Business Acumen

The early June primaries settled it. In November it will be Donald Trump – the billionaire businessman who wrote The Art of the Deal – versus Hillary Clinton, with her miles-long résumé of high-level government experience – the years in the Senate and the years as Secretary of State and all the rest. She’s superbly qualified, but has all the baggage that comes with all those years, which Kevin Drum summarizes this way:

For the record: Whitewater was a nothingburger. Travelgate was a nothingburger. Troopergate was a nothingburger. Filegate was a nothingburger. The Vince Foster murder conspiracy theories were a nothingburger. Monica Lewinsky was Bill’s problem, not Hillary’s. Benghazi was a tragedy, but entirely non-scandalous. The Goldman Sachs speeches were probably a bad idea, but otherwise a nothingburger. Emailgate revealed some poor judgment, but we’ve now seen all the emails and it’s pretty obviously a nothingburger. Humagate is a nothingburger. Foundationgate is a nothingburger.

Bottom line: Don’t let Donald Trump or the press or anyone else convince you that Hillary Clinton is “dogged by scandal” or “works under a constant cloud of controversy” or whatever the nonsense of the day is. That constant cloud is the very deliberate invention of lowlifes in Arkansas; well-heeled conservative cranks; the Republican Party; and far too often a gullible and compliant press. Like anybody who’s been in politics for 40 years, Hillary has some things she should have handled better, but that’s about it.

The plain fact is that there’s no serious scandal on her record. There’s no evidence that she’s ever sold out to Wall Street. There’s no corruption, intrigue, or deceit. And if anything, she’s too honest on a policy level. She could stand to promise people a bit of free stuff now and then.

If you don’t know what each and every one of those “gates” was about, don’t worry. There was nothing there in the first place. They’re just the barnacles on the ship’s hull that slow the ship down. Years at sea can do that, but of course Donald Trump has issues too. He impulsively says whatever crosses his mind, and a lot of that has been both misogynistic and lately, overtly racist. Democrats may fret over Hillary’s “baggage” – it’s real enough if people talk about it – but Republicans fret over Trump’s lack of self-discipline. He’ll go off on anyone who he thinks might have just disrespected him. He’ll call them names and sneer at them, and that gets pretty ugly, but he is amazingly rich. This has worked for him, and he won the nomination, didn’t he?

That’s what he seemed to be saying to Carl Hulse, the New York Times reporter who interviewed him the day after the last primaries, a conversation that took place high up in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue:

Donald J. Trump has some advice for panicked Republicans in Washington who are melting down over his most incendiary statements: Man up.

“Politicians are so politically correct anymore, they can’t breathe,” Mr. Trump said in an interview Tuesday afternoon as fellow Republicans forcefully protested his ethnically charged criticism of a federal judge overseeing a lawsuit against the defunct Trump University.

“The people are tired of this political correctness when things are said that are totally fine,” he said during an interlude in a day of exceptional stress in the Trump campaign. “It is out of control. It is gridlock with their mouths.”

Politicians obviously know nothing about the art of the deal, and they certainly know nothing about running a business:

His is a campaign like no other, conducted out of a luxury office tower in Manhattan named for its most prominent occupant, the presumptive nominee himself. A few floors below his personal office with a Trumpian view of Central Park is unfinished space being leased to his campaign team, a relatively skeleton crew of 80 or so running a national campaign.

He is flabbergasted by critiques that he is woefully undermanned compared to the hundreds working for Mrs. Clinton, many just over in Brooklyn.

“To me, that is smart,” Mr. Trump said about his lean team, though he says he will soon increase his work force.

He won’t increase it much, and the whole Republican Party is clueless:

Anyone thinking that Mr. Trump is going to suddenly adopt a more cautious, strategic approach yearned for by election-conscious congressional Republicans is likely to be disappointed. He wrinkled his nose in disgust at the mere mention of the word “pivot,” though he conceded he wants to get on to broader discussion of the economy.

That’s what he thinks he knows. He’s been cutting deals all his life, but he probably didn’t account for this:

Hillary Clinton is planning to deliver a speech on economic policy, contrasting her plans with those of her Republican opponent, Donald Trump.

Clinton told the Wall Street Journal that her economic speech will be in the mold of one she delivered last week on foreign policy, in which she referred to Trump as “not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes” and who it would be a “historic mistake” to elect.

