A BRIDGE TO SELL YOU
A Brief History of Donald Trump’s Get-Rich Schemes
If you can consume it, Donald Trump has probably tried to sell it to you—including his presidential campaign.
At its core, the Art of the Scheme is that he’ll get rich by promising to make you rich.
Throughout his decades-long business career, Donald Trump has launched a series of businesses that follow this model, with his presidential campaign being the latest. But in between founding phony universities and multi-level-marketing scams, Trump has also fallen victim to many of his own plainly stupid ideas.
And, apparently, it’s a sore subject.
Forty seconds into his victory speech in Jupiter, Florida, Tuesday night, just after winning the Mississippi and Michigan primaries and a few hours before he would win Hawaii, Trump interrupted the scheduled programming for a word from the night’s sponsor: Donald Trump.
“It’s really wonderful to have you at Trump National Golf Club!” he said. “Jack Nicklaus did this. It’s a Jack Nicklaus signature course and it’s a great, great resort and place and we have a lot of our members here, I see, we love our members!”
At a table off to the side of the stage, Trump-branded wines, water, and raw steaks were strewn about on a white tablecloth.
They were props that served a strategic purpose.
Five days earlier, on March 3, Mitt Romney had spent close to 20 minutes reaming Trump, from a stage in Utah, for his lack of statesmanlike qualities. Trump, Romney said, has few specific plans to follow through on his promise to “Make America Great Again!” and the plans he does have are either idiotic or dangerous for the country.
But none of those criticisms seemed to bother Trump much.
It was something else that Romney said that got under his naturally sun-kissed skin.
“You say, wait, wait, wait, isn’t he a huge business success? Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about?” Romney said. “No, he isn’t and no, he doesn’t!”
The crowd cheered.
“Whatever happened to Trump Airlines?” He went on. “How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.”
And so Trump laid out the raw meat and the Trump-branded alcohol and the cases of water in plastic bottles bearing his name.
“I have very successful companies,” Trump told the audience.
“Well, there’s the water company! We sell water and we have water and it’s a very successful—you know, it’s a private, little water company and I supply the water for all my places and it’s good, but it’s very good,” Trump said.
Trump Natural Spring Water, according to Trump’s website, is “one of the purest natural spring waters bottled in the world” and it’s “proudly served at Trump Hotels, Restaurants and Golf Clubs worldwide.”
But, as Time’s Zeke Miller pointed out, the label on Trump Natural Spring Water suggests it’s bottled by Village Springs Water, “located in the pristine hills of Willington, Connecticut.”
Trump didn’t dwell on that detail.
“Trump steaks!” he said, moving on.
“Where are the steaks? Do we have the steaks? We have Trump Steaks. He said the company! And we have Trump steaks! And by the way, if you want to take one, we’ll charge you, what, about 50 bucks a steak.”
Trump Steaks hit the market in 2007, via The Sharper Image catalogue. “When it comes to great steaks, I’ve just raised the stakes!” Trump said in an ad at the time. “Trump Steaks are the world’s greatest steaks and I mean that in every sense of the word!
“Trump Steaks are, by far, the best-tasting, most flavorful beef you’ve ever had!”
Reviewers, on QVC.com, where Trump steaks were also sold, disagreed, calling them “extremely greasy” and “tasteless and mealy.”
However they tasted, nobody in Jupiter, Florida, Tuesday night found out, perhaps because Trump Steaks were discontinued in 2014. Sharper Image’s website says they are no longer available but “their legacy endures.”
The steaks on display were purchased from a local vendor, the Bush Brothers—no affiliation with Jeb (!). The label from the company was conspicuously left on the packaging. But apparently to Trump, any steak in his general vicinity qualifies as a Trump Steak. He continued to assert that they were Trump Steaks during an interview with Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night.
Doug Bush, sales manager for the Bush Brothers, told The Daily Beast that they sell steaks to Trump properties on a daily basis. He was unclear as to how Trump had used their product to promote himself on Tuesday.
Trump didn’t mention it.
“We have Trump Magazine!” he said.
He walked offstage, out of the shot of the camera, and grabbed a glossy magazine that was not called Trump Magazine.
“He said Trump Magazine is out! I said, it is? I thought I read one two days ago.” He held it up in the air. “This comes out and it’s called The Jewel of Palm Beach, it goes to all my clubs. I’ve had it for many years and it’s—the magazine is great. Anybody want one?”
He tossed the magazine out into the audience.
The Jewel of Palm Beach, an annual publication published by Palm Beach Media Group (which NPR reported Trump “does not appear to own”) and described as “the exclusive publication of Donald J. Trump’s spectacular Mar-a-Lago Club” is not the Trump Magazine that Romney was talking about.
Trump Magazine, a quarterly that sold for $5.95, launched in 1998, according to the New York Daily News. Its creative director, Aaron Sigmond, described it as “wealth porn,” an aspirational publication for people who wished to live like Trump.
It folded in 2009.
“So,” Trump said, “and the airline! By the way, I sold the airline… I actually made a great deal, complicated and in really terrible times, the economy was horrible, and I made a phenomenal deal. I had the shuttle, and I sold it!”
