Real estate developer Donald John Trump was born in 1946, in Queens, New York. In 1971, he became involved in large, profitable building projects in Manhattan. In 1980, he opened the Grand Hyatt, which made him the city’s best-known developer. In 2004, Trump began starring in the hit NBC reality series The Apprentice, which also spawned the offshoot The Celebrity Apprentice. Trump turned his attention to politics, and in 2015 he announced his candidacy for president of the United States on the Republican ticket. After winning a majority of the primaries and caucuses, Trump became the official Republican candidate for president on July 19, 2016.
Early Life and Education
Donald John Trump was born on June 14, 1946, in Queens, New York, the fourth of five children of Frederick C. and Mary MacLeod Trump. Frederick Trump was a builder and real estate developer who specialized in constructing and operating middle-income apartments in Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn. Donald was an energetic, assertive child, and his parents sent him to the New York Military Academy at age 13, hoping the discipline of the school would channel his energy in a positive manner.
Trump did well at the academy, both socially and academically, rising to become a star athlete and student leader by the time he graduated in 1964. He then entered Fordham University and two years later transferred to the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1968 with a degree in economics. During his years at college, Trump secured education deferments for the Vietnam War draft and ultimately a 1-Y medical deferment after he graduated.
New York Real Estate Developer
Trump followed his father into a career in real estate development, bringing his grander ambitions to the family business. As a student, Trump worked with his father during the summer and then joined his father’s company, Elizabeth Trump & Son, after graduation from college. He was able to finance an expansion of the company’s holdings by convincing his father to be more liberal in the use of loans based on the equity in the Trump apartment complexes. However, business was very competitive and profit margins were narrow.
In 1971, Donald Trump was given control of the company, which he later renamed the Trump Organization. He also moved his residence to Manhattan, where he began to make important connections with influential people. Convinced of the city’s economic opportunity, Trump soon became involved in large building projects in Manhattan that would offer opportunities for earning high profits, using attractive architectural design and winning public recognition.
When the Pennsylvania Central Railroad entered bankruptcy, Trump was able to obtain an option on the railroad’s yards on the West Side of Manhattan. When initial plans for apartments proved unfeasible because of the poor economic climate, Trump promoted the property as the location of a city convention center, and the city government selected it over two other sites in 1978. Trump’s offer to forego a fee if the center were named after his family, however, was turned down, along with his bid to build the complex, which was ultimately named in honor Senator Jacob Javits.
Trump’s business practices were called into question when, in 1973, the federal government filed a complaint against Trump, his father and their company alleging that they had discriminated against tenants and potential tenants based on their race, a violation of the Fair Housing Act, which is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Trump responded to the case in an interview published in the New York Times. “They are absolutely ridiculous,” he said of the Justice Department which filed the case. “We never have discriminated, and we never would. There have been a number of local actions against us, and we’ve won them all. We were charged with discrimination, and we proved in court that we did not discriminate.”
After a lengthy legal battle, the case was settled in 1975. As part of the agreement, the Trump company had to train employees about the Fair Housing Act and inform the community about its fair housing practices. Trump wrote about the resolution of the case in his 1987 memoir Art of the Deal: “In the end, the government couldn’t prove its case, and we ended up taking a minor settlement without admitting any guilt.”
Meanwhile Trump had set his sights on making a big splash in commercial real estate. In 1974, he obtained an option on one of Penn Central’s hotels, the Commodore, which was unprofitable but in an excellent location adjacent to Grand Central Station. The next year he signed a partnership agreement with the Hyatt Hotel Corporation, which did not have a large downtown hotel. Trump then worked out a complex deal with the city to win a 40-year tax abatement, arranged financing and then completely renovated the building, constructing a striking new facade of reflective glass designed by architect Der Scutt. When the hotel, renamed the Grand Hyatt, opened in 1980, it was instantly popular and proved an economic success, making Donald Trump the city’s best known developer in the process.
Expanding His Empire
In 1979, Trump leased a site on Fifth Avenue adjacent to the famous Tiffany & Company as the location for a monumental $200-million apartment-retail complex designed by Der Scutt. Opened in 1982, it was dubbed Trump Tower. The 58-story building featured a six-story atrium lined with pink marble and included an 80-foot waterfall. The luxurious building attracted well-known retail stores and celebrity renters and brought Trump national attention.
During the same period Trump was investigating the profitable casino gambling business, which was approved in New Jersey in 1977, and in 1980 he was able to acquire a piece of property in Atlantic City. Trump brought in his younger brother Robert to head up the complex project of acquiring the land, winning a gambling license and obtaining permits and financing. Holiday Inn Corporation, the parent company of Harrah’s casino hotels, offered a partnership, and the $250 million complex opened in 1984 as Harrah’s at Trump Plaza. Trump bought out Holiday Inn soon thereafter and renamed the facility Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Trump also purchased a Hilton Hotels casino-hotel in Atlantic City when the corporation failed to obtain a gambling license and renamed the $320 million complex Trump’s Castle. Later, while it was under construction, he was able to acquire the largest hotel-casino in the world, the Taj Mahal at Atlantic City, which opened in 1990. In 2016, it was announced the Trump Taj Mahal would be closing its doors amid multiple bankruptcies throughout the years and a lengthy strike by workers. Trump himself had lost his last remaining ten percent interest in the company for the licensing of his name in March when Carl Icahn took over hoping to save the casino.
