One of the most astonishing things about the Trump presidency has been the president’s ability to obliterate every norm holding back his ability to profit from office and then, having met no resistance, continue to go farther and farther. Last month, Trump announced a “separation agreement,” according to which he would continue to own his business while his children ran it in purportedly independent fashion. In the meantime, he has used his office to enrich that business in numerous ways (that we know of — the concealment of his tax returns means the extent of Trump’s self-enrichment will remain unknown to the public).
This morning, Trump denounced Nordstrom, which is dropping his daughter’s brands.
At today’s press conference, Sean Spicer elaborated. “There’s a targeting of her brand and it’s her name,” Spicer said. “She’s not directly running the company. It’s still her name on it. There are clearly efforts to undermine that name based on her father’s positions on particular policies that he’s taken. This is a direct attack on his policies and her name and so there’s clearly an attempt for [Trump] to stand up for her being maligned because they have a problem with his policies.”
It is probably true that Nordstrom is dropping the brand because consumers are refusing to shop there because of the store’s association with Donald Trump. If you accept the logic of unlimited entanglement between Trump’s presidency and his branding business, this is unavoidable: Trump brands are going to have to reorient themselves to the minority of the public that likes Trump. On the whole, the chance to use the presidency to leverage his brand is a lucrative opportunity for the Trump family, since even an unpopular president like Trump will still command a numerically huge fan base. But many people who loathe the first family will refuse to give them their money.
Spicer is asserting that Trump can intermingle his public and private roles as he sees fit, and can enjoy all the financial upside of the arrangement, but should not have to suffer any of the downside. It is the official position of the White House that a store that finds it unprofitable to continue doing business with a Trump brand has made a “direct attack” on him.
The Republican Party as a whole has decided not to object to any of this. Today, Mitch McConnell expressed a “high level of satisfaction” with the president’s behavior so far. “Back during the campaign, there were a lot of questions: Is Trump really a conservative? A lot of questions about it,” McConnell says. “But if you look at the steps that have been taken so far, looks good to me.” And it is true: Trump has supported mostly conventional conservative policies, and in return Republican leaders have turned their back to his unprecedented corruption.