How good a businessman is Donald Trump? Maybe the answer doesn’t matter, since barring death or impeachment he’ll be the most powerful man in the world until January 2021, or even 2025, come what may. Or maybe it does matter, in the sense that the only positive spin to be put on his otherwise ridiculous presidency is that the irrepressible cunning of the real-estate tycoon will eventually win through for the good of America — and thereby, we must hope, the good of the free world — against opponents who have smaller cojones and less dealmaking prowess than the Donald does.
‘He’s the closer,’ declared White House spokesman Sean Spicer, shortly before his boss failed to close his biggest political deal so far, the American Health Care Act. So what, say supporters. He has also just fallen from 366th to 544th in the Forbes list of billionaires but he’s still worth $3.5 billion, which is a hell of a lot more than you or me. And yes, he has clocked up six bankruptcies — but they were ‘Chapter 11’ reorganisations, which are smart devices to keep companies alive and creditors at bay — not liquidations — and five of them were in the gaming biz, which is a great big can of worms anyway, and you probably wouldn’t have noticed them at all but for the Trump name upfront. The point of Trump is that he always fights back and finds ways to win, just like he did in the presidential campaign.
But is he really a man we can do business with? I asked an old friend who did several property deals with him. ‘He can be very charming, but what you and I see as this…’ — my chum makes a right angle with his hands, then runs a finger slowly round the curve of the circular table between
us — ‘…Trump sees as this. He has vision, he takes big risks, he’s a brilliant marketer, he’s clever at putting his brand on things he only owns pieces of.’ And his Achilles heel?
‘Well, look at the casino complex he built in Atlantic City [opened in 1984, repeatedly redeveloped and refinanced, the Trump Plaza closed in 2014]. You and I wouldn’t be comfortable doing business with the people he was doing business with there, I can tell you. I won’t be surprised if some big scandal comes out of his past.’
That’s the other reason to scrutinise Trump’s business record: it could still bring him down before the end of his first term. Meanwhile, we’re repeatedly reminded of one of his campaign tweets: ‘Deals are my art form… preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.’ Most people don’t realise the quote originates from page one of his million-selling 1987 book The Art of The Deal, which he didn’t actually write: a journalist called Tony Schwartz ghost-wrote it for him, and its Random House publisher Howard Kaminsky told the New Yorker, ‘Trump didn’t write a postcard for us.’
This is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer's 'Any Other Business', which appears in this week's Spectator