There is still a lingering misperception that Donald Trump is some kind of business wizard, but it's actually easy to identify one of his key strategies for success: He excels at ripping people off. The Associated Press pulled back the curtain on his ruined casino empire in Atlantic City last week and exposed a gold-plated scam, on in which survivors from the Taj Mahal disaster -- a long parade of naïve artisans who still have Trump's skid marks on their backs -- all told similar stories, cautionary tales that make you wonder how anyone would consider him trustworthy enough to hold elected office. Their consensus: Trump is a master grifter, who uses bullying and arrogance as negotiating methods, before ending the relationship by withholding payments and making contractors settle for far less by threatening them with litigation -- knowing the cost of litigation would eat up most of the money in the dispute.
Hillary Clinton will deliver a speech today in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which at first blush doesn't seem like an obvious locale for the Democrat. Polls show Clinton with a comfortable lead over Donald Trump in the Garden State, and few expect Republicans to compete seriously in New Jersey in the fall.
But by all appearances, Clinton is headed to Atlantic City to drive home a rather specific point about her opponent's ostensible strength: his private-sector background. The editorial board of the Star-Ledger, New Jersey's largest newspaper, published this piece over the holiday weekend.
As is usually the case with so many of Trump's failed business enterprises, it was small businesses that suffered -- and in some cases, collapsed -- after the Republican's venture went bankrupt.
As recently as May, Trump boasted, "Atlantic City fueled a lot of growth for me. The money I took out of there was incredible."
But as the New York Times reported last month, Trump's ventures in Atlantic City failed -- badly. The article quoted a local investment firm's casino analyst saying, in reference to Trump, "There's something not right when every single one of your projects doesn't work out."
And a USA Today report added this week, "Donald Trump often boasts he made a lot of money in Atlantic City, despite the repeated failures of his casinos there, but what he does not mention is his casino empire's repeated run-ins with government regulators over broken promises and violating casino rules."
To hear Donald J. Trump tell it, he's ready to be the Leader of the Free World because of his extraordinary success as a businessman. The assertion that private-sector experience is relevant to serving in the Oval Office is dubious in itself, but there's also no reason to accept the underlying claim at face value -- because Trump's business background isn't nearly as impressive as he likes to pretend.
I realize that casinos may not be as sexy a story as email server protocols -- the political world's interest in IT appears to be endless -- but Trump's Atlantic City efforts show a wealthy developer who made millions while everyone else lost big. It's the sort of story that should undermine his entire candidacy.