Will Billionaire Trump Force Candidate Trump to Pull the Plug?

Greg Allen/Invision/AP
Views

Republican presidential candidate and real estate mogul Donald Trump so far has said “good riddance” to companies that severed ties with his multi-billion dollar empire in response to disparaging comments he made about immigrants crossing the border from Mexico.

But the author of a forthcoming book on Trump says that while the billionaire is rolling with the punches at the moment, those losses may damage his bottom line down the road.

Trump’s notoriously hard-to-pin-down business empire — he estimates his net worth at $9 billion, while Forbes pegs it at $4.1 billion — has suffered a steady stream of corporate break-ups in the weeks since he addressed illegal immigration at the very top of his July 16 presidential announcement speech.

“Even if you’re worth two or three billion, you can sustain a lot of loss and not feel it in your lifestyle or the operation of your businesses,” said Michael D’Antonio, the author of Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success, scheduled for release in January by St. Martin’s Press.

Spanish-language broadcaster Univision led the charge on June 25, when it announced that it would not air the Miss USA pageant, which Trump co-owns. NBC Universal followed suit. Macy’s and Serta, the mattress company, also dropped Trump-branded merchandise. NASCAR, ESPN and the PGA of America moved planned events off Trump-owned golf courses. Most recently, mega-chef Jose Andres pulled out of a deal to put a flagship restaurant in the hotel Trump plans to open in Washington, D.C.’s Old Post Office Pavilion.

D’Antonio spent about 10 hours interviewing the real estate mogul for “Never Enough.” He spoke with TPM by phone Tuesday about how the fallout from the “rapists” comment was affecting Trump’s core business interests and his all-important personal brand.

The author and former Newsday reporter said Trump has always been proud of, and known to brag about, sums that one would think were small potatoes to a billionaire. He recalled Trump telling him that the first paycheck he earned from the NBC reality show “The Apprentice” was about $13 million.

“That was eye-popping for him and for the people in his office,” D’Antonio said. “I think to lose revenue from the pageant and to lose business at his golf courses and hotels, that does matter.”

Trump didn’t sound as if he were sweating the loss of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in an interview with The New York Times.

“I’ve been very loyal to golf,” he told the newspaper. “I own 17 clubs. They all do great. We will see whether or not golf is loyal to me.”

He added that the decision was mutual and meant to insulate his friends in the professional golf world from the backlash to his comments about immigrants.

Yet D’Antonio believes the burgeoning rift between Trump and the professional golf community could do real damage the real estate mogul’s business.

“He’s really oriented around golf. That’s a passion for him, but it’s also a very fertile area of business development,” D’Antonio told TPM. “If no golfer with a Hispanic name is going to go to your golf course, that’s not good. If tournament operators start to think that the association is just not worth it, that’s a substantial loss.”

D’Antonio added that it would be a “mistake” for Trump to deny the extent of the business he’s lost over his comments about immigrants.

“He talks a lot about the value of his brand, his name essentially, and has talked about it being worth billions of dollars,” he said. “I don’t think if you value your name in this way you can be unconcerned about some of the people lining up against you.”

Trump conceded in a Saturday appearance on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” that his 2016 bid was putting a dent in the personal brand he’s developed over decades of lucrative deals. He admitted to being taken aback by how “severe” his former business associates’ reactions were to his comments on immigrants.

“For the people who say I’m doing it for my brand — this isn’t good for my brand,” he said of his presidential campaign. “I think it’s bad for my brand.”

Even if Trump weathers the storm and sticks out the Republican presidential primary, D’Antonio noted that his comments about immigrants could have lasting effects on a business empire that will be passed down to Trump’s equally business-savvy children.

“I didn’t sense in talking to them that they were as comfortable with controversy as their father is,” he said of the next generation of Trumps. “So I think that their hopes were for a company that would be esteemed by red and blue and by consumers at every level of the market. I think that this does hurt that strategy.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.
LIKE US ON FACEBOOK