Mixing Official and Campaign Acts

President Donald Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In looking at the White House Flickr account, which houses official White House photos, I noted RNC-specific shots. Both were of stunts wherein Trump used official government business as fodder for the RNC TV show.

First, a pardon:

President Trump Pardons Jon Ponder

Then, a naturalization ceremony:

President Trump Participates in a Naturalization Ceremony

Keep in mind: both acts are official government actions and the pardon, specifically, is an constitutional act of the president. They were both photographed by the official White House photographer. And they were both used for the personal re-election campaign of the president.

This is just a clear illustration of the fact that Trump sees his office, including its powers and the White House itself, as for his private use. He sees no distinction between public and private and hence the matter over which he was impeached.

Of course, the gross display on the White House lawn was the ultimate illustration of this.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, US Politics, , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. PJ says:

    And the people breaking the rules will be pardoned by Trump.

    People keep saying that the institions will hold, but this looks more and more like the frog sitting in the boiling water. (And I know that one isn’t real, the frog will get out.)

  2. Lounsbury says:

    There is in most ways no surprise as in his business he made no effective distinction between his family and personal interest and the legal entities under his control or influence, to the detriment certainly of the economic interests of any co-investors.

    The populist white supremacist bolshy-Republican base of course cares not and thinks such behaviours are normal.

    Rather clearly there needs to be an institutional reinforcing post Trump (well designed however)

  3. JohnMcC says:

    “When the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”

  4. CSK says:

    From today’s NYT:
    “Mr. Trump’s aides said he enjoyed the frustration and anger he caused by holding a political event on the South Lawn of the White House, shattering conventional norms and raising questions about ethics laws violations. He relished the fact that no one could do anything to stop him, said the aides, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal conversations.”

    Emphasis mine.

  5. Kingdaddy says:

    People in both the naturalization ceremony and the housing projects video did not know they were being filmed for a campaign event.

  6. @Kingdaddy: Which makes it all the more grotesque.

  7. SC_Birdflyte says:

    When I was in grad school, I read an interesting article titled “L’etat c’est a moi,” Louis XIV’s famous dictum “I am the state!” altered to read “I own the state.” That seems to be Trump’s attitude.

  8. Gustopher says:


    “When the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”

    Actually, I’m pretty certain that the Hatch Act does carve out an exception for the president. It’s everyone else involved who is breaking that law.

    (Is conspiracy to commit Hatch Act violations a crime? Because he is certainly involved)

  9. CSK says:

    The NYT article I quoted above makes clear something we’ve all known since long before he glided down the escalator in June 2015: Trump violates the law and all norms of ethical conduct not only with impunity, but with sadistic glee. He takes great pleasure in rubbing his opponents’ noses in that fact.

    What’s really disturbing is that his fans admire him for this. If nothing else, you’d think it would give them pause that if Trump can break the law and thereby establish a precedent for so doing, so can his Democratic successor. What goes around comes around.

  10. Jay L Gischer says:

    It seems like the only way out of this is an electoral thumping. Make him and his supporters pay a steep price for doing/enabling this behavior. Losing the Senate. Losing some statehouses. Being clear that Trump’s corruption was front and center.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know that I see that happening.

  11. senyordave says:

    @Jay L Gischer: My sentiments exactly, I would love to see him lose badly and make it clear that his behavior and actions made him unacceptable to a large portion of the American people. Unfortunately he will get at least 45% of the vote no matter what he does.
    At this point no sane portion should vote for him, he checks off every negative quality box:
    But he sticks it to the libs, so white males love him!

  12. DrDaveT says:


    People in both the naturalization ceremony and the housing projects video did not know they were being filmed for a campaign event.

    If Nike (or any other company) uses my likeness for commercial purposes without my consent, I can sue them — and will likely win a fairly hefty settlement.

    Do the unwitting participants in these Trump campaign ads have similar recourse?

  13. HarvardLaw92 says:


    The Hatch Act specifically exempts both the President and the Vice-President. Also, aside from a few rare exceptions, it is not a criminal statute. It’s a civil statute, with violations being dealt with in the realm of HR, not the courts.

    While you could make a credible argument that the staff may have violated the act, they would have been doing so at the order of the President, who ultimately is the head of their HR department. This approach is a non-starter.

  14. Mister Bluster says:


    Saw a personalized Illinois license plate recently:
    neatly placed in a license plate frame:
    EST. 1636

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Sorry, but it seems to me that if Congress wrote a carve out excluding the President from violation of the Hatch Act, that it must also follow that he can’t conspire to break an act that doesn’t apply to his actions.

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: If most voters spent more than a nanosecond or two (if even that much) about the consequences of who they vote for, then maybe some of them would connect the two dots you are noting the adjacency of, but even them, most would probably tell the little voice inside them raising the alarm “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, for right now, STFU.”

  17. Scott F. says:

    I’m pretty sure there is a bible verse that translates as “He relished the fact that no one could do anything to stop him” about something Jesus did. It’s in Matthew, I think. I’m sure one of Trump’s evangelical supporters can point us to it.

  18. CSK says:

    @Scott F.:
    Well, you know that Trump’s fundamentalist followers believe that God sent us Trump to lead us out of the darkness.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Now if only they would recognize light when they see it. Calling it a blind leading the blind situation somehow seems unfair to blindness.

  20. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    That’s how they excuse Trump for being the appalling individual that he is: God uses imperfect men to fulfill His designs.

  21. @CSK: Indeed. Why, after all, King David had a man killed after he slept with his wife, but he was a man after God’s own heart, so there you go. (If I heard that once, I heard a thousand times from various conservative preachers).

  22. Monala says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: they’re leaving out the fact that David was remorseful and repented after confronted about his behavior by a prophet. God also punishes David for his misdeeds by making him lose the child conceived from his adultery. His example also led his older children to commit some terrible sins of their own—incest, rape, fratricide, and uprising against their father.

  23. gVOR08 says:

    Amongst other things the RNC used Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah although his estate denied them permission. LGM has a post quoting one Bonnie Honig noting that the point to all the violations of norms and legal constraints is to show that they can. She also notes that the Cohen estate trolled the Trumpskyites by offering free use of a later Cohen song, You Want it Darker. Which is amusing, but gets us nothing.

    ETA I hadn’t seen your mention of King David.

    Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
    That David played and it pleased the Lord
    But you don’t really care for music do ya?
    It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
    Thwe minor fall, the major lift
    The baffled king composing “Hallelujah”

    Your faith was strong but you needed proof
    You saw her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty and the music overthrew ya
    She tied you to a kitchen chair
    She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
    And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

  24. Jax says:

    @gVOR08: You have to wonder….the Baffled King….how could they NOT see how it applies to Trump?!

  25. gVOR08 says:

    @Jax: They never paid attention to the lyrics, anymore than they do when they appropriate Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.. If people actually listened to lyrics nobody’d use Hallelujah at a wedding.

  26. @gVOR08: Hey, man, it has the word “hallelujah” over and over. What more do you want?

  27. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am convinced conservatives do not get irony at all.

    Born In The USA was a scathing condemnation. Hallelujah is shame and regret and loss.

    All text. That’s what they hear.

    No inkling of context or subtext. Eighth graders get this stuff. It’s not rocket surgery.

    Hallelujah is an overused cliche of loss.

    Do they not employ media people?

    I want to think well of fellow citizens, but this is pathetic.