“I think eminent domain is wonderful,” Donald Trump told Fox News’s Bret Baier, without hesitation, during a Tuesday evening interview.
Of course he does. He’s spent decades attempting to use the power of government to take people’s private property for his casinos, amusement parks, and parking lots. While the leading GOP candidate prides himself on being the ultimate capitalist, he’s actually something closer to a crony capitalist.
In the early ’90s, Trump sought the help of the state of Connecticut to condemn five private Bridgeport-area businesses so that he could build a $350 million complex that included an amusement park (with the “world’s biggest roller coaster,” of course), a shipping terminal, a seaport village, and an office complex.
“It’s going to be a great thing,” Trump promised during a press event that, according to The Hartford Courant, included repeated references to the “world class” nature of the proposal. It eventually fell through.
Around the same time, Trump attempted to force elderly widow Vera Coking out of her Atlantic City rooming house to make way for a Trump Plaza Hotel parking lot and limo waiting area. She refused to sell, even when the magnate offered her $1 million, and Trump spent several years working with local government to pry away the property. In 1998, he lost when a court threw out the case. Sixteen years later, the hotel permanently closed its doors.
Under the Fifth Amendment, the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property must be for public use, and “just compensation” must be paid in return. The traditional interpretation of eminent domain extended to buying property where governments needed to build roadways or other forms of infrastructure. But the Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling on Kelo v. New London broadly interpreted “public use” to include the supposed tax revenue benefits of a private developer building there—for instance, a sports arena where homes once stood; or, in Trump’s case, the hugest coaster known to man.
Trump’s wholehearted support for that 2005 decision (“100 percent,” in fact) became the subject of a Club for Growth ad against his candidacy. But to this day, the candidate argues that those whose private property is expropriated should be happy—after all, they are getting a generous sum of cash.
The ex-reality TV star’s love of cronyism extends beyond eminent domain and into tax dodging. In his Art of the Deal memoir, Trump bragged about obtaining a 40-year property “tax abatement” from the City of New York so he could build a hotel. While an “abatement” sounds like innocuous tax benefits, in effect it’s a taxpayer-funded subsidy similar to those sports team owners receive when they build new stadiums.
So will this history of cronyism hurt Trump among a fiercely conservative base? After Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—who recently dropped out of the GOP presidential primary—approved taxpayer funding for a basketball arena, his conservative credentials came under fire. For Trump, however, it seems his biggest supporters will simply dismiss the cronyism as a distraction.