On Dec. 14, former President Donald Trump teased a “major announcement” to come the following day. “America needs a superhero,” he said in a video posted to his Truth Social account. It featured a cartoon Trump with a shredded physique ripping open his shirt to reveal a Superman-esque uniform complete with dramatic music as fiery energy beams emitted from the former president’s eyes. Speculation mostly churned around which potential running mate Trump might at last name.
Then he revealed his “MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT” on Dec. 15: Trump-branded digital art in the form of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. “My official Donald Trump Digital Trading Card collection is here! These limited edition cards feature amazing ART of my Life & Career!” he wrote. The post also contained another image of Trump portrayed as a superhero.
Collect all of your favorite Trump Digital Trading Cards, very much like a baseball card, but hopefully much more exciting. Go to collecttrumpcards.com/ & GET YOUR CARDS NOW! Only $99 each! Would make a great Christmas gift. Don’t Wait. They will be gone, I believe, very quickly.
The response, even among Trump supporters, was mostly negative. Still, some argued that while the artwork was, as they say, “cringe,” at least the money would go toward his political campaign. But the fine print says otherwise.
On the website’s list of frequently asked questions, one asks: “Is any of the money from this collection going to the Donald J. Trump campaign for President?” The answer is:
NO. These Digital Trading Cards are not political and have nothing to do with any political campaign. NFT INT LLC is not owned, managed or controlled by Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization, CIC Digital LLC or any of their respective principals or affiliates. NFT INT LLC uses Donald J. Trump’s name, likeness and image under paid license from CIC Digital LLC, which license may be terminated or revoked according to its terms.
It appears Trump sold his likeness through CIC Digital to NFT International, and any revenue generated through purchases on the website will not fund his campaign. Both CIC and NFT are obscure and recently established entities. While there’s not much information available about either, corporate records show CIC Digital was incorporated in March in Delaware, while NFT International was incorporated last year in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a locale that competes with Cyprus and the Cayman Islands as a haven for secretive business dealings.
People who purchase an NFT are automatically entered into the “Trump Sweepstakes,” which includes “Live Events” like a “Mar-a-Lago Cocktail Hour” or rounds of golf with Trump. Each comes with the following disclaimer:
All costs and expenses associated with the Live Events made available to NFT owners including, but not limited to, all federal, state, and local taxes, air and ground transportation, gratuities, airline luggage charges, incidentals, upgrades, insurance, service charges, and other misc. travel expenses are the sole and exclusive responsibility of those that attend the Live Events.
Those who buy 45 cards, valued around $4,455, are “guaranteed a ticket to attend the Gala Dinner with Trump in South Florida.” The lucky winner, however, is still responsible for all associated costs and expenses.
These NFTs fit with a pattern of similar marketing efforts that suggest supporters can directly back Trump’s political efforts with their dollars—when the truth is more complicated. Aspects of the NFT promotion recall how Trump’s Save America PAC structured its fundraising operations after the 2020 election.
In that operation, Trump supporters were led to believe that their dollars would finance election challenges, including recounts and lawsuits over alleged fraud. “The Left will try to STEAL this election!” read one text. Emails directed supporters to an “Official Election Defense Fund” website that asked them to enlist to make recurring donations to “protect the results and keep fighting even after Election Day.”
But the fine print stated that a donor would have to give over $8,000 before any funds went to that end. Trump’s leadership PAC would pocket 60 percent of each donation, while the RNC would capture the other 40 percent. “If a Trump donor gave $500, for instance, $300 would go to Trump’s Save America PAC, $200 would to the RNC—and nothing would go to his election defense fund,” Reuters reported.
While Trump supporters might be able to reconcile, for whatever reason, giving their dollars to the man himself, they were also inadvertently funding the lavish lifestyle of RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel. According to a report by RedState, the RNC spent $64,000 at clothing stores, over $500,000 on private jets, and $321,000 on floral arrangements between 2021 and 2022 alone.
But most importantly, as a leadership PAC, Save America is legally prohibited from supporting Trump’s campaign or any costs arising from litigation related to it.
In short, most of the people who gave to Trump’s Save America PAC were small-dollar donors who did so because they believed their money would be used to overturn the results of the 2020 election. In reality, none of the dollars they gave went toward that goal.
Similarly, while Trump supporters likely bought NFTs believing they were funding his candidacy, it’s even less clear who pocketed their money this time. In a way, this is just Trump doing what he’s always done, merchandising himself and his persona, from Trump steaks to Trump NFTs. But people expect more gravity from a president, especially considering the grave seriousness of the present moment.
About two hours after the NFT “major announcement” was met with widespread ridicule and disappointment, Trump posted a short video to Truth Social without a caption. In it, the former president outlined one of the first planks in his platform: defending free speech. But the rollout was so bizarre and badly timed that it gave the impression of inept damage control, with allied Trump social-media influencers claiming the video was the “real” announcement, despite the fact that Trump very clearly intended the NFTs to be the big deal of the day. And a deal it was. The NFTs sold out within hours.