... Mr. Trump ... lent his name, and his credibility, to a seminar business he did not own, which was branded the Trump Institute. Its operators rented out hotel ballrooms across the country and invited people to pay up to $2,000 to come hear Mr. Trump’s “wealth-creating secrets and strategies.”Surely this will be another nail in his campaign's coffin -- right?
And its customers had ample reason to ask whether they, too, had been deceived.
As with Trump University, the Trump Institute promised falsely that its teachers would be handpicked by Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump did little, interviews show, besides appear in an infomercial -- one that promised customers access to his vast accumulated knowledge....
In fact, the institute was run by a couple who had run afoul of regulators in dozens of states and been dogged by accusations of deceptive business practices and fraud for decades. Similar complaints soon emerged about the Trump Institute.
Yet there was an even more fundamental deceit to the business, unreported until now: Extensive portions of the materials that students received after forking over their seminar fees, supposedly containing Mr. Trump’s special wisdom, had been plagiarized from an obscure real estate manual published a decade earlier.
I'm not so sure. Yes, Hillary Clinton has led Trump in every poll for more than a month, frequently by landslide margins -- but some polls still say it's a close race, such as the new Quinnipiac poll, which has Clinton leading by only 2 points.
And while poll drops for Trump seem to be correlated with his personal excesses -- narcissistic tweets in response to the Orlando massacre, racist complaints against the judge assigned to the Trump University lawsuit -- there's still no evidence that the public questions the way he conducts business.
In fact, SurveyMonkey has data suggesting that the public still admires Trump as a businessman:
In the latest survey, a majority of registered voters nationwide (57%) give Trump an excellent or good rating as a businessman, while 41% rate him as only fair or poor in business.
Yes -- the majority of independents, and even a third of Democrats, think Trump does a fine job in business, as do the vast majority of Republicans.
The New Republic's Jeet Heer thinks susceptibility to con men is a particularly Republican phenomenon:
In a sense, conservative voters have been groomed for Trump since the 1960s. As the historian Rick Perlstein wrote in The Baffler and The Nation in 2012, the American conservative movement has become more and more amenable to get-rich-quick schemes, snake-oil salesmen, and confidence men. Direct-mail barons like Richard Viguerie began raking in the dough in the 1960s by stirring up ideological hysteria and convincing an audience of senior citizens that only their small-dollar donation could fend off union bosses, abortionists, and gays. Of course, most of the money ended up with the fundraisers.But look at the spread in that SurveyMonkey poll: 57% of Americans overall approve of how Trump conducts business, while Trump gets only 41% of the vote (to Clinton's 49%) in SurveyMonkey's latest election poll. I interpret that to mean that many voters are rejecting Trump for other reasons -- they still think his business career is legit. (And that's a couple of weeks after Trump University became a major news story.)
From the direct-mail bunco artists, it was a natural progression to conservative media selling ads to the most outlandish dream peddlers and conspiracy-mongers. After Perlstein subscribed to email lists for publications like Townhall and Newsmax, he started getting some strange notices, including “the 123-Cent Heart Miracle,’ the one ‘Washington, the medical industry, and drug companies REFUSE to tell you about.’ (Why would they? They’d just be leaving money on the table: ‘I was scheduled for open heart surgery when I read about your product,’ read one of the testimonials. ‘I started taking it and now six months have passed and I haven’t had open-heart surgery.’).”
Conservative ideology, as Perlstein persuasively argues, is particularly vulnerable to grifters because of its faith in the goodness of business and its concomitant hostility toward regulation -- which makes it easy for true believers to buy into the notion that some modern Edison has a miraculous new invention that the Washington elite is conniving to suppress....
There’s another factor at work here: The anti-intellectualism that has been a mainstay of the conservative movement for decades also makes its members easy marks. After all, if you are taught to believe that the reigning scientific consensuses on evolution and climate change are lies, then you will lack the elementary logical skills that will set your alarm bells ringing when you hear a flim-flam artist like Trump.
We're regularly told in America that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. We're told that anyone can become a success, and even a very rich person, with enough discipline and determination and hard work. These aren't conservative ideas -- they're American ideas. I think Trump is going to lose, but his business reputation will remain intact. When frauds like Trump talk, too many Americans want to believe. America is a nation with a lot of easy marks.