Resolute Square

Donald's Long Con Gets Ugly

Rick Wilson says Donald Trump's long con is coming home to roost. After exhausting the wallets of supporters, his real estate empire imploding, and enablers in jail, he stands to lose much more than his pride.
Published:March 21, 2024

By Rick Wilson

The key to any con game is a differential in two crucial axes: information and intent. The con man always has more information, selects what to present, and crafts it into an irresistible package for the mark. The intent axis is need, and in that, the con man plays to the mark's desire, whether desperation or venality, and promises exactly what the mark wants to address that need.

In the modern era, David Mamet is best known for educating Americans about long and short cons; House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner are two genre classics. My favorite play about con games is Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist — a Jacobean-era comedy simply screaming for a modern rewrite (note to self: rewrite The Alchemist and set in 2024 Silicon Valley) — in which the gullible (and perfectly named) Sir Epicure Mammon and a cast of others with diverse needs are caught up in an interlocking set of scams, flims, cons, and lays by a group of con men and women.

Naturally, it all falls into chaos, with even the conmen falling into their traps.

Now, the Long Con of Donald Trump is coming home to roost.

How Trump’s Long Con Worked

For decades, Donald Trump’s public image as the dealmaker, builder, salesman, and showman was his brand, his most significant asset, and the key to his multifarious con games.

He discovered the secret sauce of modern financial alchemy was making it up, relying on the greed and desire of investors and banks to get some of the (yes, dear reader, the bile you’ll feel rising when you read the following words is natural) Trump glamour. The swagger, the gold leaf, the shit-talking biggest, best, tallest, sexiest adjective splooge of every Trump project attracted bankers and vendors, no matter how rickety and gimcrack the property or project may have been.

His serial bankruptcies weren’t some fiendishly clever business practice; he was simply not good at actually making money on a legitimate, ongoing basis. For all that, Trump is peerless at convincing people that he is a business genius with no need for their capital…as he asks them for money.

Did it take a lot of creative accounting in the paperwork?

Certainly. Was there a yawning delta between what Trump claimed his properties were worth and market reality? Always.

Did he tell the banks one thing about valuations when refinancing over and over again and then turn around to tell local and state tax authorities that the same property worth billions when he talked to banks was practically decrepit, worthless, burned-down ruins for their purposes? Naturally.

Donald Trump did create one massively successful business in his lifetime: an email business designed to convince lower- and middle-class angry white voters to pour their payroll, social security, and disability checks into his bank account. Even that con is falling apart, with the donor list getting exhausted. Major donors will return to Trump in the end, but none will do so gladly.

They’ve finally figured it out: He’s not running a campaign. He’s spending the vast majority of their donations on legal expenses. And it wasn’t the deep state that made Trump need hundreds of millions of dollars for legal bills and the fines from his lost cases; Trump bought the ticket and took the ride. The con is tired, the mark is wary, and it’s evident what he’s doing with the money: spending it on himself.

When we created this ad last year, we got dinged by the Washington Post fact-checkers for claiming Trump was using the donations from his army of suckers for himself. We’ve been proven right since then; Trump is spending his campaign and SuperPAC donations on his massive legal bills, among other non-campaign activities.

The End Game

Now, it’s all falling apart. His longtime financial mastermind, Alan Weisselberg, is headed for prison. His onetime consigliere, Michael Cohen, a man railroaded into prison by Trump and born again hard, gave the courts the keys to the inner workings of Trump’s corrupt enterprise.

His multiply-leveraged properties peaked in value long ago, and none of them can be sold quickly enough or for enough cash to give him the lifeline he needs to pay his mounting court fees.

The case in New York against Trump for his ongoing business and bank fraud pattern has left the “billionaire” desperate for cash. He managed to get the Chubb Group to write his bond in the E. Jean Carroll defamation case(s), but 30 lenders turned him down in the business fraud case, and this week, the “billionaire” had to tell the courts he can’t come up with the, to round the numbers a bit, half-a-billion dollars he owes.

What He Stands To Lose

For a start, his pride. Then, everything.

Trump’s properties are the physical manifestation of his ego. Trump Tower was its epicenter for decades. Today, it’s Mar-a-Lago.

Will Trump try to make himself a martyr and claim it’s the evil deep state trying to hurt him? He already has, but none of it will change the fact that his parking-lot lawyer blew the case, that the facts are utterly damning, that the pattern of fraud is explicit and vast, and that Trump is broke.

When I tweeted about it last night, saying, “Take Trump Tower first,” the reaction of the MAGAe was, to put it mildly, volcanic rage. It’s one of the weird tricks the authoritarian addiction plays on their minds; they see his long pattern of fraud as good business practices and see Trump’s self-inflicted losses as an attack on themselves. Not to worry; anyone outraged over seeing his properties seized for the fraud he committed was already a Trump voter.

Trump Tower is going to make one hell of a Spirit Halloween.

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