President Trump’s supporters have responded to his ongoing fire-hose stream of moral and criminal offenses in three basic ways: pretending it doesn’t exist, whataboutism, and outright support. Until now, Trump’s habit of using his office for personal profit has generally inspired response No. 1, pretending it doesn’t exist. But now the Federalist, a site that (as its stuffy name implies) once aspired to intellectual respectability but has defined itself as the Trumpiest of Trumpsites, has again broken new ground. It has a column supporting Trump’s decision to host the 2020 G7 summit at his own property.
The column, by David Marcus, does not merely defend Trump’s choice as legal or unimpeachable. Marcus praises the president for his shrewdness. Marcus argues that hosting the summit at a Trump property gives the president a “home field advantage” when negotiating with his counterparts.
To be sure, the summit was always going to be held in the president’s home country. But Marcus discerns a particular advantage in situating it at a property he personally owns. “To be able to scuff the table with the heel of your shoe while sitting back relaxed? That’s a hell of a thing,” admired Marcus. “To be able to point to everything and say, That’s mine.”
Apparently the diplomatic advantages of being able to scuff tables with presidential shoes loom so large they justify Trump awarding a no-bid contract to his own property. (Bear in mind that, had any other government employee made such a decision, they would be fired.)
Marcus notes at the end that, to be sure, Trump must make sure the summit does not profit him personally. “Now look, does it have to be absolutely clear that the G7 doesn’t profit Trump? Yes, of course,” he concedes. “Make sure that it is all done at cost. There is no doubt that Democrats will be on top of this like granola on yogurt. But assuming those ducks line up? Come on, this is great.”
Marcus proceeds immediately from insisting Trump must forswear any profit to assuming that he will, without bothering to propose any mechanism to ensure this happens, or even defining what it would mean. Trump of course has refused to publish his financial information. The Washington Post submitted a series of basic questions to define what Trump means by running the conference at cost:
None of these questions have been answered. Even if they were, and even if Trump somehow allowed some transparency to ensure his promises were followed, it’s hard to nail down what it means to avoid a profit. The event is being held in the off-season, when the marginal cost of filling empty rooms is low. Trump has already used his office to give the facility millions of dollars worth of free publicity, most recently in an infomercial for its amenities. “There’s almost 900 acres there. So it’s a huge facility. And we’ll be able — with a lot open space. I think there’s three golf courses,” marveled budget director, chief of staff, and now Trump Organization time-share pitchman Mick Mulvaney at the White House yesterday. More free advertising is sure to surround the event itself. Any resort in the world would gladly host a G7 summit for free, let alone at cost, in return for that kind of taxpayer-financed publicity.
Will hosting the event at Trump’s property change the tenor of the negotiations? Oh, absolutely. But not in the way Marcus says. It will reinforce the widely shared understanding by foreign leaders that Trump values flattery and bribes as a form of diplomacy. It is all wrapped into every negotiation. Why bother giving concessions to the United States government, on the scale of tens or hundreds of billions of dollars, when you can hack a few zeroes off the price and put the money in Trump’s pocket instead?
Staging the G7 in one of his resorts is a new level of brazen corruption by the administration. The message to the world will be that the United States has been reduced to the level of the kleptocracies Trump admires. And the message to this country is that Trump’s supporters are along for the ride, all the way to the bottom, wherever that is.