This is an excerpt of a Medium post, originally published on September 29, 2020.
Did you know that Trump ran for president in 2000?
And that he announced in 2011 that he was running against Obama in 2012?
And he ran again in 2015.
And in none of those runs did he expect to win. He had other reasons.
Sunday the New York Times published an extraordinary account of how Donald Trump paid no federal income taxes for ten years, and only $750 in the year he ran for office, and another $750 in his first year in office.
But to me the big insight from the Times is not that Trump cheated on his taxes, or was such a bad businessman. Rather, the Times investigation allows us to make sense of things that otherwise wouldn’t.
Bottom line: It was all a grift. He did it for the money. And not the way we might think.
In my latest book, Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It, I studied the patterns of Trump’s language and behavior over the past several decades. In the book, I show that Trump follows predictable and repeated patterns. The way to understand Trump is to notice the patterns. They don’t change, but they do intensify.
And one pattern is his tendency to run for president to boost his financial condition.
Changing Trump’s Business Model
In 2000, Trump was moving away from a business model based on building and managing real estate, and creating a new business model where he licensed his name and brand. He would let others take the risks, and he would collect the licensing fees.
In 2017 the Washington Post noted that Trump had licensed his name in at least 50 real estate deals.
A Forbes magazine article described it this way:
Donald Trump positions himself as a real estate visionary and developer, and he’s created a remarkable brand. In truth, however, Trump doesn’t own a large number of his properties. He licenses his name to developers and offers property management services. For instance, his name is on 17 properties in Manhattan, but he only owns five of them outright.
Forbes notes that as of 2012 Trump had,
over 200 trademark applications containing his own name, from Trump Steaks to Trump’s American Pale Ale to the Trump names on the front of luxury properties.
But for a person’s name to be trademarked, it needs to have what the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office calls an “acquired distinctiveness.”
In other words, a name must become so closely associated with a particular person that the name immediately makes people think of the person. Donald Trump achieved that level of branding, and he’s reaped the rewards by trademarking his name.
Running for president is one of Trump’s way of creating that distinctiveness.
Trump’s own son admitted as much in 2015, when Eric Trump said that the campaign, “has had an immensely positive impact” on Trump’s brand.