With less than two weeks before Election Day, Donald Trump is leaving the campaign trail to reconnect with the passion that inspired him to seek high office in the first place — his deep and abiding belief in promoting one’s business interests via free media.
The Republican nominee has demonstrated this conviction throughout his presidential run, holding news conferences at his Mar-a-Lago resort, devoting primary-night victory speeches to defending the reputation of his defunct steak company, and flying to Scotland to appear at the opening of his new golf course on the morning after the Brexit vote.
But the candidate’s core message — that Trump Hotels and other branded products are the best hotels and other branded products — has often been drowned out by his authoritarian nationalism, xenophobia, and misogyny. Now, 13 days before his guarantee of constant media attention expires, the mogul finds himself in need of an improbable comeback. In recent days, multiple travel services have reported a steep drop in bookings at Trump-owned hotels, while Fortune and CBS News report that his properties’ upscale clientele has soured on his brand.
To get back on track, the GOP standard-bearer is ridding his campaign of all distractions and trivialities, refusing to participate in any more high-dollar fundraising events for his party.
Instead, Trump is campaigning in the two battlegrounds his company needs to win most — the luxury-hotel markets in Miami and Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday, Trump invited the press corps to a mysterious “campaign event” at the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort. Per Politico:
Trump’s traveling press corps was kept in the dark about the nature of Tuesday’s event, as they were bused through the beige stucco gates, ushered through the gilded lobby and down to a hallway with a view of the patio where a stage had been erected.
Only then did campaign staffers explain what the vaguely described “campaign event” would be: a photo op featuring Trump and several of his employees, who were in a line outside being wanded by Secret Service agents …
With a live network camera pointed at the microphone, Doral general manager David Feder, spoke — not about Trump but his resort, which he noted has been awarded with numerous distinctions, including Successful Meetings Magazine’s “Best renovations, 2016” honor.
Then the GOP nominee came onstage and hit all of his core themes, noting the property’s “bookings are through the roof,” that its “land is great,” and that its golf course is “one of the great golf courses in the world,” all of which explain why the Trump National Doral is such a “tremendous success.”
Trump tried to build on that momentum Wednesday, when he appeared at the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., for the fourth time this cycle, to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the establishment’s grand opening. The 263-room, five-star hotel, built inside the historic Old Post Office building in the heart of D.C., has struggled since opening in September, cutting rates amid a lack of bookings for both stays and holiday parties. Thus, the ribbon-cutting represented Trump’s best opportunity before November 8 to turn those numbers around.
Things started off auspiciously, as a captive press corps was briefed on the many merits of the Trump Hotel Collection.
But when Trump took the stage, cable networks made the anomalous decision not to treat the mogul’s infomercial as a breaking-news event.
Then the Republican nominee veered off message, devoting his short remarks to political themes — decrying America’s depleted military and praising Newt Gingrich for telling Megyn Kelly that she’s “fascinated by sex.”
But by the time of the ribbon-cutting itself, Trump was back on track.
Many Republicans have groaned about Trump’s renewed focus on self-promotion. After all, even if he no longer has a viable shot at the presidency, the closer he can keep the race, the better off down-ballot members of his party will be. But some GOP strategists recognize the myopia of this critique, and understand that the mogul must focus on what truly matters.
“Politics is a side hobby for Trump, kind of like fishing or model railroading. Hotels, that’s serious business, and I hear the hotel is fabulous,” Curt Anderson, a top Republican strategist, told Politico (with what we can only assume was a complete absence of sarcasm).
Nonetheless, the GOP nominee made an effort to appease his intra-party critics Wednesday, by touting his stewardship of the hotel as a model for how he would govern the nation.
This claim’s inaccuracy may extend beyond its word count. At one point, Trump appears to have advertised that the hotel would open in late 2015.
But Trump’s management of the hotel still works as model of his political philosophy. Which is to say, of his belief that projecting a false concern for the public good is a smart way of advancing one’s personal financial interests.
The Old Post Office building is a taxpayer-owned structure, and Trump had to compete with several major hotel chains for the right to develop it. According to BuzzFeed News, Trump secured that right by promising to employ an architect “who had, over decades, championed the building’s careful, historic restoration.” Which is to say, he vowed to honor the public interest in the site’s preservation, a promise he used to secure a $32 million tax credit.
After the contract was signed, Trump announced that architect would no longer be involved. And once the credit came through, he pursued a variety of design and decorative changes that contravened the principles of historic preservation, including festooning the building’s grand lobby with gold leaf.