The Slatest

Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: The Lesson of Trump U

Donald Trump greets supporters during his rally at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia on February 29, 2016.

Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.

Donald Trump’s (not entirely earned) aura of political invincibility is about to be put to the test now that the political press is combing through nearly 400 pages of Trump University documents released by a U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

As Slate’s Helaine Olen put it back in February when discussing the political dangers posed by Trump’s now-defunct, for-profit educational business: “It’s one thing to support a candidate who tells us the system is ripping us off. It’s another to support one who given the chance might rip you off.” And it’s hard to dig through the Trump University documents now in the public domain and not come away with the impression that the celebrity billionaire was trying to do just that—particularly given the nasty, hectoring way in which his salespeople were instructed to close the deal when would-be customers expressed reasonable doubts. It’s also difficult not to see some funny-if-the-White-House-weren’t-at-stake parallels between the Trump U sales playbook and Trump’s particular brand of fact-free grievance politics. “You don’t sell products, benefits or solutions,” it advises the not-actually-a-university reps. “You sell feelings.” (My colleague Henry Gabar has much more on Trump U’s slimy playbook here.)

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

In the spirit of Trump U and the Trump Apocalypse Watch™, then, let me sell you my completely subjective feelings at this particular moment in time: Trump’s in trouble. His for-profit educational scam preyed on Americans who felt they were being left behind in the same way his campaign is now preying on Americans who feel like they are being left behind. I won’t pretend to be confident that this, of all things, will spell doom for his electoral chances. It does, though, offer Hillary Clinton and her allies the type of singular, define-the-opposition narrative they have been searching for, and one they may now be settling on.

Trump’s campaign is built on contradictions—his chief argument for why he can clean up Washington, for example, is that he has benefited so much by it being dirty—but he will have a difficult time explaining Trump U as a necessary evil for a real estate tycoon. This isn’t donating to a politician in the name of business, or seeking out tax breaks in the name of your bank account. This is taking advantage of the same type of people you’re promising to help. The “con man” label might not have stuck when Marco Rubio tried to pin it on Trump during the primary, but the release of these documents—and the lawsuit itself, which isn’t going away anytime soon—will give Democrats the chance to try again. I’m keeping the danger level where it is:

Advertisement
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons
Advertisement