Dana Milbank: Back to business for Trump
WASHINGTON — It's apt that Donald Trump's new hotel in Washington, which he dedicated at a ribbon-cutting Wednesday, is at the Old Post Office. Just 12 days before the election, Trump is mailing it in.
Polls suggest he's doomed, fellow Republicans are treating him like cholera, and even his allies say it would take a miracle to prevail. But while Trump's running mate went to Utah on Wednesday to shore up what should have been a safe Republican state, Trump opted to use precious campaign time to promote the Trump International in the District of Columbia, where he will be lucky to get 5 percent of the vote.
The day before, Trump schlepped the press corps to his Miami golf course, the Trump National Doral. Trump's presidential campaign listed Wednesday's appearance at the Trump hotel as an official event, and about 300 journalists and dozens of cameras showed up to watch the commercial. It left the impression that Trump has given up on the election and is trying to salvage his business interests.
Trump addressed his "VIP guests" and captive media about his triumphant renovation of the hotel: "My theme today is five words: under budget and ahead of schedule."
Apparently electoral math isn't the only arithmetic working against Trump.
Trump made a halfhearted mention of campaign issues — denouncing Obamacare and praising surrogate Newt Gingrich for his Fox News interview in which he told Megyn Kelly she is "fascinated with sex" — but was mostly campaigning for his hotel: "The best location ... a true American original ... a magnificent place ... largest luxury ballroom in Washington."
He made the Old Post Office great again!
Trump then led the entourage to the hotel lobby, where he praised even the sound system ("ooh, what beautiful sound!") and the ribbon-cutting shears ("I've never seen scissors that look this beautiful!").
"It's going to be one of the great hotels of the world," Trump declared. "We have the finest location, and we have the finest building. ... It's really quite a place."
Trump looks in the closing days of the election as he did when he began -- like a publicity-mad billionaire on a lark. He put the country through hell, stoking grievances in millions, and now, in the end, he's looking out for No 1.
It may be a bit late for that.
Most of Trump's passionate followers can't afford his hotels and other properties, and many who can afford them now detest Trump. The travel site Hipmunk found bookings at Trump hotels down 59 percent in the first half of 2016, the Washington Post's Abha Bhattarai reported, and Foursquare found a 24 percent falloff in business at Trump hotels, casinos and golf courses since his campaign began. That may be why Trump's new line of hotels doesn't use the Trump name.
D.C.'s Trump International has slashed rates by half since its soft opening last month, to $404 for its basic rooms. Suites expected to go for more than $24,000 have been discounted by nearly two-thirds. Even on the day of the formal opening, plenty of rooms were available.
Trump, subdued (and last week booed) on the trail and openly talking about losing a "rigged" election, appears to be preparing for his return to business. The candidate's son-in-law is in talks to set up a TV network. And Donald Trump Jr. says the presidency would be "a step down" for his father.
This is the second time candidate Trump has stumped for his D.C. hotel. He lured journalists to it last month with a promise to make a "major statement." Instead, he led TV cameras on a hotel tour, barring correspondents and producers. The networks, knowing they'd been had, refused to air the footage.
The hotel, in an 1899 Romanesque-revival structure with soaring atrium, is grand, if over-the-top, with its six-liter bottles of champagne in the lobby bar. Its foreign-made robes, towels, linens and fixtures make Trump's campaign themes seem a bit disingenuous.
After VIPs and journalists enjoyed mini-parfaits Wednesday, Trump, his children and a company executive hailed their "wonderful property": "Four stars. ... Most spacious suites. .. Amazing clock tower."
"Some of the walls," the presidential candidate said, "are five feet of solid granite -- five feet thick."
That's lucky, because at that moment, hundreds of protesters, restrained by metal barricades and security teams, were outside picketing, chanting and waving banners denouncing Trump as a racist.
Thanks to Trump's presidential run, this particular amenity is now available exclusively to guests and customers of Trump properties.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for the Washington Post.