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THE ART OF THE COMEBACK

By Paul F. Petrick

Having secured sufficient delegates to become the first thrice-nominated Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon and the only person to bear the GOP standard in three consecutive elections, Donald Trump moves closer to completing the greatest political comeback in American history. A Trump triumph in November would far surpass any previous political rehabilitation, including Nixon’s 1968 victory. Despite the effortless manner in which Trump dispatched his intraparty rivals, the road to a Trump Restoration remains perilous. Not since Napoleon returned from Elba has the global establishment been so focused on the defeat of one man. Luckily for Trump, he is an authority on comebacks.

The Art of the Comeback (1997) was published by Random House almost exactly ten years after the same publisher released The Art of the Deal (1987). Sequels, being derivative in nature, are rarely superior to the first installment. But this one is because Kate Bohner is a better ghostwriter than Tony Schwartz. Nevertheless, the volumes are similar. In both books, Trump’s edifice complex is on full display. Each is essentially a photo album of skyscrapers. But Comeback is more relevant to Trump’s present situation.

Comeback contains the story of Trump’s return from near insolvency when the early 1990s recession devastated the New York real estate market. “Survive ‘til ‘95” was the mantra Trump put into practice via a complex restructuring of his business’ debt, much of which he had personally guaranteed.  His back against the wall, Trump persuaded creditors that they were better off if he were a going concern. And when the economy roared back stronger than ever, so did Trump. Other developers were not so fortunate.

Trump acknowledges in Comeback that his financial troubles were compounded by his own mistakes and inattentiveness. Today, all of Trump’s financial problems stem from one very poor business decision in 2015—his decision to run for president.

Trump was the closest thing to an independent president this country has seen. And boy, has he paid for it. Most politicians leave politics far wealthier than when they entered it. Not Trump. His net worth has fallen precipitously as his businesses have suffered sustained attacks by his adversaries. In one particularly vindictive act, congressional Democrats insisted that Trump’s companies be ineligible for aid from the Exchange Stabilization Fund under the CARES Act despite the devastation the pandemic wrought on the hospitality industry.

But it is not just Democrats who have it out for Trump. The establishment of both parties despise Trump because he threatens the status quo. If Franklin Roosevelt shook up politics with the New Deal and Harry Truman followed with the Fair Deal, then Trump is leading a political realignment called the Art of the Deal. It consists of an outright rejection of the bipartisan consensus on immigration, trade, and foreign policy, offering Americans what should have been offered to them upon victory in the Cold War–government in the national interest.

Trump has already risen considerably since his January 6, 2021 nadir. This has only intensified the determination of his opponents, who will stop at nothing to keep him out of the White House.

When Alger Hiss sued Whittaker Chambers for defamation, Chambers confidently stated “I do not believe that Mr. Hiss or anybody else can use the means of justice to defeat the ends of justice.” The famous pessimist Chambers was too optimistic. A judge has already suspended Trump’s ability to do business in New York. And the hundreds of millions of dollars in judgments, fines, and legal fees that Trump is already on the hook for plus a slew of potential criminal penalties in cases still pending could make any electoral victory a pyrrhic one. Trump could re-take the presidency, only to find his business empire in ruins.

Fortunately, Trump is one politician who clearly is not in it for the money. Otherwise, he would have abandoned politics long ago. Trump even gave his entire $400,000/year salary as president back to the government. Despite going to great lengths to cultivate an aura of success, the true essence of the Trump story is coming back from adversity.

Having once categorized Manhattan real estate powerbrokers as among the “most vicious people in the world,” Trump now knows that his business rivals have nothing on his political opponents and the Department of Justice. The reversal of fortune Trump pulled off a generation ago shows what he is capable of. But this time the stakes are considerably higher. If he wins, Trump will be more than a president. He will be a legend.

Paul F. Petrick is an attorney in Cleveland, Ohio.

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