Back in New York City, Donald Trump had purchased an apartment building and the adjacent Barbizon-Plaza Hotel in New York City, which faced Central Park, with plans to build a large condominium tower on the site. The tenants of the apartment building, however, who were protected by the city’s rent-control and rent-stabilization programs, fought Trump’s plans and won. Trump then renovated the Barbizon, renaming it Trump Parc. In 1985 he purchased 76 acres on the West Side of Manhattan for $88 million to build a complex to be called Television City, which was to consist of a dozen skyscrapers, a mall and a riverfront park. The huge development was to invite television production and feature the world’s tallest building, but community opposition and a long city-approval process delayed commencement of construction on the project. In 1988 he acquired the Plaza Hotel for $407 million and spent $50 million refurbishing it.
Ups and Downs of Business
Expanding his empire to the south, around this time Trump developed a condominium project in West Palm Beach, Florida, and in 1989 he branched out to purchase the Eastern Air Lines Shuttle for $365 million, which he later renamed the Trump Shuttle. After failing to be profitable, Trump defaulted on the loans and the airline venture ended in 1992 after a merger. In January 1990, Trump flew to Los Angeles to unveil a plan to build a $1 billion commercial and residential project featuring a 125-story office building.
It was in 1990, however, that the real estate market declined, reducing the value of and income from Trump’s empire; though he had asserted his own net worth in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion at that time, a Forbes magazine investigation into his assets revealed that his existing debt likely brought the number closer to $500 million. In any event, the Trump Organization required a massive infusion of loans to keep it from collapsing, a situation which raised questions as to whether the corporation could survive bankruptcy. Some observers saw Trump’s decline as symbolic of many of the business, economic and social excesses that had arisen in the 1980s.
Donald Trump eventually managed to climb back from a reported deficit of nearly $900 million, claiming to have reached a zenith of more than $2 billion. However, independent sources again questioned his math, estimating his worth at something closer to $500 million by 1997.
In 2000, Trump construction made headlines again when a state appeals court ruled that he had the right to finish an 856-foot-tall condominium. The Coalition for Responsible Development had sued the city, charging it was violating zoning laws by letting the building reach heights that towered over everything in the neighborhood. The city has since moved to revise its rules to prevent similar projects, but the failure of Trump’s opponents to obtain an injunction allowed him to continue construction.
Reality TV & Political Ambitions
On October 7, 1999, Trump announced the formation of an exploratory committee to inform his decision whether or not to seek the Reform Party’s nomination for the presidential race of 2000. However, after a poor showing during the California primary, Trump withdrew his candidacy. It would not quell his political aspirations, however.
In 2004 Trump took advantage of his high-profile persona when he began producing and starring in the NBC reality series The Apprentice, in which contestants competed for a management position within the Trump Organization. The show quickly became a hit and made famous Trump’s television catchphrase “You’re fired.” The success of the show resulted in numerous spin-offs, including The Celebrity Apprentice that showcased well-known figures as contestants.
In 2012, Trump’s flirtation with politics resumed when he publicly announced he was considering running for president again. However, his prior association with the “Birther” movement, a fringe group that staunchly believed President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, seemingly discredited his political reputation.
Beginning in early 2011, Trump expressed doubts about the validity of Obama’s birth country to media outlets. To quell the staunch outcry from birtherists, Obama eventually released his birth certificate in April 2011, verifying that he was born in the United States. Regardless, Trump continued to be a vocal critic of President Obama—not only regarding his place of birth—but also on a variety of his policies. In the years since, Trump continued to question the president’s birthplace through his 2012 reelection.
In 2013, Trump tweeted that a Hawaiian State Health Director, who died of cardiac arrhythmia following a plane crash, was somehow connected to a cover-up of the president’s birth certificate. In 2016, as he began to clinch his own nomination as the GOP candidate for president, Trump toned down his stance, telling CNN, “I have my own theory on Obama. Someday I will write a book.” Later that fall, feeling pressure from his campaign advisors to put the conspiracy theory to rest as part of a strategy to appeal to minority voters, Trump issued a statement conceding that the president was indeed born in the U.S. In his statement, Trump also blamed his presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, on the matter: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean,” Trump stated. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.”
