Donald Trump prides himself on being able to bend arcane and unfair systems to his will.
Well, every system except one.
For years, Trump has been dogged by questions about his companies’ several bankruptcies, which are potential blemishes upon his business career.
In response, Trump has argued that there was nothing illegal, morally wrong or even shameful about restructuring debts and breaking contracts. On the contrary, these bankruptcies are a testament to his business acumen.
“I’ve used the laws of the country to my advantage,” he told Forbes.
“I have used the laws of this country just like the greatest people that you read about every day in business have used the laws of this country, the chapter laws, to do a great job for my company, for myself, for my employees, for my family, et cetera,” he echoed at the first Republican presidential debate.
And on Twitter, he argued, “Out of hundreds of deals & transactions, I have used the bankruptcy laws a few times to make deals better. Nothing personal, just business.”
He’s exercised similar rhetoric when talking about how he’s benefited from another controversial use of the law: eminent domain.
Governmental seizure of property for private commercial development, he argues, is not only good for the public and (allegedly) for the people forced out of their homes. It’s also used all the time by other prominent entrepreneurs and businesspeople, including members of the Bush family. So why not take advantage of this ripe system for himself?
Likewise, when asked why he’s donated money in the past to ideologically problematic politicians (including Hillary Clinton), he offers the same rationale: This is how the system works when you’re in business. It may not be fair or transparent, but a businessperson would be foolish not use it to his advantage.
“Maybe it’s a good system and maybe it’s not a good system, but it’s the system in which I was under and I thrived,” he boasted on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
In Trump’s world, exploiting the nation’s byzantine bankruptcy laws, or its bizarre eminent domain laws, or its opaque campaign finance rules, or any other system-rigging tools freely available to entrepreneurial types is proof not of shadiness but shrewdness — of his unwillingness to play the chump.
Which is why it’s so odd when Trump whines about Cruz behaving the exact same way.
Cruz has been quietly wooing delegates to the upcoming Republican convention, as well as the local party leaders who help select those delegates. He and his staff have traveled around California, Colorado, Arkansas, South Carolina and other states to help put sympathetic delegates in place in preparation for the possibility of a freewheeling contested election.
The upshot is, according to a Post analysis, that Cruz may already have effectively blocked Trump from the nomination should Trump prove unable to secure a majority of delegates on the first ballot.
As my colleague Marc Thiessen observed this week, Cruz is taking advantage of the peculiar, convoluted delegate system just as adeptly, and just as amorally, as Trump has taken advantage of the nation’s peculiar, convoluted bankruptcy laws.
Trump does not appear to appreciate the parallels. Instead, upon realizing Cruz’s behind-the-scenes efforts, Trump has gone apoplectic.
Having built his campaign on Twitter and free-media coverage, failed to invest much in a ground game and taken little interest until recently in how the delegate system works, Trump now indicts both a “totally unfair” system and Lyin’ Ted himself.
“It’s a rigged, disgusting dirty system,” Trump complained of a primary system whose rules have been available to him for many months.
“He’s trying to steal things because that’s the way Ted works,” Trump carped about a competitor who is cutting deals that the great dealmaker himself should envy.
There are two lessons to be gleaned from Trump’s selectively righteous indignation about unfair systems and those who exploit them.
One is that he’s a hypocrite. Obvious enough.
The other is that the main premise of his campaign — that his wiliness in the business world will translate to wiliness in politics and policy — is bunk.
Trump boasts that his whole life he’s been “greedy, greedy, greedy,” that his greed has paid off in the private sector, and that ergo he’ll be effective at being “greedy for the United States” in all its affairs. But if he can’t even figure out how to manage a primary campaign — let alone get his own children registered to vote for him — the chances that he’ll be able to seamlessly convert his monetary greed into political greed look slim.