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“It really fucks the other ‘24 wannabes,” said one top GOP strategist, who predicted that all but a few top Republicans with established Facebook presences and fundraising networks would find it harder to raise cash online if Trump was once again tapping into that stream.

Not everyone in GOP circles was willing to concede that a Facebook-liberated Trump would suck up most of the conservative grassroots donor money. Others argued that Trump coming back on the platform would compel donors to give money not just to Trump but to multiple different political groups with which he was aligned or affiliated. That could include official Republican entities.

But there was widespread agreement that Trump being able to advertise again on the platform would further empower him specifically on the increasingly important turf of online campaigning. “A massive, massive deal,” is how one top Democratic digital operative put it. “Extraordinary.”

Online fundraising has become an increasingly bigger component of politics in recent cycles. And few politicians have taken more advantage of it than Trump, who raised more than $378 million in small dollar donations during the 2020 cycle. The 45th president has relied heavily on small dollar donors to propel his campaigns, even as he’s touted his ability to self-finance. He’s fostered that community predominantly through Facebook. During the 2020 campaign cycle, both Trump for President and Make America Great Again Committee jointly spent about $140 million on Facebook advertisements, according to figures compiled by Facebook. Some of that was for purposes of voter persuasion. But aides and digital campaign experts say the main purpose was to cultivate grassroots donor networks.

“He has the best fundraising list in the Republican Party but there’s a half life to that — people change emails, they change text messaging, whatever so you need to have access to voters via Facebook ads to keep reaching them and activating them to sign petitions and stay on your list,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist who runs Startup Caucus, an incubator for campaign technology. “It’s important for them to sustain that.”

With Trump having been off the platform for four months, neither he nor any affiliated entities has been using Facebook to raise cash or — more importantly — to ensure that he is growing or has up-to-date information on his small dollar donor network. Trump’s Save America PAC, the entity that he launched after the election, had more than $85 million cash on hand at the beginning of April, according to reports. Those funds were mostly pulled in from direct email and grassroots fundraising appeals outside of Facebook or DonaldTrump.com.

That could change come Wednesday. If the Facebook Oversight Board reinstates Trump, it would instantly allow the biggest online fundraiser in GOP politics access to one of the most important money-raising vehicles in politics at one of the most fertile times for online fundraising.

The beginning of a new administration has proven to be a gold rush for politicians of the opposite party in the past. During the first three months of 2017, then Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Cali.) spent nearly $300,000 on Facebook ads even though she’d just won office. The rate of return was just too good to pass up — from her investment she brought in $738,459 from donors giving less than $200.

It definitely will help [Trump with] fundraising,” said David Kochel, a longtime Republican operative in Iowa who ran Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign and has been a Trump critic. “Obviously they have a long track record of engagement. I think it will also be one of those things that for the media — every Tweet was catnip — the engagement numbers on Facebook will be insane, so it will be hard to look away for Trump-obsessed media.”

Facebook is also a key organizing ground for Republicans in particular. Although conservatives have declared war on “Big Tech,” including Facebook, the social media platform remains the most influential site for the right. Kevin Roose, a New York Times tech columnist, compiles a daily list of the 10 top-performing Facebook posts. Links shared by conservative commentators like Dan Bongino and Ben Shapiro or Fox News are consistently top performers on the site.

“On Facebook, on any given day, the right has anywhere from two to three times the engagement and reach of the left or news,” said Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters, a liberal group that monitors and studies conservative media. According to a study conducted by the organization, right leaning pages accounted for 45 percent of total interactions from political pages, compared to left leaning pages with 25 percent of total interactions.

Facebook played an outsized role in the rise of Trump as a candidate — from targeted spending by the campaign to the spread of ads by Russian troll farms boosting Trump. During the 2016 campaign, almost half of the Trump campaign’s nearly $200 million advertising budget was spent on Facebook. And the platform served as a conductor for donations throughout Trump’s presidency.

But while the site has boosted Trump’s fundraising efforts, it has not been the primary focus for Trump’s own outreach to supporters. One rarely gets the sense, for instance, that Trump himself is tapping out Facebook posts or dictating them to aides, whereas he’s dubbed himself the “Hemingway” of Twitter and boasted how individual tweets have driven entire news cycles. As a result, posts on Trump’s Facebook page feel less immediate and authentic — they tended to be primarily his own tweets, or live videos of political rallies or White House events.

Since his expulsion from Facebook and Twitter, Trump has continued to get his message out either through interviews with friendly outlets like Fox News or statements he dictates to aides and is shared through Save America PAC or presidential office press releases. Multiple advisers, and Trump himself, have said it is still an effective way for reaching supporters although it does not have the same reach.

“Every time I do a release, it’s all over the place. It’s better than Twitter, much more elegant than Twitter. And Twitter now is very boring. A lot of people are leaving Twitter. Twitter is becoming very, very boring,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

Trump, on Tuesday, launched a new website that closely resembled an old-school blog where he can post his thoughts in reverse chronological order without users having the ability to comment on them. It was quickly critiqued for lacking the type of engagement features that define social media platforms. And even before it was debuted, Wilson said, a re-institution to Facebook would prove extremely helpful for the former president regardless of whatever venture he launched.

“It’s important for his political future, whether that’s supporting candidates or running himself that he get access to Facebook,” said Wilson. About 60 percent of voters use Facebook on a daily basis — that’s more than watch local TV news.”

(Disclosure: The wife of a reporter for this piece, Sam Stein, is an employee at Facebook)



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Guinea declares end to latest Ebola outbreak

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“I commend the affected communities, the government and people of Guinea, health workers, partners and everyone else whose dedicated efforts made it possible to contain this Ebola outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Based on the lessons learned from the 2014–16 outbreak and through rapid, coordinated response efforts, community engagement, effective public health measures and the equitable use of vaccines, Guinea managed to control the outbreak and prevent its spread beyond its borders.” The U.N. said it will continue to provide post-illness care.

The CDC welcomed the news in a statement.

“I commend the government and first responders in Guinea for ending the country’s Ebola outbreak,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the people who lost loved ones to this disease. CDC remains committed to supporting survivor programs and helping strengthen global preparedness and response capacities that can prevent or extinguish future Ebola outbreaks.”

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.

“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country — as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

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“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders and the lower participation in Western democracies. But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also blocked from running, said on social media he’d boycott the vote.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”

“I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.

But few appeared to heed the call. There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no turnout figures Friday, though results could come Saturday.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office. “How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”

For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday. A flyer handed out on the streets of Tehran by hard-liners echoed that and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up by Soleimani’s grave on Friday.

Some voters appeared to echo that call.

“We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely harmful for us,” said Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.

Also hurting a moderate like Hemmati is the public anger aimed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already-ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again remain disappointed.”

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