As Donald Trump prepares for his post-presidency in de facto exile at Mar-a-Lago, America’s soon-to-be ex-president is confronting a series of existential crises no predecessor has faced. The most immediate threat, of course, is the upcoming Senate impeachment trial, the outcome of which could bar him from ever serving office again. At the same time, Trump is reportedly the target of multiple state-level civil and criminal investigations that could subject him to heavy financial penalties or even jail. And when he’s not meeting with lawyers or sitting in a courtroom, Trump faces this grim reality: his brand is in tatters.
Trump has been effectively banished from vast swathes of the American economy. The list of companies and organizations that have announced they will no longer do business with him is long––and getting longer. In the days after Trump incited the deadly Capitol riot, social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube), financial institutions (Deutsche Bank, Signature Bank), and e-commerce platforms (Shopify, Stripe) have cut ties with him. PGA of America said it wouldn’t hold its 2022 championship tournament at Trump’s Bedminster golf course. In Trump’s native New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared the city would cancel municipal contracts with Trump to operate two ice rinks, Central Park Carousel, and a public golf course in the Bronx.
Meanwhile, Trump’s peers in the real estate industry have also shunned him. Two days after the riot, real estate firm JLL, which was overseeing the sale of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.—better known as the MAGA clubhouse during the Trump presidency—announced it wouldn’t be involved in selling the hotel. A few days later, the Trump Organization was dropped by brokerage giant Cushman & Wakefield, which handled leasing at Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street. Damage control hasn’t been successful. According to a New York real estate source, a lawyer representing the Trump Organization has called executives at major brokerages such as CBRE and Newmark and pitched them to sign Trump as a client. “They were looking for a big broker to elevate their brand,” the source said. So far, firms are passing, the source said. (A Trump Organization spokesperson disputed the source’s claim in an email, writing: “This isn’t true.”) A CBRE spokesperson said: “CBRE is not engaged in nor are we contemplating any work for the Trump Organization.” (Newmark did not immediately respond for comment.) A veteran real estate executive told me he couldn’t remember a time when a brokerage turned down a major client like Trump. “It’s shocking they’re not taking the business,” he said.
The outgoing president’s pariah status essentially torches the existing Trump business model at a moment when he owes Deutsche Bank $340 million in loans that are due in 2023 and 2024. Selling the few real estate assets his family owns into a depressed COVID economy is likely not an option. Which means Trump will have to quickly “pivot,” as they say. Since 2016, it has been widely assumed that Trump would attempt to build a media company around the MAGA audience. Four years later, a media play remains on the table. Trump’s son Eric Trump alluded to this in a recent interview with the Associated Press: “You have a man who would get followed to the ends of the Earth by a hundred million Americans. He created the greatest political movement in American history and his opportunities are endless.”
It’s true that, despite leaving office with record-low approval ratings, Trump retains a cult following that would, conceivably, pay to consume Trump-themed “content.” How many, and how much they would pay, is the question. Another source of capital could be the petro-dictatorships Trump coddled in office. Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates could loan Trump cash from their sovereign wealth funds. “Trump will have to be bailed out by someone he bailed out,” said longtime Trump observer Mitchell Moss, the Henry Hart Rice professor of urban policy at New York University’s Wagner school. But as an ex-president with significant legal liabilities, Trump may discover his strongmen allies are reluctant to write blank checks. “Money goes towards power,” Moss said. “The problem today is Trump doesn’t have power.”
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