If there is a secret to Donald Trump’s success in business, after (1) inherit a large fortune and (2) use the media to create a famous brand, it’s (3) don’t pay people the money you owe them. You’d be surprised how much more profitable it can be to have people supply you with goods and services and not have to pay them anything than the alternative of reimbursing them at the agreed-upon price. He has famously used bankruptcy to burn the people who have been foolish enough to loan him money, and then explained that it was fair because they were “sharks.” He has also applied this method to his dealings with non-sharks — stiffing contractors is a cornerstone of the Trump business model (as USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, among others, have found).
And Trump doesn’t quite admit that he habitually refuses to honor his contracts, but he doesn’t exactly deny it in the strongest terms, either. Instead, Trump presents his lack of business ethics as a qualification for office. “My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy. I’ve grabbed all the money I could get,” he said at a debate last year. “I’m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States.”
The “USA Freedom Kids,” a cheese-ball youth performance troupe, appeared at a Trump rally last summer and became an instant sensation, partly because of the contrast between the adorableness of the performers and the quasi-fascistic undertones of their lyrics (such as “Deal from strength or get crushed every time”). Jeff Popick, the group’s (adult) manager, told Claire Landsbaum he was attracted to Trump not only for reasons of customer synergy but also personal conviction — “[Trump] knows what he’s doing, and he makes the right decisions,” Popick explained.
You’ll never guess what happened next. Yes, Trump refused to pay the group for its time and expenses, reports Philip Bump. First, the USA Kids were told they could have a free table to sell CDs instead of $2,500, they accepted the deal, and no such table was provided. Then they were asked to fly to Iowa to appear at Trump’s rally to help veterans, and not only were they not paid, but Trump failed to reimburse the cost of their travel. Popick is rethinking his previous analysis of the campaign:
“At this point, my position is that I have no position, really,” Popick said. “What he’s done to my group or what he’s not done for my group doesn’t necessarily make him the best candidate, it doesn’t make him the worst candidate. I still have to mull that over. He might still be the best candidate as president of the United States – or not.”
“What I think I’ve learned,” Popick added, “is that I’m not qualified to be a political commentator.”
Alternatively, you could say Popick’s original beliefs about Trump have been vindicated. He didn’t deal with Trump from strength, and he got crushed.