raise and spend money effectively outside Federal Election Commission limits and more or less as they please, even if that amounts to redistributing those funds to other organizations in their grifty orbit. None of these groups exist to support Donald Trump so much as they exist to support themselves, albeit with money donated by the seething and suggestible oldsters who most fervently support Donald Trump. It is effectively a closed loop, and because it exists in a gray area in current campaign finance law, also something like a black box.
These organizations also build databases around the data given freely by the people that contribute money to Make People Stop Being Mean To The President or sign the innumerable petitions, and can do with that information more or less whatever they want. 1-800 numbers like the one that people saw during the Jets-Wild game are a part of this, and are recycled or discarded as needed. The number that the group used in a 2016 ad featuring former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is no longer in service. The number in the version of the ad embedded above and the one that ran on Tuesday night lead to the same place, and make the same vague/urgent pitch.
Tuesday’s number to call was 1-800-373-9027; call that number and you will get a prompt to “press one to defend the president.” Do so, and you’ll listen to a second, excruciatingly long message from Head that ends in yet another prompt to press one to pledge. “We urgently need help from supporters like you,” Head concludes. “Can we count on you to make a contribution to help us defend president Trump? If you are willing to make a contribution, please press 1 now. Again, please press 1 now.” Press two to continue and you get a second message, this one voiced by an unnamed man, telling you that while he “understands that a donation is a lot to ask right now,” “time is running out” before encouraging you, again, to press one.
Or, if you wish, you could press two to continue without pledging. Do that for a second time and you are connected with a robot. “Thank you,” the robot says, exactly as politely as a robot might. “Goodbye.”