"It has not been easy for me. It has not been easy for me," Donald Trump said Monday morning during a televised town hall on the "Today" show. What hadn't been easy? His career.
"I started off in Brooklyn," he explained. "My father gave me a small loan. … I came into Manhattan and I had to pay him back, and I had to pay him back with interest."
The small loan? We took the number out of that quote for effect. It was a small loan of $1 million.
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) October 26, 2015
Trump's net worth has been an object of fascination for a long time, in part because much of his wealth is privately held and because he is enthusiastic about inflating the numbers. ("Have you ever exaggerated in statements about your properties?" he was asked during a deposition in 2007. "I think everyone does," he replied.)
It's clear that Trump's father, Fred Trump, was positioned to make a loan of $1 million when his son wanted to branch out into New York City's most famous borough. (The Trump family had, at that point, mostly owned properties in Brooklyn and Queens.) When he died in 1999, Fred Trump was worth $250 million. But even when the younger Trump entered the Manhattan market in 1973, Fred had property in the city worth $150 million — generating annual rents of $50 million — according to a contemporaneous New York Times report.
By 1974, Trump was president of his father's company — meaning that the status of that modest million-dollar loan was probably somewhat irrelevant by that point; Trump was now in primary control of that sizable real estate empire.
Trump apparently did need a loan a bit later on. As the Times's Timothy O'Brien reported in a 2005 look at Trump's net worth, Trump asked for a $10 million loan against his inheritance to bolster his faltering properties. His siblings, who had a stake in the pool of money that would be inherited, grudgingly agreed. A year later, he asked for $20 million more. Trump denies this account.
Wherever the truth lies, it's clear that Trump got more than a $1 million loan (paid back with interest) from his father. He got control of his company and, ultimately, a large inheritance (although the where, when and how much on this is murky). And when he was in financial trouble in the early 1990s — being dropped from the Forbes 400 in 1990 — he had his family's wealth as a backstop. Update: So much so that, as our Glenn Kessler pointed out, Fred Trump bought $3.5 million in Trump Castle Casino Resort chips, which he never used to bet. (The purchase was determined to be illegal; the casino had to pay a fine.)
None of which is to say that it has been easy for Trump. As a result of some risky business deals, his fortune has risen and fallen significantly. One way he could have made it easier on himself? By not entering the real estate game at all. Earlier this year, the National Journal estimated that if Trump had invested his eventual inheritance in an index fund in 1982, he'd be worth $8 billion today.
Which, depending on whom you believe, might be more than he is currently worth.