Allies of Donald Trump are distancing themselves from his latest business venture hours after the former president debuted a series of digital trading cards that befuddled and exasperated their campaign aides and were roundly mocked by some of his most ardent supporters.
The out-of-the-blue announcement comes on the heels of several high-profile blunders since Trump launched his 2024 presidential bid last month, leaving those around him concerned he is unprepared for another campaign.
Multiple sources acquainted with the situation said Trump was pitched on launching an electronic digital trading card collection by entrepreneur Bill Zanker, with whom he has been doing business before, including co-authoring a 2008 self-help book on Trump’s business dealings. Sources said the discussions between Zanker and Trump preceded his entry into the 2024 GOP presidential primary, leaving many of Trump’s aides and advisers in the dark.
Several weeks ago, those notified of the project were nevertheless caught off guard by the ridicule it attracted among Trump loyalists on Thursday.
Among those perplexed by the move was former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who suggested during his “War Room” podcast this week that whoever convinced Trump to enter the digital token business “should be fired.” While Bannon declined to ridicule Trump directly, he appeared mystified by the former president’s decision.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Bannon said, reacting to a movie released by Trump on Thursday that contained images of some digital collectibles depicting Trump as rubbish, an astronaut, and a superhero.
Multiple current and former Trump advisers stated that the random business venture was a mistake and beneath the 45th president.
As Trump took the stage Friday morning to supply remarks to an Orthodox Jewish group at his Miami golf course, his political aides were still fielding questions and calls from donors about his puzzling new enterprise, sources acquainted with the situation said.
Some other adviser told CNN that a senior Trump aide expressed confusion and annoyance concerning the venture during a discussion when the adviser asked why the former president was getting a part of digital collectibles – or non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – at the outset of his 2024 presidential campaign. The adviser recounted the conversation on the condition of anonymity.
Trump’s teasing of a “major announcement” in an article to his Truth Social site on Wednesday, which was later revealed to function as the launch of his digital trading card collection, was “boy-who-cries-wolf status,” this person added.
According to a website where the $99 trading cards are available for sale, they’re neither a project of his 2024 bid nor a campaign merchandise offering. Instead, the NFTs appear to become a new extension of Trump’s business portfolio.
An additional person close to Trump suggested the former president might be attempting to “defend his brand” as he faces mounting questions about the potency of his third presidential campaign.
Trump’s slow campaign launch, coupled with two recent scandals involving a Mar-a-Lago dinner with White supremacist Nick Fuentes and his suggestion that the US Constitution be terminated so he can be reinstalled as president, appears to own weakened his position since the presumptive front-runner even before potential GOP rivals join him in the primary field next year. A spate of polls this week underscored an increasing appetite among Republican voters for an alternative solution presidential nominee in 2024, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis drawing outstanding support as he mulls a possible campaign.
But rather than adding juice to his flagging campaign, Trump’s NFT announcement has sowed more doubt about his overall strategy.
“I know this can anger some in the Trump world but think about it! Can we all admit this is not ideal for Donald Trump’s first major announcement since announcing he’s running again?” tweeted Michael Biundo, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist and former senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign.
“I feel like we’re being punked,” Biundo added.
Trump’s announcement came the same day his campaign released the first of a series of policy videos focused on “free speech” and aimed to refocus Trump’s lagging campaign. In the video, a critical and on-message Trump appealed to conservative voters by vowing to take on Big Tech if he wins the election in 2024. But the attempt at recalibrating Trump was overshadowed by the NFT video release, portraying the former president as a cartoon superman shooting lasers out of his eyes.
One source who spoke with Trump after the launch stated that Trump was shown the online criticism of his allies and supporters and understood their response. Another source close to Trump indicated that the former president was happy he did it.
“This is a determination he made with his business hat on, not his political hat,” the source said. “And for the reason that sense – it was successful.”
Some allies were alerted to the NFT project before it went live and tried to convince Trump to carry off, believing the move would distract from his 2024 campaign. But the former president ultimately proceeded with the announcement, launching it just hours before his campaign made its first policy-related announcement where Trump, in a taped video, outlined “free speech” reforms he would pursue if elected to a non-consecutive second term.