Op-ed: Trump’s journey from hosting The Apprentice to being the biggest loser

Op-ed: Trump’s journey from hosting The Apprentice to being the biggest loser

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump makes a face as he tells a story while speaking during the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2024, at National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

By Chris Edelson

February 28, 2024

Leading up to the 2016 election, Donald Trump crafted an image of himself as a successful businessman and a winner. But in reality, Trump has a long record of failure, according to Chris Edelson, a professor and author of two books on US presidential power.

Many American voters are understandably uncertain about this year’s presidential election, which is likely to pit President Joe Biden against former President Donald Trump. Because both of these men are well known to voters, it’s easy to assume that we know everything about them.   

It’s worth taking a step back, however, to objectively consider what another Trump presidency would mean.  When Trump ran in 2016, it was hard to know, with certainty, what to expect.  Trump had no prior political experience and was best known for his long running reality show, The Apprentice.  People who had gotten to know Trump through this TV show had watched a man seemingly in control, running a corporate board room with confidence, and always being the one in charge. 

Trump used this carefully crafted image to his advantage in 2016, arguing that he was best defined as a winner and that, if he was elected, there would be so much winning for the country that people would get sick and tired of it.  This was a highly effective marketing gimmick for a man with genuine talent as an entertainer, but in the real world, Trump actually has a long record of failure, going back to multiple bankruptcies before he ran for political office.  As president, Trump failed to deliver on his political promises, putting his own interests ahead of voters during his time in office.  

Trump promised to replace Obamacare with “great health care at a fraction of the cost”, but failed to deliver lower costs (it wasn’t until Biden passed the American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act that millions of people actually saw their Obamacare premiums become more affordable). Under Trump, workers who get their health coverage through their jobs also saw their healthcare costs rise by an average of more than $700 per year per worker.

Trump promised annual GDP growth of 4, 5 or even 6%.  Actual annual growth under Trump never exceeded 3%, and was usually significantly lower. More broadly, Trump’s overall economic record was weaker than the popular imagination would indicate, including a loss of nearly 3 million jobs and an increase in the unemployment rate from 4.7% when he took office to 6.3% when he left (by contrast, 14 million jobs have been added on Biden’s watch, as of the end of 2023, and unemployment currently stands at 3.7%).  

Trump promised to pay down the national debt, but he actually ran one of the largest budget deficits in history that led to “an explosive rise in the national debt”.  

Trump’s failed record and broken promises were not confined to the economy.  His trademark vow in 2016 was that he would build a border wall and make Mexico pay for “100%” of it.  As it turned out, less than 100 miles of new barriers were constructed during Trump’s time in office—most of it fencing rather than a wall (the entire US-Mexico border is almost 2,000 miles long).  US taxpayers—not Mexico—paid for the new barriers (as well as some replacement of existing barriers).   

The barriers have hardly proven to be impenetrable—smugglers have reportedly gotten through the fencing more than 3,000 times, often by “cut[ting] the barrier with inexpensive power tools widely available at retail hardware stores, including angle grinders and demolition saws.”  

Trump utterly failed to meet the challenge of the Covid pandemic in 2020, constantly making false claims downplaying the danger, suggesting that people introduce light and disinfectant into their bodies (poison control centers reported a spike in calls after Trump’s musing on the topic), and displaying a profound incompetence that has been linked to unnecessary deaths.  

Trump’s image as a winner took its most serious blow when he lost the 2020 election. Instead of accepting the results, Trump simply tried to change reality, falsely claiming that the election had been stolen. The Trump campaign and its supporters and allies lost in more than 60 lawsuits they filed in an effort to overturn the election. 

Still unable to accept defeat, Trump kept spinning dangerous lies about the election, which ultimately led his supporters to violently storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. More than 100 people have been convicted of crimes associated with the attack on the Capitol, including assaulting, impeding and/or obstructing police officers during a civil disorder. Trump himself faces felony charges connected with his efforts to overturn the election results. 

Since leaving the White House, Trump has continued losing in court. A jury found him liable for more than $80 million in damages caused by his defamation of a woman who accused him of sexual assault. A judge separately ordered Trump to pay more than $350 million after finding that Trump lied about his wealth in order to build a real estate empire that was based on fraud so extreme the judge described it as “shock[ing] the conscience.”

Trump might claim this is the “deep state” out to get him, but in reality, it’s the rule of law working as intended. In America, everyone is expected to obey the law, and no one is above it—not even a billionaire, not even a former president. 

Trump is a talented showman who had a great deal of success selling an image of himself as an successful businessman who could win at anything he tried—in fact, he rode this wave all the way to the White House. But his record shows that he makes extravagant promises he can’t keep.  

After four years of a Trump presidency, we know what to expect.  A second term would simply be another opportunity for Trump to spectacularly fail at the highest levels in a job he is utterly unsuited to perform, with devastating real world consequences for Americans. Trump’s record during his four years in office makes clear he would offer chaos in areas ranging from the economy to national security to reproductive rights.

In fact, Trump is already making plans to further attack abortion access—one of the few areas in which he had actual success during his first term (though Americans who support reproductive rights aren’t celebrating). The three justices Trump named to the Supreme Court provided the decisive votes to overturn Roe v. Wade. Recent reporting indicates Trump wants to ban abortion nationwide after 16 weeks–and allow states to ban it before then, if they so choose.

The real Donald Trump is a proven loser whose promises about winning have turned out to be a mirage. The best way for the American people to win in 2024 is to deny Trump a second chance to build on the repeated failures of his time in office.

  • Chris Edelson

    Chris Edelson is an assistant professor of Government at American University and has published two books on US presidential power.

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