As I read Ian Tuttle’s article about Trump University, two thoughts occurred to me. First, Marco Rubio’s description of Donald Trump as a con artist seems literally to be true. Second, why did it take so long for this matter forcefully to be raised in the campaign?
According to Tuttle’s account, Trump University was never a university. When the “school” was established in 2005, the New York State Education Department warned that it was in violation of state law for operating without a NYSED license. Trump ignored the warnings.
What was Trump University, if not a university? Several lawsuits allege that it was a scam.
How did the scam work? According to a lawsuit filed by the state of New York, it offered free seminars to induce prospective students to enroll in increasingly expensive ones, starting with the three-day $,1495 seminar and culminating in advanced seminars costing $35,000. The outfit’s confidential “playbook” shows that the focus of the seminars was on browbeating attendees into purchasing expensive Trump University course packages.
New York characterized this as “bait and switch.” But did Trump’s operation make false representations in order to induce potential students to pay for seminars?
Lawsuits against Trump U allege several false representations. Students were promised that they would be “mentored” by “handpicked” real-estate experts, who would use Trump’s own real-estate strategies.
However, according to New York’s lawsuit, none of the instructors was “handpicked” by Trump (in a sense, I suppose any instructor is “handpicked” by someone), many of them came from fields having nothing to do with real-estate, and Trump never reviewed any of Trump University’s curricula or programming materials. In fact, says New York, the materials were “in large part developed by a third-party company that creates and develops materials for an array of motivational speakers and seminar and timeshare rental companies.”
Prospective students allegedly were also promised that the three-day seminar would include “access to ‘private’ or ‘hard money’ lenders and financing” as well as a “year-long ‘apprenticeship support’ program.” According to various Trump U students, these promises were not kept.
Then, there is this, as reported by the Weekly Standard:
At one seminar, attendees were told they’d get to have their picture taken with Trump. Instead, they ended up getting snapped with his cardboard cutout.
This vignette suggests that the success of the Trump U scam was due in large part to simple faith in Trump. One former student says that he and his wife paid more than $20,000 for nothing “based on our belief in Donald Trump” coupled with certain promises.
This sounds very much like Trump’s presidential campaign. The tycoon seeks votes based on Americans’ belief in Donald Trump — after all, he’s unbelievably rich and built a great company — coupled with the general promise that America will start winning again and specific promises that he almost certainly cannot keep (e.g., Mexico will pay for a wall).
Conventional wisdom holds that Trump’s campaign is succeeding because of voter anger. There’s no doubt that a great many voters are, indeed, angry.
But Ted Cruz is running at least as angry as Donald Trump. What Trump has that Cruz doesn’t is a huge personality, a “world class” brand, and an ability to sell snake oil. How far do you think a Cruz University would have gotten?
Blind faith, not anger, is driving the Trump phenomenon, it seems to me. And if that phenomenon carries the billionaire to the White House, the nation’s buyers’ remorse will likely equal or exceed that of the Trump U alumni who are suing him.