On June 16, 2015, Trump made his White House ambitions official when he announced his run for president on the Republican ticket for the 2016 elections, joining a crowded field of more than a dozen major candidates. “I am officially running for president of the United States,” Trump said during his announcement at Trump Towers in New York City, “and we are going to make our country great again.” He added with his signature bravado: “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
Upon Trump’s announcement to run for president, his scathing, derogatory remarks about Mexicans and immigration caused NBC to sever business ties with him. “Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBCUniversal is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump,” NBC responded in a statement. “To that end, the annual Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageants, which are part of a joint venture between NBC and Trump, will no longer air on NBC.”
The statement added: “In addition, as Mr. Trump has already indicated, he will not be participating in The Celebrity Apprentice on NBC. Celebrity Apprentice is licensed from Mark Burnett’s United Artists Media Group and that relationship will continue.”
In response to NBC, Trump was unapologetic and defiant, filing a $500 million dollar lawsuit against the company, with his daughter Ivanka stating that her father’s comments were distorted by the media. Yet among great social outcry, other organizations have withdrawn from associations with Trump as well: The Professional Golfers Association of America pulled plans for its fall Grand Slam tournament to be held at Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles, while representatives for Macy’s announced that the retail chain would no longer carry Trump’s menswear collection.
On July 18, 2015, Trump set off another media maelstrom with comments made at the Christian-oriented Family Leadership Summit in Iowa, calling out Senator and one-time Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s reputation as a military hero. “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said, referring to McCain having been detained during the Vietnam War for several years after being gunned down as an airman, surviving multiple broken limbs and torture. Military veteran groups and advocates have generally denounced Trump’s statements.
Despite these and his many other controversial remarks, a national phone poll completed by late July 2015 saw Trump in the lead for the Republican nomination, with ex-governor of Florida Jeb Bush slightly behind and within the poll’s margin of error. More than half of Republican voters polled said that they were still unsure about which candidate from the large pool of contenders they would ultimately support.
Nonetheless, having garnered major media attention, Trump was one of the ten top candidates who participated in a Fox News presidential debate in early August. While the mogul continued a tone set in earlier appearances, he was critiqued and questioned on everything from his business practices to demeaning, sexist comments made about women via television and social media. Trump later made highly insulting remarks about moderator Megyn Kelly for the nature of her questions, and was hence disinvited from an Atlanta speaking engagement. He also initially maintained that he might opt for a third-party candidacy if running on the Republican ticket wasn’t viable, but later signed a loyalty pledge stating he wouldn’t do so.
As of March 2016, Trump appeared to be the likely Republican presidential nominee, with only Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasichholding out hope for their campaigns. Trump maintained a commanding lead over his opponents despite ongoing criticisms and controversies, including his proposal to ban the immigration of Muslims to the United States, an apparent endorsement of waterboarding, and widespread protests at his political rallies, several of which have turned violent.
As the campaign rolled on, so did further controversy, this time about the lawsuits filed against Trump University. In 2005, Trump launched his for-profit Trump University offering classes in real estate and acquiring and managing wealth. The venture has been under scrutiny almost since its inception and at the time of his presidential bid, it remains the subject of multiple law suits. In the cases, claimants accuse Trump of fraud, false advertising and breach of contract. Controversy about the suits made headlines when Trump suggested that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, could not be impartial in overseeing two class action cases because of his Mexican heritage. Trump described the judge as “a hater of Donald Trump. . .”
Later, in a separate incident related to Trump University, it was reported that a Florida attorney general decided not to join the existing New York fraud lawsuit, just days after she had received a sizable campaign donation from the Donald J. Trump Foundation. Founded in 1988, the Donald J. Trump Foundation is a private charity organization designed to make donations to non-profit groups. As a result of the improper donation to the attorney general’s campaign, Trump was required to pay the IRS a penalty and his foundation came under scrutiny about the use of its funds for non-charitable activities. Additionally, according to tax records, The Trump Foundation itself was found to have no charitable gifts from Donald Trump since 2008 and that all donations since that time have come from outside donations to the Trump Foundation.
Trump also courted controversy over the course of his presidential run when he repeatedly said he would not release his tax returns while they were being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. In August 2016, he confirmed that he would not release his tax returns before the November election. It was the first time a major party candidate had not released such information to the public since Richard Nixon in 1972.
GOP Presidential Nominee
Trump’s decisive Indiana primary victory in May 2016, in which he won 53% of the vote in a three-way race, is marked as the moment he clinched the Republican presidential nomination and laid to rest any notions of a contested convention. On May 26, 2016, 29 unbound delegates told the Associated Press that they would support him at the GOP convention. With their backing, Trump pulled in the support of 1,238 delegates, slightly above the 1,237 delegate count needed to secure the nomination.
Senator Cruz’s defeat in Indiana, after a previous string of losses, prompted him to suspend his campaign.
Leading up to the Republican convention in July 2016, there was much speculation about Trump’s selection of a running mate. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee narrowed his decision down to three candidates — New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Indiana governor Mike Pence. On July 15, 2016, Trump officially announced that Pence was his choice for vice presidential nominee.