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Trump’s leaving office now — and businesses are leaving him. Can his toxic brand survive?


Reading the news this month has been like binge-watching a bizarro version of “The Apprentice.” One by one, banks, real estate brokers, a law firm, Shopify, the city of New York and even the Girl Scouts have told President Donald Trump, in various ways, “You’re fired.”

Banks, real estate brokers, a law firm, Shopify, the city of New York and even the Girl Scouts have told President Donald Trump, in various ways, “You’re fired.”

These are organizations that, in various ways, stuck by Trump after he called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” after the emergence of the “Access Hollywood” tape, after more than two dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct, after his travel ban targeted Muslim-majority countries, after he suggested that white supremacists can be “very fine people” and after years of making the similar bogus claims about widespread voter fraud that incited the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

What’s changed, of course, is that Donald Trump lost the presidency.

But while the courage these Trump business partners mustered is late and opportunistic, their defections are part of a longer trend that’s likely to leave the Trump Organization flailing for capital. Trump has been in similar financial peril before — and managed to snatch a lifesaver each time. But in the past, he wasn’t also battling a personal and professional brand that over the past four years has become increasingly toxic.

This is certainly not what Trump had in mind when he ran for the highest office in the land. Indeed, he and his family have spent the past several years leveraging the presidency to help their business empire — even selling soap wrapped in paper emblazoned with “Trump Hotels” but showing the White House.

Yet having such close personal and professional ties cuts both ways. Some companies did publicly jettison the Trump brand after those earlier outrages (to say nothing of the tens of millions of Americans who’ve probably ruled out a night at a Trump hotel). For example, NPR counted 20 groups that canceled on Mar-a-Lago in the two weeks after Trump vouched for the character of marchers at the “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia. And companies such as Nordstrom and Hudson’s Bay dropped Ivanka Trump’s fashion line after the Grab Your Wallet campaign pushed for a boycott (her company later shuttered).

And his losing the presidency seems bound to slash U.S. government and Republican political campaign spending at Trump’s properties — two client groups that weren’t big patrons of Trump’s businesses before his political dodder. While Trump’s government has been secretive about its payments to his companies, what little data it has shared show that the president’s businesses have “billed the government at least $2.5 million,” David Fahrenthold reported for The Washington Post. Meanwhile, ProPublica’s tally of campaign finance reports calculates more than $21 million in spending by political groups at Trump properties (much of it from Trump’s own campaign). Such disbursements seem unlikely to continue.

Similarly, companies and associations looking to curry favor with officials has proven to be another lucrative market segment that’s likely to dry up. T-Mobile executives’ bookings at Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., spiked after the company needed government signoff for its planned merger with Sprint. About $195,000 in payments to the hotel and one approved merger later, its CEO published a Facebook post arguing against re-electing Trump. Expect that kind of 180 to become a trend in 2021.

Companies and associations looking to curry favor with officials has proven to be another lucrative market segment that’s likely to dry up.

While it got a lot of attention in the aftermath of the riot at the Capitol, Deutsche Bank — one of the few major financial institutions that has been willing to lend to Trump since a string of four bankruptcy filings in the early 1990s — also has been trying to extricate itself from him for some time.

Trump owes the German bank about $340 million. It comes due in the next three years, and he has personally guaranteed the loans, meaning his signature move — filing for bankruptcy and walking away — is a less likely option.

“Deutsche Bank recognized early on that their relationship with Trump was pretty toxic and something they regretted, but I don’t think they saw an early way out,” David Enrich, business investigations editor at The New York Times and author of “Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction,” told me. “Once it became clear he was about to lose power, they took more concrete steps.”

Among the steps Enrich cited was to push out Trump’s primary banker and booster, Rosemary Vrablic, in December. “Around that time, the bank decided never again to do business with Trump,” Enrich said. “That preceded the riots that Trump helped incite, but it reflects the great reputational damage that the bank’s relationship with Trump had already caused.”

(And as Enrich notes in “Dark Towers,” Deutsche Bank’s previous customers have included the Nazi party and Jeffrey Epstein.)

As for what happens with the loans, Enrich said sources inside the bank have told him that selling them before maturity isn’t an option. “Their expectation is that they are going to get their money back,” Enrich said, adding that Trump could raise the cash by selling assets or borrowing from non-mainstream lenders outside the formal U.S. banking system.

In the event that Trump doesn’t repay Deutsche Bank, Enrich said, its possible recourses include pursuing the debt in the courts or selling the loans to a vulture institution that is willing to play hardball with Trump.

Against this backdrop, the PGA’s terminating its agreement to play its 2022 championship at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey adds considerable insult to injury. (The next day, the organizer of the British Open stated that it also has no plans to host a championship at Trump Turnberry in Scotland, a position it doesn’t expect to change for the foreseeable future.)

While personally and symbolically devastating, the announcements also will hurt Trump from a business standpoint. Trump Golf includes 17 finished properties. Two of them, Doral and Turnberry, are iconic courses (a status they enjoyed before Trump’s ownership). The 2022 PGA Championship would have been the first men’s major that Bedminster had hosted, both elevating its standing and providing a four-day, nationally televised Trump-infomercial (so, kind of like the 2020 Republican National Convention — but without as much yelling).

Now, Trump Bedminster will remain best known as the place Jared and Ivanka snuck off to during the pandemic.

Then again, Trump’s ability to blast himself out of financial sand traps can’t be discounted. After having parlayed his inheritance into massive loans and bankruptcies, Trump emerged as a made-for-TV tycoon, an image he leveraged into marketing deals, endorsements and the launch of an unaccredited institution of higher learning. And when revenue from those ventures faded, he took over the Republican Party and then the executive branch.

As for how Trump grapples with hundreds of millions in debt, a dearth of professionals willing to work with him on legal and financial matters, and office space vacated by the Girls Scouts? Stay tuned — possibly to Trump TV.



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