In 1988, Trump acquired a fleet of 22 aircrafts from Eastern Airlines for $365 million and decked them out in classic Trump style, even requiring his female flight attendants to don (faux) pearls. According to a Daily Beast report from October, sources close to Trump at the time of his aviation experiment said he “seemed less interested in the inner workings of the business than in what it could do for his brand.”
And in the end, it didn’t even do much for that.
Trump defaulted on Trump Shuttle’s debt and, in 1991, sold the company to U.S. Air.
In his 2008 book, Never Give Up: How I Turned My Biggest Challenges Into Success, he wrote that “I knew it could be successful” but admitted, it “never turned a proper profit.”
If Trump couldn’t have his own shuttle, he was determined to have his own travel agency.
In 2006, he launched GoTrump.com, a Travelocity-like site offering “travel Trump style.”
According to a 2011 Rolling Stone report, the site promised a 120 percent price guarantee on certain hotel deals offered up by The Donald himself.
Trump’s own sell for GoTrump reads like a preview for his campaign speeches.
“I love to negotiate,” he boasted on the company’s website. “And when I negotiate, I make sure that I get the best deal out there. At GoTrump.com, you will get the lowest online rate on a wide variety of flights, hotels, and travel packages. With over 60,000 hotels worldwide to choose from—the selection is tremendous. There is no arguing with a great deal—because in the end—it is all about the ‘Art of the Travel Deal.’”
Tamar Niv Bessinger, the trademark lawyer associated with this site, as well as many of Trump’s other failed endeavors, didn’t offer any insight on the project. When The Daily Beast tried to contact her and ask about GoTrump specifically she said “I’m going to stop you right there: no comment.”
GoTrump.com shut down only a year after it began, in 2007. The website redirects to DonaldJTrump.com, the digital home of his presidential campaign.
“And by the way,” Trump said, “Trump University? We’re holding it, when I win the lawsuit—which I’ll win,” he trailed off.
“So, we’re putting it on hold and if I become president that means Ivanka, Don, Eric, and my family will start it up, but we have a lot of great people who want to get back into Trump University. It’s gonna do very well!”
Trump University was founded in 2005, a for-profit online school that sold courses—$300 each, on CD-ROM—on entrepreneurship, real estate, and marketing. The idea was to capitalize on the success of The Apprentice, which a year earlier had become one of NBC’s highest rated shows, and, at least according to Trump and his faculty at the time, to remodel education for the digital age.
But things soon went awry, and, according to what one former Trump University professor told The Daily Beast, Trump shifted his focus away from online curricula to expensive real estate seminars. By 2010, Trump University was forced to change its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, and then it ceased operations altogether.
Today, Trump University is the subject of three major lawsuits: two class action suits in California, one of which will go to trial, with Trump as a witness, this spring or summer, and a $40 million civil suit brought by Eric Schneiderman, New York’s Attorney General.
“By the way, the winery—you see the wine, ’cause he mentioned Trump Vodka. It’s the largest winery on the East Coast, I own it 100 percent, no mortgage, no debt,” Trump said. “It was the Kluge estate! John Kluge, he was the richest man in the United States, he died and he built one of the great vineyards of all time. There’s nothing like it. Close to two thousand acres. It’s in Charlottesville, Virginia, right next to the Thomas Jefferson memorial and we’re very proud of it, we make the finest wine, as good a wine as you can get anywhere in the world.”
“I believe,” he added, repeating himself, “it’s the largest vineyard and the largest winery on the East Coast!”
Trump Vodka went on the market in 2006. Its slogan was “Success Distilled.” According to Time, Trump promised that the Trump & tonic and Trump martini would become the most popular drinks in American bars.
Trump Vodka stopped production in 2011. In 2012, Trump purchased the Charlottesville, Virginia, estate of John Kluge, for less than $10 million, despite its value of $60 million. The estate came with a winery, and now interested parties can purchase the Trump 2008 Sparkling Reserve for just $50.
Throughout the course of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, almost no Trump speech or rally has resembled a standard political event.
While others talk in churches and school auditoriums, Trump lures tens of thousands into stadiums that are usually home to concerts and monster truck rallies.
And while most candidates use their time in front of an audience to paint their vision, usually in at least some detail, for the country’s future, Trump tends to ramble semi-coherently about his own greatness.
But it wasn’t until Tuesday night that a Trump speech had crossed over completely into the realm of late-night infomercials and home shopping network programming, rehashing his decade-plus career of selling hunks of beef and college degrees.
And Trump’s speech didn’t even cover most of the half-baked, get-rich-quick plans he’s birthed over the last few decades.
There’s a litany of other ideas he trademarked and later abandoned, including but not limited to: Trump Super Speedway, a potential NASCAR-like race track in New York; Trump Power, a line of carbonated non-alcoholic fruit drinks; The Trump Executive Collection, described as a set of toys (primarily die-cast vehicles); Trump Follies, an entertainment service that was going to feature live comedic performances and theatrical shows; Trump Mortgage, which sunk in 2007 after a year in the hands of a neophyte Wall Street broker; and The Trump Network, a multi-level marketing scheme that Trump launched in 2009, at the height of the financial crisis.
“The Trump Network wants to give millions of people renewed hope and with an exciting plan to opt out of the recession!” He said in a promotional ad for the company. “Let’s get out of this recession right now, with cutting edge health and wellness formulas and a system where you can develop your own financial independence.”