“It’s not hard to see how a Trump presidency could actually lead to a serious global economic crisis,” Clinton told the Wall Street Journal. “While he may have some catchy sound bites, his statements on the economy are dangerously incoherent. They are deeply misguided and they reflect an individual who is temperamentally unfit to manage the American economy.”

She’s going to hit him with his own words again, quoted accurately again, which limits his possible responses to mocking her for being shrill and, perhaps this time, directly saying that women simply don’t know about such things. Anyway, he’s rich. What the hell does she know? He has that business-acumen thing going for him.

That may be the problem here, as he now wants to run his campaign in an efficient businesslike way:

Donald Trump said in an interview Wednesday that he sees “no reason” to raise $1 billion to compete in the general election against Hillary Clinton, who is expected to raise upwards of that sum.

Trump said as recently as last month in an interview with The New York Times, “I think we’ll raise $1 billion,” though top GOP donors and fundraisers have warned that Trump’s late start to the fundraising game would likely keep him from reaching that target.

But Trump signaled Wednesday in an interview with Bloomberg Politics that he would instead continue to rely on free media attention to make up for his money deficit.

“There’s no reason to raise that,” Trump said. “I just don’t think I need nearly as much money as other people need because I get so much publicity. I get so many invitations to be on television. I get so many interviews, if I want them.”

Trump refused in his Bloomberg interview to even commit to raising half of the $1 billion mark Clinton is expected to cross this year.

Good businessmen don’t throw money away, but Josh Marshall wonders about this:

This isn’t as bracing and shocking as Donald Trump’s flirtations with fascistic politics, explicit racism and sundry nonsense. But it could end up being a very, very big deal.

This doesn’t require much thought:

Some people think that Trump may not need the money because he’s such a master of getting free publicity and air-time, what professionals call “earned media”. That’s what Trump thinks. … I don’t think that’s true. There’s a lot more to a campaign than television time. And as I’ve tried to argue in other contexts, getting on TV doesn’t necessarily help you if you’re acting like a jackass. In any case, not all campaign spending goes to 30 second ads. A huge amount of money goes to mobilization and voter turnout efforts. (Remember how Trump almost lost the nomination because he had virtually no organization and almost had the thing stolen from him at the state conventions?)

But let’s assume it is true for Trump. Well, there’s more than just Trump.

That’s the real problem here:

On both sides of the aisle, virtually every other campaign in the country gets swept along in the tide of spending coordinated between the presidential campaign and the candidate’s party: voter registration, mobilization, Election Day turnout, TV ad saturation. Most campaigns which aren’t in very safe districts or uncontested races rely heavily on that spending as a supplement to their own.

If it’s not there, or there in a dramatically reduced amount, that could have a big impact on congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative elections. Politico for instance says that Trump and the RNC may struggle to raise even $300 million.

Yeah, well, they’re out of luck, because they got this master businessman as their nominee, and now they’re stuck:

There seem to be three main issues. First is that Trump is starting very, very late. At this point in the cycle Romney had been raising big-big dollars for months, with that billion dollar figure as the goal. If Trump got up to Romney’s clip today he’d still fall massively short. Second is that the donor class really, really doesn’t like Trump (temperamentally, ideologically, etc.) and questions why they should open their wallets for another billionaire.

Here Trump probably wishes he could admit that he’s only worth a few hundred million. But whatever … For all sorts of reasons, the donors aren’t terribly inclined to give. And third, Trump doesn’t seem either eager to ask for the money or temperamentally capable of doing so.

In typical Trumpian fashion he resolves this by saying and probably believing that he doesn’t need the money in the first place.

Trump just doesn’t get it:

That’s not how this works. The billion dollar figure isn’t whipped up out of whole cloth. And it’s not just for ads. Absent a GOP wave election, which seems all but unimaginable, this could hurt congressional Republicans quite a bit.

What kind of businessman is this guy anyway? Josh Marshall also explains that:

There are two things Donald Trump is notorious for in the business world – one is simple bullying as a business tactic, another is cheating people out of money they’re owed and then making the ‘deal’ stick by grinding the counter-parties down with the promise of endless litigation. As Times columnist Joe Nocera puts it, in the business world Trump “is notorious for refusing to pay full price to contractors and vendors after they’ve completed work for him. And he basically dares the people he has stiffed to sue him, knowing that his deep pockets and bevy of lawyers give him a big advantage over those who feel wronged by him.”

