No president in American history has worked as hard to monetize the presidency for his own personal benefit as Donald Trump. But while he’s been doing that, his businesses have been suffering.
David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell have the latest story of a Trump enterprise falling on hard times:
Late last year, in a Miami conference room, a consultant for President Trump’s company said business at his prized 643-room Doral resort was in sharp decline.
At Doral, which Trump has listed in federal disclosures as his biggest moneymaker hotel, room rates, banquets, golf and overall revenue were all down since 2015. In two years, the resort’s net operating income — a key figure, representing the amount left over after expenses are paid — had fallen by 69 percent.
Even in a vigorous economy, the property was missing the Trump Organization’s internal business targets; for instance, the club expected to take in $85 million in revenue in 2017 but took in just $75 million.
“They are severely underperforming” other resorts in the area, tax consultant Jessica Vachiratevanurak told a Miami-Dade County official in a bid to lower the property’s tax bill. The reason, she said: “There is some negative connotation that is associated with the brand.”
No kidding. And that’s hardly the only recent story suggesting that Trump’s image as a master businessman might not have been completely accurate:
- The New York Times reported that over the course of a decade in the 1980s and 1990s, Trump lost over a billion dollars. “In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.”
- Bloomberg News reported this week that the centerpiece of Trump’s empire, Trump Tower, is in a tailspin. Despite the absurdly tight New York real estate market, condo owners in the building are selling their apartments for less than they bought them for, and “The commercial portion of the building has been struggling for months to find tenants for more than 42,000 square feet of vacant office space, despite advertising rents well below the area’s average.” As one former condo owner said, “No one wants in that building.”
- Trump’s luxury hotels in New York and Chicago experienced a significant drop in business after he became a presidential candidate.
- The Trump Organization had planned to build two chains of more modestly priced hotels to be located in red states where Trump is popular; earlier this year the plans were shelved.
And he didn’t even get his Trump Tower in Moscow.
I should note that the Trump Organization disputes this latest report, not by contesting the facts but with characteristically ridiculous hyperbole. “Our iconic properties are the best in the world and our portfolio is unrivaled by anyone,” said Eric Trump.
In fact, the Trump Organization is a minor player at best in the resort/hotel business. They have a couple dozen properties, while leading companies such as InterContinental and Marriott number theirs in the thousands.
In any case, the public may be slowly coming to the realization that Trump is not a master businessman any more than he’s a master negotiator, though a recent poll did find that by a 54-to-36-percent margin Americans still agree that he was “successful” in business.
This all might be fun for liberals to crow about, as is the possibility that even after he leaves office his brand will continue to suffer. But how much does it matter?
On one hand, one might argue that it leaves intact one of the most pernicious myths in politics and one of my oldest pet peeves, that all we need to fix our problems is to elect candidates who are not politicians but business leaders, so they can use their can-do attitudes, common sense and business savvy to do all the things politicians can’t. To believe it you have to think that politics requires no specialized knowledge and that political problems are actually easy to solve, which is utterly false.
But if Trump is not actually a good businessman but in fact a terrible businessman, it could be that the problem with his rolling dumpster fire of a presidency isn’t the businessmen-can-solve-our-problems theory itself, but the fact that he is uniquely incompetent, corrupt and ill-suited for any position of leadership.
Which he is, of course. But that doesn’t mean the theory isn’t still wrong. Some other businessman-politician might not screw things up quite as royally as Trump has, but that doesn’t mean that persuading significant numbers of people to buy widgets makes you capable of passing health-care reform or shaping a global order that advances U.S. interests in the world.
At the very least, one would hope that the Trump disaster will hang over any aspiring politician who comes along and says, “What we need in Washington isn’t more politicians, it’s more businesspeople like me.” If that nonsense is greeted with, “Oh yeah? What about Trump? He said we should elect him because he was rich and successful, and look what happened,” then there may be some good that comes out of this dark time.