I’ve been thinking about the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. That’s hardly a surprising admission, since it’s almost impossible to live in America without hearing about The Donald on a regular basis these days. This morning I was reading about one of his golf courses. It got me to wondering what his campaign is costing him. According to the Wall Street Journal, though claiming to be funding his campaign himself, he has spent only about $100,000 of his own money as of 9/30/15.
Trump’s Federal Election Commission report shows that in the quarter ended Sept. 30, he spent only $100,800 of his own money, while raising $3.8 million from what his campaign called “unsolicited” donors, 119 of whom gave the maximum $2,700 contribution. He received 317 checks for $1,000 or more.
But, the question I wonder about isn’t donations he is receiving, or the disposition of funds from selling hats, t-shirts and mugs. I wonder about the benefits to his lodging and entertainment properties as a result of his run for the presidency.
[Note: I am not an investigative journalist. I have not researched Trump’s finances, nor do I have access to any information other than that which has been reported by news agencies. This is purely a thought experiment.]
Obviously, Donald Trump is no stranger to the benefits of publicity to his brand. His garish branding is either the height of narcissism, or a brilliant business move, or both (or a fortuitous accident.) The free publicity of his reality show, The Apprentice, undoubtedly helped the Trump brand among his customer base. If a viewer were a fan of The Apprentice, they might well choose to stay at a Trump casino, resort, or hotel for their next vacation. It is clear that, had his many properties each borne unique names, The Apprentice would have been far less helpful to Trump’s businesses.
Is Trump’s presidential campaign helping his business empire in the same way that The Apprentice did? My guess is a resounding “of course.” Further, I doubt that Trump is unaware of this effect. Though his campaign appears to be nothing more than a narcissistic fantasy, I can’t help wondering if it is, in fact, a well planning publicity ploy – months of free advertising for his enterprises. Though he may be a dummy, he is no fool.
Those who feel that Mr. Trump is a buffoon are unlikely to have ever wanted to patronize any of his establishments. They won’t vote for Trump, and they wouldn’t have stayed at his casino, so the bigotry and egotism he is showing on camera is not alienating them from his customer base. Meanwhile, people that were already Trump patrons are likely entertained or enthralled by his rhetoric. They may even be inspired to add a Trump destination vacation to their calendars, as they are ever reminding of his existence. A third group are the “undecideds”; not those who are undecided about who to vote for, but rather those who are undecided about where to go on vacation.
I recall several years ago sitting in a favorite Mexican restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, located right near the campus of the University of Colorado. I was seated near a large group of students who were planning a Vegas vacation. They were debating, with great volume and enthusiasm, various details of the trip, especially where to stay. They discussed what place had the best price, the cheapest food, the best location, the best disco, the best pool, the cheapest drinks, and how many people they could pack into a given room (curiously, the casino didn’t seem to enter the conversation.) While they were very concerned about cost, the number one consideration that came up, time and time again, was which place would be the most fun. I can imagine that conversation happening today. I have no doubt that Trump Las Vegas would be given serious consideration. Not only would the name Trump be on everyone’s mind, but staying at the Trump property would be a lark – it would have that extra element of fun and excitement, and the next 100 times The Donald appeared on TV, the students would be able to recount staying at Trump’s casino hotel.
I can only guess about how Trump’s campaign might be effecting his pocketbook. The $100K reported in the WSJ is clearly chump-change to Trump (“Trump-change”?) But Trump’s comments about Mexicans did lose him his relationships with NBC, Univision, NASCAR, PGA, Serta, Macy’s, ESPN, and a host of others. It has probably also lost Latino customers for his businesses. That is likely to be real money. I wonder if those losses are being offset by increased attendance at his properties by people that he has not actively offended. There is an old adage that says that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Michael Jackson’s pedophilia charges, Lance Armstrong’s admission of doping, and the recent discovery of Bill Cosby’s predilections, may call that maxim into question.
I find it interesting to ponder whether Trump’s campaign will be a net gain or loss, and whether the campaign itself is a calculated publicity stunt. I’d love to hear your thoughts.