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Since Donald Trump won the 2016 election, his namesake company has appeared to be running in place.
The Trump Organization hasn't opened a new property since its (now shuttered) Vancouver hotel in February 2017. Its biggest plans for expansion - two new lower-cost hotel chains aimed at Trump-friendly states - were canceled in 2019. Trump had left his adult sons Eric and Donald Jr. in charge, along with now-indicted executive Allen Weisselberg. They appeared to be simply trying to hold Trump's oddball assortment of businesses together, avoiding big changes until he was out of office.
Now, he's out.
But some of the company's biggest questions remain unresolved.
The first is: Who's in charge? On paper, it's Donald Trump Jr.: he is now the sole officer of the trust that runs the company, after Weisselberg resigned in the wake of an indictment for tax fraud and grand larceny. In practice, people who know the company say, it's more complicated. The former president has the power to run the company, and he now visits the company's Trump Tower offices at least one day a week in the summer. But he remains preoccupied by politics and still leaves day-to-day management to his sons, one person close to him told The Washington Post.
The second big question: What should the Trump Organization become now?
The Trump Organization and its executives have not responded to questions on that subject.
From the outside, there appear to be several possible paths forward.
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1. Keep the status quo.
Pros: This would preserve the company's chance at a post-politics revival, by holding on to properties like its Scottish golf courses and U.S. hotels that depend on attracting non-political customers. It would also allow time for Trump to obtain a gaming license for his struggling Doral resort in Florida - a task made easier this year by Trump's allies in Florida politics.
Cons: If Trump plans to run for president again, this option leaves his company stuck between two worlds, trying to sell the old Trump brand - based on apolitical luxury - even as Trump the politician tarnished it. Even if Trump doesn't run, this strategy leaves him facing a significant amount of outstanding debt. Last year, the New York Times reported that Trump had personally guaranteed $421 million in outstanding loans, much of it on his Doral resort and his hotel in Washington, D.C.
2. Sell off the hotels, keep everything else.
Trump has already put his D.C. hotel on the market. The company could also sell off its remaining hotels, including the debt-laden Doral and properties in Scotland where he has sunk more than $289 million without making a profit. Potential buyers started circling earlier this year, believing they could make money simply by removing Trump's polarizing name.
Pros: The company would no longer have to work against Trump's political messaging - trying to win back the big-spending customers he was driving away. It could also raise money to invest in projects that target his political fans - like a new TV venture or social-media network.
Cons: Trump could have trouble attracting high bids, both because of the coronavirus pandemic's continuing effect on the hotel market, and because investors may suspect he's selling under duress.
3. Keep the hotels, but re-brand them.
Call them the "T" hotels - or, better yet, use a name with no hint of the Trump brand. The Trump Organization already considered opening hotels without their famous name: their lower-cost hotel chains were set to be called "Scion" and "American Idea."
Pros: Rebranding would allow the Trump Organization to sell their hotels on luxury and location, without having a politician's name over the door. And they could keep the golf courses, whose members - who have already sunk their initiation fees - are less likely to leave than hotel customers.
Cons: Trump Hotels by any other name would still have a handicap: they must compete with giants like Hilton and Marriott, who can offer customers rewards points redeemable across a far larger network. Also, Trump once claimed his name was worth $4 billion by itself: this plan would require him to take it off his own hotels. The decision might be easier if the 75-year-old Trump formally gave up control of his company, handing the reins completely to his sons.
4. Sell off almost everything, and refocus the business around politics.
In this scenario, the Trump Organization could sell off its largest properties, including hotels and golf courses, and refocus on two kinds of low-risk business enterprises. One would be businesses that cater to Trump's political following: its online store selling Trump-branded merchandise, and the clubs in Palm Beach Fla., and Bedminster, N.J. where the ex-president lives, holds fundraisers and charges the Secret Service rent. The other kind of business it would be sensible to keep would be those producing revenue with little effort, like Trump's minority stakes in New York and San Francisco skyscrapers owned by real estate giant Vornado.
Pros: This would sharply reduce the company's overhead costs, and align it with Trump's current focus on politics.
Cons: In addition to Trump's potential difficulties finding willing buyers and good prices for this many assets, downsizing would also require him to kill the old Trump Organization - and an old version of himself. The author of "The Art of the Deal" would effectively give up the deals that made him famous.