We have all had the experience. Arguing with Trump supporters. It is like a game of Whack-a-Mole.
They bring up Trump’s business success. The mole gets whacked with the multiple bankruptcies, the lawsuits, the crony capitalism, the inherited head start, the failures, the appalling timing and judgment (Trump Mortgage in 2006?), the mediocre investment record, and the consistent slide down the Forbes 500 list.
They bring up his policies. You respond with the general vacuity, the absence of knowledge (“hundreds of billions of savings” from negotiating a Medicare drugs bill that only totals $78 billion?), the rehashed and inadequate health care proposals after promising something “great,” etc., etc., etc. Eventually, this mole is forced to retreat.
They bring up his strength, and you respond with his authoritarian statements, his incitement of thuggery at his rallies, his wish to expand the libel laws to silence his detractors, and his illegal plan to kill the families of terrorists. The mole takes a beating.
They say that he alone speaks the truth, and you bring up the lies, the exaggerations, the evasions, the contradictions and the reversals. This mole heads underground.
And the game goes on until the supporters come up with their – sorry, but the pun is unavoidable – Trump card: “Well, at least he is self-funding his campaign. He isn’t bought and sold like the others.” This is the last redoubt of the Trump supporter. The claim that cannot be rebutted. The mole that cannot be whacked.
Until now. Since, if anyone cared to listen, Trump more or less admitted in the recent Miami Republican debate that he is not going to self-finance a general campaign if he makes it that far.
The exchange took place near the end and it went like this:
Stephen Dinan (Washington Post): Mr Trump, one of your biggest selling points is that you are largely self-funding your campaign, and you argue that your opponents are controlled by their special interest donors. Will you maintain your pledge not to take outside contributions throughout the general election?
Trump: I have not made that decision yet. I will make a decision on that, but I have not made that decision. My decision was that I would go through the entire primary season and I have turned down probably $275 million worth. I have many, many friends that come up all day long, $5 million, $10 million, I’m turning down money.
Like all great showman, Trump frequently asks his audience to suspend disbelief. But here he rises to a new level. This statement was made on March 10th, 2016, 268 days after his official launch on June 16th, 2015. 133 days before the end of the Republican convention, which would be the kick-off for any Trump general campaign. In other words, more than two-thirds of the way through, and we are asked to believe that the financing plan for the general election is on his to-do list but he just hasn’t gotten around to it yet.
This is the man his supporters believe will bring a successful businessman’s attention to detail and foresight to the Oval Office. This is Trump the master builder, responsible for tall building and then leaping them in a single bound. And yet, when it comes to paying for a very expensive campaign for the most important office in the land, he’s still thinking about it.
This is equivalent to Trump financing a building…one brick at a time.
Of course he has made his decision. And the decision is that he will take outside contributions for his general campaign. But he can’t tell the faithful that, at least not until he has the Republican nomination sewn up. At which point he will do a 180-degree turn on this issue, like he has done on so many others. When it comes to executing pirouettes, Trump is a prima ballerina.
How can I be so confident of this prediction? The answer is called “math.” Trump has not demonstrated much mastery of this subject, but even he figured out a long time ago that he is not going to invest up to $1 billion of his own money in a general campaign. History shows that he’s not a great investor, but even he sees the folly of something this speculative.
And even if he were willing to spend the money, he doesn’t have it. Trump is a lot less wealthy than he pretends. And he is certainly a lot less liquid. Like all good real estate guys, almost all of his wealth is tied up in bricks and mortar, which cannot be quickly sold without a big haircut to value. As much as Trump needs a new haircut, this is not the one he wants to take.
He might be able to borrow the money against his buildings, but after his near-death experience of the 1990s with debt, I doubt that he would go this way again. Particularly not when his father is no longer around to bail him out. And his recent business ventures, which consist mostly of getting a fee for associating his name with someone else’s risk capital, show that he has learned the virtues of OPM (“other peoples’ money”).
Trump has fought his primary campaign on the cheap. He has had a ton of free publicity in a crowded field. He has also benefited from Republican candidates who took him seriously too late and instead used their attack ads and media blitzes in the fight to be the non-Trump candidate. He won’t be able to count on either of these things in the general election. The Federal Communications Commission also has an Equal-Time Rule that will prevent Trump from hogging the airwaves.
For the general election, Trump will have to spend money. He doesn’t have it and, even if he did, he wouldn’t want to spend it. If he gets the nomination, expect the volte face on outside contributions immediately after the end of the Republican National Convention, probably dressed up as a reluctant concession to the overwhelming demands of his “friends.” He has already made this decision, but he won’t tell primary voters that. That last mole must be preserved.
Weybridge, United Kingdom
I Wish I Had Said That…
“The amount of energy needed to refute BS is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it,” by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian computer programmer. This is now known as “Brandolini’s Law” or the “BS Asymmetry Principle”