What Exactly Is Donald Trump's Deal? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Not since the creators of South Park openly challenged the Church of Scientology to sue them have I seen a more ballsy on-air confrontation of a litigious bully as John Oliver’s last night, which Conor embedded here.

Oliver’s takedown of Trump also reminds me of an excellent essay by William D. Cohan from our April 2013 issue. He details how Trump relentlessly inflates the value of his wealth and sues, or threatens to sue, people who scrutinize his actual wealth—all part of a concerted effort to maintain his brand as a tycoon with a Midas touch. Both Cohan and Oliver spotlight, for example, Trump’s failed lawsuit against a biographer for $5 billion because he claimed Trump was probably only worth about $150 to $250 million dollars—a fraction of the net worth that Trump claims, and one that “goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings,” Trump once said. Another example of his business logic:

[I]n 2005, he was paid $400,000 for a speech at the Learning Annex, but bragged on Larry King Live that his pay was actually more than $1 million because, as he explained in his deposition, the speech was promoted in billboard, newspaper, radio, and TV ads around New York City, creating extra value for his brand.

A reader quips:

They should have asked him if he paid taxes on the $400k or on the $1 million. That would have shown whether he was unclear on the concept or not.

Back to litigious Trump, this gem didn’t make it into Oliver’s segment:

[Trump] also told me he was ready to sue the comedian Bill Maher, who claimed on The Tonight Show in January that Trump was the product of the union of a human mother and an orangutan father. Maher offered $5 million to Trump for proof that this was not true. Trump then sent Maher a copy of his birth certificate, apparently without irony. But he had not heard from Maher or received the reward, which he said he would split among five charities. “He has not responded, and the reason he hasn’t responded is his lawyers probably tell him, ‘You’ve got yourself a problem,’ ” Trump explained. “But if he doesn’t pay, I will bring a lawsuit.” (He made good on his word, filing a suit against Maher on February 4, demanding the $5 million. Maher later said, on his show, “Donald Trump must learn two things—what a joke is, and what a contract is.”)

Here’s a video compilation of how that all played out. The entire Cohan essay is worth reading if you want to drill deeper into the wedge Oliver created with that viral video. One reader called it “one of the best profiles of Trump I’ve ever read”:

I am glad it doesn’t just paint him as a weirdo and a buffoon. He IS a successful businessman, even if he is a shyster and not worth what he says he is. And the author is content to let Trump’s foolishness speak for itself in his interviews.

5-year-olds for Trump. Valdosta, GA.

A photo posted by @mollyesque on

Speaking of Trump, if you missed David Frum’s tweetstorm over the weekend, here’s a compiled version of his “model of a broken party”—the GOP:

Elected leaders (Jeb, Christie) care more about wounded feelings than stopping Trump.

Donors care more about their issues—Ex-Im Bank (no, seriously); cutting Medicare etc—than stopping Trump.

Brains of consultant class turned to rock circa 1995. Anyway, they care more about fees than stopping Trump

Congressional Republicans self-deluded that they can save themselves even if top of ticket craters—or splits.

Isn’t the point here that if a great political party is so vulnerable to fraud as obvious as Trump, it was unhealthy to start with?

Now you hear elite Republicans blaming the base! As if voters existed to serve party priorities, rather than the other way around!

After 2012 defeat, elite determined its solution—Gang of 8ism—within HOURS. Meaning, they never listened to anyone but themselves.

Never ever was there a reckoning with something way more important than the campaign of 2012—the presidency of 2001-2009.

Correction. 1 analysis was allowed of Bush presidency. “Too much domestic spending.” As if that were any actual voter’s top 10 concern!

Now GOP seems headed to debacle—conservatism to crackup—and the best advice we hear is, “Talk more about Trump University.”

Trump U is a scandal. So’s tacitly allowing 1 million illegal migrants per year rather than offend the National Restaurant Association.

So’s withdrawing Medicare coverage from under 55 to finance a tax cut for those who’ve taken 100% of all economic growth since 2010

So is promising every year for 7 years to develop a health care alternative—and then presenting 1 page concepts as plans.

So is installing as your party’s power brokers a collection of TV & radio talkers who earn their livings by demeaning 2/3 of America.

So so many scandals. Now they are coming home. And I say this not to despair, but to urge action—beyond more anti-Trump attack ads.

As TS Eliot said, there are no lost causes, because there are no won causes. There are no “tipping points.” Politics never stops. ACT.

Here’s Frum’s full diagnosis of the “Great Republican Revolt” from our January issue, in case you missed it. And here’s another tremendous photo from Molly Ball on the campaign trail:

Nothing else matters. Huntsville, Alabama.

A photo posted by @mollyesque on