Both traits are surprisingly good guides to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Perhaps so, because Marshall also interviewed another New York real estate professional and was told this:

There is a personality type with a New York developer, one Donald learned from Fred when he carried his dad’s briefcase to acquisition meetings out in the boroughs and it goes like this:

Donald contracts for a service or good, or the acquisition of a piece of land for $1 million.

He then does not pay you.

You ask Donald for your million dollars.

Donald yells at you, basely, abusively, wholly out of character to the rich gentleman you broke bread with and made the deal with. He tells you that no, YOU owe him $200,000. Gives you no reason but screams how can you be such a son of a bitch to rip him off, how he’s going to sue you, expose you as a cheat, etc.

You’re off your pins, defensive. How could this be the guy who was so nice when he picked up the check at Per Se?

So, you compromise, because human nature avoids conflict, right? This is what he’s gaming you for because once you compromised, you’ve lost. You’ve inferred his premise that you have some complicity in the matter otherwise why would you compromise? You are on the defensive and will never get it back.

You offer $750,000 as a settlement, angry buy want it over and done with. He then sues you. Why, because you’ve already committed yourself to the loss. You volunteered to surrender your position and what will stop you from keeping going?

I’ve seen many a New Yorker settle things like this with Trump people for 5-10 cents on the dollar and then happy, even eager to keep doing business with them. Why? Because he got in their heads with this aggressively counterintuitive behavior!

Marshall says that this explains a lot of what’s been going on:

The Trump University scam is getting a lot of attention, wildly inflamed by Trump’s racist attacks on the judge presiding over the case. But there’s another suit that’s gotten very little attention. It’s about a gulf resort in Jupiter, Florida (now Trump National Jupiter) which Trump purchased in 2012. The business model of the resort was based on refundable deposits from members – ranging from the low 5-figures to the $200,000 range. Trump purchased the property and then promptly made the refundable deposits non-refundable. Some members had little choice but to accept Trump’s decision, others settled for pennies on the dollar (because the cost of litigation would eat up most of the money in dispute). Another group is suing him.

Now, this case isn’t quite as emotionally compelling as the Trump University case where Trump got people with big dreams and little money to put up tens of thousands of dollars for basically worthless seminars. Here it’s one extremely rich person cheating a bunch of merely rich people out of their money. But it gives you a pretty good sense of Trump’s way of doing business and makes it pretty obvious why an idea as crazy as stiffing US bondholders on a substantial part of their investment would seem like so obvious an idea to Trump.

It also tells you something about why Trump suddenly seems so unable to roll with the changing dynamics of the campaign. Coming off a weekend in which most GOP elected officials around the country are harshly criticizing his racist attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, Trump is now overruling his own campaign and insisting that surrogates intensify their attacks on the judge. Pressed on whether this could possibly be a good idea, Trump shot back: “And I’ve always won and I’m going to continue to win. And that’s the way it is.”

I win because I win and I will keep winning!

Unflinching self-assertion and aggression is basically the only game he knows.

Marshall also says this illuminates this passage from Trump’s oddly subdued victory speech after the June primaries:

Some people say I’m too much of a fighter. My preference is always peace, however. And I’ve shown that. I’ve shown that for a long time. I’ve built an extraordinary business on relationships and deals that benefit all parties involved, always. My goal is always, again, to bring people together. But if I’m forced to fight for something I really care about, I will never, ever back down and our country will never ever back down.

Marshall tries to unpack that:

This is a fascinating passage – because this is not Trump’s reputation in business at all. Remember that no major banks other than Deutsche Bank (and apparently only one division of DB) will do business with Trump anymore. They’ve all been burned too often. Trump’s actual mode of operation is to cut sharp deals in which he wins and the counterparty gets screwed. If and when they sue, he digs in and tries to wait them out. …

Trump certainly isn’t the only businessman to pursue this sort of win/lose model of doing business. It can be highly profitable, if not necessarily sustainable. Whatever Trump did to Citibank to make them refuse to do business with him ever again … well, they should have known who they were dealing with when they decided to do business with a huckster. Obviously, Trump’s Trump University victims – often elderly novice investors bamboozled into spending their retirement savings on Trump’s swindle – are a good deal more sympathetic.

Regardless, win-win is emphatically not Trump’s way of doing business.

That’s merely how governance in a democracy works – not a very businesslike endeavor – and then Joe Scarborough turned the tables on the master deal-maker:

“Donald, guess what, I’m not going to support you until you get your act together. You’re acting like a bush-league loser, you’re acting like a racist, you’re acting like a bigot,” Scarborough said during the first hour of Morning Joe. “This is called art of the deal. I’m taking my deal off the table. Until you come to the table and get on the other side of the table and prove to me you’re not a bigot and you don’t take my party down in the ditch, you don’t have my endorsement.”

