Opinion: Trump's presidency was a disaster for his business

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As he considered seeking the Reform Party nomination in 2000, Donald Trump speculated in an interview with Fortune magazine that he could be the first person to run for president “and make money on it.” That was back when The Donald, as he was known then, had signed a $1 million deal to give motivational speeches as he campaigned around the country.

© AFP Contributor/AFP/AFP via Getty Images US President Donald Trump speaks during a memorial service at the Pentagon for the 9/11 terrorist attacks September 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

As it ultimately turned out, Trump could not have been more wrong. While Federal Election Commission filings show Trump directed millions to pay Trump organizations for campaign-related expenses during both his 2016 and 2020 campaigns, his net worth is now down $700 million since he became president, according to a Bloomberg News report. And much of what ails Trump’s bottom line is his own fault.

According to Bloomberg, revenues are down in every corner of the Trump empire and most of his assets have lost value. Even his fleet of aircraft has shrunk in value from “seven worth at least $59 million in 2015 to five valued at least $6.5 million in 2020,” according to Bloomberg. (The Trump Organization did not comment on the Bloomberg report.)

CNN reported Friday that Trump’s personal Boeing 757, emblazoned with his name, is sitting on an airport ramp in Orange County, New York, north of Manhattan, in need of potentially very costly repairs. In the meantime, Trump’s political spokesman Jason Miller says the former president is going to start his own social media platform. This would give Trump, who was permanently suspended from Twitter and Facebook after the January 6 attack on the Capitol by his supporters, access to followers who sign up and, presumably, a way to generate revenue.

If the Trump name ever was his business organization’s biggest asset, it may now be its worst liability.

Trump could sell many of his properties to satisfy creditors or rename them to lure back customers. While that might mean financial salvation, there’s nothing that will enable the Trump clan to escape the shame of the 45th president’s record in business and politics.

Measuring Trump’s wealth has always been a tricky thing. Hidden inside a maze of private companies, his assets and liabilities are not publicly reported. Reporters have had to sift through his many lies, exaggerations, bankruptcies and schemes, using tax records and other documents to estimate the value of his holdings. In 2015, for example, Forbes magazine said Trump’s claim to having a net worth of $8.7 billion was wildly inflated — and nearly double their estimate. A New York Times investigation in 2018 also punctured a hole in Trump’s longstanding claims of being a self-made man.

According to Bloomberg, the Trump fortune has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol, which he fomented, has also sullied the Trump brand and cost him business after the PGA of America and New York City responded to the riot by moving to cancel lucrative contracts with Trump entities.

In both cases, it seems the 45th president’s impulse to promote wild fantasies has only created nightmares for his pocketbook — and for the nation as a whole. While Trump’s old businesses are reeling, his political operation raked in more than $200 million in the month after he lost the 2020 elections. Although some of that money appeared to go to his campaign coffers, the Republican National Committee and their joint committees, some went to a new leadership PAC Trump established after the election. While politicians can’t use the money in leadership PACs directly on their campaigns, federal law provides broad leeway that allows money to be spent on almost anything, from travel to staff and personal expenses.

With many of his followers still revved-up over the last election, the former president is surely plotting his political future. He’s already sent a cease-and-desist letter to try and stop at least three Republican organizations from using his name and likeness for fundraising. This approach may not win him friends, but it indicates that he’s hell-bent on raising cash.

But Trump’s financial woes are his own doing. In the case of the pandemic, Trump purposely downplayed the severity of the threat, telling journalist Bob Woodward, “I wanted to always play it down.” Under Trump, who pushed outright lies about how the virus would miraculously “disappear,” mocked face masks, and failed to mount a robust federal response to the pandemic, America experienced the highest number of cases, and deaths, in the world. Governors began issuing statewide orders to shut down and the economy underwent a steep decline.

Hospitality was hit especially hard during the pandemic, and this is an industry where Trump has many holdings. According to Bloomberg, income from Trump’s Doral resort in 2020 fell more than $57 million from 2015. Trump’s last federal financial disclosure as President showed sales at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, dropped by 63% in 2020, compared to 2019.

Nearly 2,000 workers were furloughed at Trump’s hotels, resorts and related businesses in the US by mid-April. More workforce cuts came in May as the Trump companies sought to renegotiate rent and loan payments. Trump may have gotten some roundabout help after the federal government created the Paycheck Protection Program to help businesses through the pandemic. According to the New York Times, about $34 million flowed to tenants at the Trump Organization’s 40 Wall Street. If the loans made it possible for them to keep up rent payments, that, of course, would have benefited the landlord.

The 40 Wall Street building gets special attention in the Bloomberg report, which notes that the skyscraper, valued at $550 million in 2016, is now worth about half as much. The building is burdened by a $137 million mortgage, declining revenues — and almost certainly by Trump’s name, with Bloomberg noting that a wave of companies, including Trump’s longtime rental brokerage Cushman & Wakefield, ending their ties with the former president.

© Toni Raiten-D’Antonio. Michael D’Antonio

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