It's all smoke and mirrors. 'Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain.'
"Trump's ‘rollercoaster' of a career marked by self-interest" PBS NewsHour 9/8/2016
SUMMARY: Donald Trump has tried to sell himself as a successful businessman who can boost American prosperity. But specifics about his dealings and debt may tell a different story. William Brangham learns more from Marc Fisher of The Washington Post and Tim O'Brien of Bloomberg to get a glimpse into Donald Trump as an entrepreneur.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour): To understand Trump's vast and varied business dealings, we're joined now by two men who've spent a good deal of time looking into those businesses, as well as talking with Trump at length about his career.
Marc Fisher is a senior editor at The Washington Post and co-author of the book “Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money and Power.” And Tim O'Brien is executive editor of Bloomberg View. His book is called “Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald.”
Gentlemen, thank you both very much for being her.
Marc Fisher, I would like to start with you.
The Trump campaign is predicated in large part on the idea that Trump is a magnificent businessman who can bring America back to prosperity. And you have done a long analysis of what his business career is like. Is that a fair characterization of him? Does he deserve that title?
MARC FISHER, The Washington Post: Well, he's certainly had a good deal of success. He's also had some terrible failures.
His business career has been a roller coaster. He's been at great heights. He dominated Atlantic City's casino gambling business for a time, but then he overextended himself there and actually ended up cannibalizing his own business and ended up with six corporate bankruptcies there.
Similarly, around the world, he's had a number of successes, but he's really changed his whole business model in recent years, so that he's taking on less debt, less risk, because that had not been going well for him. And so he has really retreated and found a new avenue in recent years, where he essentially rents out his name and uses his name to allow others to take the risk, foreign investors and others.
So they take the risk on projects and he merely rents out his name and gets a guaranteed income stream from that.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Tim O'Brien, I would put this same question to thank. And I should say, for the record, you are one of the few journalists in the world who have actually seen some of Trump's tax returns, but because of a court order of a suit brought that Trump brought against you for libel, you are not allowed to talk about them in too much detail.
But tell us what you can about them and whether or not they shed any light on whether he deserves this reputation for having a tremendous business acumen.
TIM O'BRIEN, Bloomberg: Well, I do think that the tax returns are important. I don't think he will release them.
I think the reason he won't release them is because I think they would go towards offering substantiation around a bunch of things that Trump has made central to his political campaign, his track record as a business person, how charitable he is as a philanthropist, his operations overseas, and the kinds of business and financial conflicts that would potentially come to bear on him should he end up in the Oval Office.
And I do think it does come back to yet another referendum on his business career. And I think what's important to remember about him is that the Donald Trump of the '80s and the '90s was essentially a creature of debt. And the last time he really operated a large business that involved, you know, complex financial and managerial decisions was when he was running the Atlantic City casinos, which he essentially ended up running into the ground.
He put those through four separate corporate bankruptcies. And, as we all know, he almost went personally bankrupt in the early 1990s. And the Trump who emerged from that is essentially now a human shingle, as Marc said. He oversees a licensing operation where he puts his name on everything from mattresses and men's underwear to vodka and buildings.
And then he's got a golf course development operation, and then essentially a self-promotion publicity machine that made itself the most visible during “The Apprentice” years.