You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Trump’s Latest Get-Rich-Quick Scheme

The president wants to use the accumulated wealth of the G-7 to prop up his failing Miami resort.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

When the members of the Group of Seven (G-7), the seven nations deemed by the International Monetary Fund to have the largest advanced economies in the world, get together for their rotating annual meeting, they tend to prefer to gather in one of each nation’s most idyllic locales. This past week, world leaders came together in the French coastal resort town of Biarritz, a favored getaway for European royalty for the past 150 years.

As locations go, the spot was well befitting as an enclave for the global elite to meet and greet. But President Donald Trump has something different in mind for next year, when the United States will host the G-7: his struggling golf resort in Florida. He openly touted the notion of hosting the summit at the Trump National Doral Resort outside Miami on Monday, claiming that it would be “fantastic, really fantastic.” For Trump, it would also potentially be lucrative, really lucrative.

The way in which Trump has turned the office of the president into his own swampy profit-center is well documented at this point. Even by those standards, his latest scheme is remarkably gauche. It’s unthinkable that any other G-7 leader would use an international summit as an opportunity to prop up their family business. Even the leaders of authoritarian countries outside the G-7, like Russia and China, are more inconspicuous about showing off their self-enrichment. Trump’s Doral caper provides a reminder that there is a strangely democratic component to the president’s corruption that serves as its underlying strength—and its ultimate weakness.

Naturally, the White House disagrees that hosting international summits at Trump-owned properties amounts to corruption. Since Trump hasn’t fully divested himself from his businesses, he and his family stand to gain from any transactions that take place in them. When reporters asked whether he would profit from the potential move, Trump simply denied it. “In my opinion, I’m not going to make any money,” he said during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “I don’t want to make money. I don’t care about making money.... I think it’s a great place to be. I think having it in Miami is fantastic, really fantastic.”

Then he took the opportunity to sing Doral’s praises on an international stage. “Having it at that particular place, because of the way it’s set up—each country can have their own villa or their own bungalow,” he explained. “And the bungalows, when I say, they have a lot of units in them, so I think it works out well. And when my people came back, they took tours, they looked at different places—I won’t mention places because you’re going to have a list and they’re going to give a presentation fairly soon—they went to places all over the country, and they came back and said, ‘This is where we’d like to be.’”

That view doesn’t seem to be shared by vacation-goers who travel to the Miami area. The Washington Post reported in May that the Trump Organization’s records show a marked decline in business at the Doral result since 2016. According to the Post, Doral’s net operating income last year fell by 69 percent from two years before. Its daily rates and revenues also fell well below local averages, signaling weak consumer interest. This problem is familiar across all Trump properties since he ran for president in 2016, but it’s especially acute in a flagship location like Doral.

Facing that malaise, why wouldn’t Trump use the opportunity to give Doral an infusion of federal compensation and a healthy dose of global publicity? Who’s going to stop him?

By not fully divesting himself from his business holdings before taking office, Trump showed he has little interest in setting a high ethical standard for his administration, or even in avoiding the appearance or reality of corruption. He’s also faced no measurable consequences for his blatant self-dealing since taking office. Neither the Republican Party nor the conservative media empire has been repelled by his frequent taxpayer-funded trips to Trump-branded resorts, or by the cash flowing into his family business from those seeking government favor.

If anything, conservative groups have sent the opposite message. Pro-Trump groups have spent millions of dollars to hold political events at Trump’s properties. His reelection campaign shelled out $670,000 to the Trump Organization in his first year in office alone, essentially transferring donors’ money directly into his family’s coffers. The Post reported last November that GOP candidates and committees spent more than $1.4 million to hold fundraisers at his properties ahead of last year’s midterm elections. A bevy of super-PACs have also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at his sites in Florida and New York. Those events—and the cash that comes with them—are a tangible vote in favor of his unique melding of the nation’s affairs and the president’s private interests.

What is to be done? In theory, the Constitution’s Emolument Clause forbids presidents from taking money from foreign powers. But its mere existence does not create an enforcement mechanism—it requires the U.S. Congress to intercede. Trump and his businesses appear to have repeatedly defied that provision over the past two years, with the quiet assent of Republican lawmakers.

Democrats, for their part, have largely opted to litigate the issue in the courts, even after they took back the House of Representatives last fall. Most of the debate surrounding the possibility that Trump has committed impeachable offenses has centered on the Russia investigation, and for good reason. But Trump’s continued, unabashed violations of the constitutional ban on foreign presidential income effectively gives the House a freestanding reason to begin impeachment proceedings whenever they wish.

This state of affairs isn’t entirely the fault of legislators, of course. This country has never had a president who could profit from a personal business empire while in the White House. As a result, the legal mechanisms to regulate this scenario don’t currently exist. The easiest solution to this problem under Trump would be for Congress to nationalize the Trump Organization, as I proposed last February. A law that automatically seized the business assets of any president-elect after they took the oath of office would prevent similar corruption from taking place in the future. The electorate created this mess, and they can fix it as well.