Scarborough continued, telling the presumptive GOP presidential nominee that he and other Republicans “can’t use Hillary Clinton as a gun against my head” to march him into supporting his campaign for the general election.

“I’m taking the gun away from my head, I’m putting it on the table, and now it is in your hands on whether you are going to prove to the Republican Party and me personally that you’re not a bigot,” he said. “So don’t use Hillary Clinton as a threat against me. Don’t use Hillary Clinton as an excuse, as your blank check to say racist things about people born in Indiana. No, Donald, you don’t get to play it that way. I’m not scared of you and I’m not scared of the base, because they are just as pissed off as me. Walk away. It’s called the art of the deal. It’s what Donald Trump has been preaching all his life. They are – I can’t say the word they are. They’re, they’re weak.”

Co-host Mika Brzezinski chimed in, noting that Trump might have used the word Scarborough was looking for at a February rally in New Hampshire, when a woman in the crowd called Ted Cruz “a pussy” and Trump repeated the remark.

“Paul Ryan, you can’t use Hillary Clinton, either,” Brzezinski said, “in your pathetic, weak kind of meandering around this problem, because you know what we have here with these Republican leaders who are like, ‘Can’t have Hillary Clinton.’ Really? You hate her that much you’ll take a racist. You hate her that much we’re going to have eight more years of the Republicans we had who said from the get-go with Obama, we just want him to fail. You’re going to have more of the same. You are more of the same.”

Sometimes the man who literally wrote the book on making deals cannot make one, when he’s no longer in the business world. And on the international stage, things might get even stranger, given what Trump recently said about American exceptionalism:

“I don’t like the term. I’ll be honest with you. People say, ‘Oh he’s not patriotic.’ Look, if I’m a Russian, or I’m a German, or I’m a person we do business with, why, you know, I don’t think it’s a very nice term. We’re exceptional; you’re not. First of all, Germany is eating our lunch. So they say, ‘Why are you exceptional? We’re doing a lot better than you.’ I never liked the term.”

“And perhaps that’s because I don’t have a very big ego and I don’t need terms like that. Honestly. When you’re doing business – I watch Obama every once in a while saying ‘American exceptionalism,’ it’s [Trump makes a face]. I don’t like the term. Because we’re dealing – first of all, I want to take everything back from the world that we’ve given them. We’ve given them so much. On top of taking it back, I don’t want to say, ‘We’re exceptional. We’re more exceptional.’ Because essentially we’re saying, ‘We’re more outstanding than you. By the way, you’ve been eating our lunch for the last 20 years, but we’re more exceptional than you.’ I don’t like the term. I never liked it.”

Then it got even stranger:

“I don’t think we should say it. We may have a chance to say it in the not-too-distant future. But even then, I wouldn’t say it because when I take back the jobs, and when I take back all that money and we get all our stuff, I’m not going to rub it in. Let’s not rub it in. Let’s not rub it in. But I never liked that term.”

Digby (Heather Parton) has an appropriate response:

Trump says he “wants to take everything back that we’ve given the world” which is just… crazy. Not to mention the fact that he also wants to take other country’s oil because, well, we need oil.

He’s a paranoid moron who truly believes the country has been screwed by the rest of the world and we are weak and fragile because of it. He insists the rest of the world is “laughing at us”. The opposite is true. The US is the most powerful nation on earth.

That’s not how Donald Trump sees it:

Donald Trump apparently isn’t fazed by the staggering number of lawsuits that have been filed against him and his businesses over the years, which USA Today scrutinized in a detailed story earlier this week.

He actually views it as a point of pride that he’s been able to win most of the cases that were eventually resolved.

“Wow, USA Today did today’s cover story on my record in lawsuits,” Trump tweeted on Thursday. “Verdict: 450 wins, 38 losses. Isn’t that what you want for your president?”

Is it? This is no small matter:

USA Today reported that Trump and his businesses have been the targets of at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts during the past 30 years. The newspaper called the volume of lawsuits “unprecedented for a presidential nominee.”

Sure, but that’s how he does business – screw people over, let them sue, then, with the best lawyers money can buy, bury them in legal costs. Bankrupt them if possible. They’ll give up. Isn’t that what you want from your president?

Donald Trump is asking the right question. He may not like the answer. Then he’ll sue us all.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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