The degenerate gambler: Trump runs his campaign like he ran his casinos — right into the ground

It should surprise no one that Trump's campaign is in shambles — he's destroyed every business he's ever touched

By Heather Digby Parton

Published June 21, 2016 12:00PM (EDT)

Donald Trump; the Trump Taj Mahal hotel and casino in Atlantic City, N.J., Sept. 13, 2007.   (Reuters/Brian Snyder/AP/Mel Evans/Photo montage by Salon)
Donald Trump; the Trump Taj Mahal hotel and casino in Atlantic City, N.J., Sept. 13, 2007. (Reuters/Brian Snyder/AP/Mel Evans/Photo montage by Salon)

Monday's bombshell that Trump had finally fired his incompetent campaign manager Corey Lewandowski hit the news networks like a lightning bolt.  It had been clear for months the man was in over his head but Trump was loyal to him apparently under the assumption that he’d ushered him through the primaries and therefore knew what he was doing.  According to news reports it took the Trump heirs gathering Lewandowski and The Donald in a room together to confront the campaign manager with the campaign’s lack of organization.

Trump apparently didn’t have a clue about any of it, and quickly dispatched his loyal servant when he was informed, which suggests that his only reading these days is old clippings of his once promising poll numbers. (Either that or he signed off on Lewandowski’s plans and pretended otherwise in front of the offspring which is more likely.)  Whatever the case, he’s decided to make a change, presumably to put his dark despot wrangler Paul Manafort fully in charge.

And that’s not the even the biggest Trump news. Last night it was revealed that the Trump campaign only has $1.3 million on hand. That is less than many incumbent congressional campaigns. This comports with other reporting revealing that Trump is having a lot of trouble wooing donors raising the ultimate question as to why he doesn’t simply write himself a check. He claims to be worth $10 billion dollars. If that were true he could finance this campaign entirely with a small dent in his fortune. For “some reason” he won’t do that, insisting that the campaign can be run on the cheap.

None of this should be surprising. Trump has a long history of financial malfeasance. We’ve heard all about Trump University and ACN and various other low-rent branding schemes. But if the horror of Orlando had not intervened, the most significant part of his business history is probably all we would have been talking about over the past week. The morning of the massacre, the New York Times published an exposé of Trump’s 25 years of running gambling enterprises in Atlantic City and it was devastating. For obvious reasons most people did not pay attention to it in the wake of such an unspeakable tragedy.  But it’s time to take a closer look.

The article was entitled “How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions.”  Let’s just say Trump always managed to take care of himself first. Everybody else got burned — “bigly.”


His audacious personality and opulent properties brought attention — and countless players — to Atlantic City as it sought to overtake Las Vegas as the country’s gambling capital. But a close examination of regulatory reviews, court records and security filings by The New York Times leaves little doubt that Mr. Trump’s casino business was a protracted failure. Though he now says his casinos were overtaken by the same tidal wave that eventually slammed this seaside city’s gambling industry, in reality he was failing in Atlantic City long before Atlantic City itself was failing.


But even as his companies did poorly, Mr. Trump did well. He put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to the casinos and collected millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and other payments. The burden of his failures fell on investors and others who had bet on his business acumen.


It was a set-up:


“He assembled his casino empire by borrowing money at such high interest rates — after telling regulators he would not — that the businesses had almost no chance to succeed.”


It happened repeatedly. He would buy at the top, and then mortgage the property to the hilt hyping himself to investors as a supreme business genius, the bottom would fall out and the whole thing collapses for lack of funds. But being the consummate hustler he is, he persuades the investors to take huge losses then loan him money all over again for yet another venture with the same phony prospectus. He, of course, was taking tons of money from the enterprise the whole time for himself. He is estimated to have cost his investors more than 1.5 billion dollars in losses.

He did that four times in Atlantic City, four bankruptcies, until he finally ran out the string in 2010.

Despite his protestations that he “got out” before Atlantic City crashed, the truth is that he was in long after everyone knew it was failing, licensing his name to his derelict casinos and dirty hotels, making them buy his silly Trump swag at inflated prices and generally stiffing thousands of workers and contractors over and over again even was he was making millions.  It’s fair to say that the allegedly sophisticated Wall Street investors should have known better than to believe the Trump hype, especially more than once, but unfortunately their foolishness took down a lot of smaller investors with them, people who put their retirement savings on the line and lost it all.

This investigative report came on the heels of an earlier expose in USA Today with the headline “Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills” about the more than 3500 lawsuits filed against him.. Basically, the scam was that he would contract with a company for some kind of work on the hotels, approve the work and then refuse to pay the final invoices telling them to take him to court if they didn’t like it, in some cases “advising” them to take the offer of a lower fee if they wanted any more work in the future. The legal fees would eat them alive and they would often drop the case or be ruined. And those weren’t even the scores of businesses and employees who were destroyed by his serial bankruptcies.

This is how he operates his businesses so it shouldn’t be too surprising that he’s running the same scams on his campaign. His May FEC reports show that  20% of the nearly 7 million spent in May went to Trump-owned businesses or family members. The campaign pays for his sons and daughter to travel for appearances. It “rented” Trump’s Palm beach club Mar-a-Lago and paid for Trump’s private 767. According to Market Watch, “the filing suggests that Trump himself is drawing a salary from the campaign, which would be highly unusual.” That would be unusual for a normal candidate, it’s standard operating procedure for Trump. Whether these expenses are commonly charged to campaigns is irrelevant. There is no law against a candidate paying his own expenses out of his own pocket. Trump is choosing not to do that for some reason.

He has loaned his campaign about $45 million, which he insists is only a loan on paper and has no intention of paying back to himself from campaign funds. He’s using some of those funds to “pay expenses” apparently which, for him, is actually quite generous. But if I were a contractor or a vendor doing business with the Trump campaign, I’d insist on payment in full before delivery. There is very little chance you’ll ever see your money otherwise. Trump gets his take before everyone anyone else.  There’s rarely anything left when he’s done.

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Atlantic City Donald Trump Editor's Picks Elections 2016