March 20, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Why won’t conservative elites pay for Donald Trump’s bond?

They can’t trust him enough to control him.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Yesterday, I argued that a growing number of conservative elites appear to have decided that supporting a fascist like Donald Trump no longer serves their interests, while turning back toward democracy and the rule of law does. Trump’s weakness – among other things, a willingness to say anything anywhere to anyone – seemed to suggest he could be controlled, but it was his weakness that prevented them from controlling him all along. 

Now that Trump has reasserted his dominance over the GOP, some conservative elites, most prominent among them former Vice President Mike Pence, seem to have decided that endorsing him won’t protect them. If Trump wins, people like Pence are in serious trouble. They could be in danger of federal prosecution, or worse, for the “crime” of choosing loyalty to the Constitution over loyalty to Trump. If he loses, however, at least they have a chance to take back the Republican Party.

Today, I want to expand that thesis to include news about the fraud case against Trump in New York state. A judge ruled that he, as head of the Trump Organization, had for years grossly inflated the value of his properties to obtain favorable loans and insurance. The judge said that “the frauds found here leap off the page and shock the conscience.” 

If Trump loses, his backers would risk losing their money and their leverage. If he wins, however, there’s still no guarantee they would see a return on their investment. Why would a president who defies democracy and the rule of law obey the legal terms of a financial agreement?

The former president now owes nearly half a billion dollars ($464 million, with nearly $112,000 each day in interest) as a consequence of that judgment. He’s appealing, but in the meantime, he has to post a bond for the due amount to prove that he’s good for it and that he’s not stalling. On Tuesday, his attorneys said coming up with that much cash was “a practical impossibility.” He has until Monday. After that, New York state’s attorney general can begin seizing his properties.

Let’s set aside Donald Trump’s claim to being a billionaire. Let’s also set aside his claim that he’s spending all his cash on his presidential campaign and doesn’t want to spend it on an “unfair ruling.” He’s always been worth more on paper than in reality. Anyway, he doesn’t spend his own money on politics. Meanwhile, courts in New York and other jurisdictions often require bonds while judgments are in appeal. 

Let’s instead consider that the way we’re talking about all this is in terms of normal lawful money-lending while at the same time, Trump is not a normal borrower. He’s the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. He’s also weak and vulnerable. If there were an ideal moment in which conservative elites might try controlling him, this would be it. 

But no one is stepping up.

According to his attorneys, Trump approached more than 30 underwriters. Each of them said no. Why? Perhaps because he was offering, as collateral, the very same properties whose value he had inflated for years. Another likely reason? He’s up to his eyeballs in debt. As the Post’s Catherine Rampell has already noted, that “bond issuer would be second, third or fourth in line in the case of a foreclosure.”

Yet another reason? If Trump loses, they risk losing their money. As Rampell said, he “treats every bill, every signed contract, as merely an opening offer.” They also risk their leverage. If he’s not president, they can’t demand tax cuts from the man, even if he owes them millions.

However, if he wins, there’s still no guarantee that his backers would see a return on their investment. Why would a president who openly defies the rule of law obey the legal terms of a financial agreement? As Rampell rightly said: “Imagine you lend Trump a few million dollars, and then he gets elected president again. It would become virtually impossible to collect. If you did try to collect, Trump would likely have few qualms about siccing the Justice or Treasury department on you.”

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Conservative elites have only the rule of law on their side. They can’t force an outlaw president to pay them back if he chooses not to. Foreign elites, however, are different. They are not constrained by the rule of law, much less banking statutes applicable only in America. 

If a foreign government, say, that of Russia or China, were to post Trump’s bond, not only he would be beholden to that government, he’d be under serious threat if he dared renege on the expectations put on him. Conservative elites in the US can’t start wars or order assassinations. Foreign governments, however, are not so restrained. 

It should come as no surprise that shortly after news broke of Trump being unable to post his half-billion-dollar bond, news broke of him bringing back Paul Manafort, a convicted money-launderer who once admitted to working with a Russian spy during the 2016 election. His presence on the campaign is a big neon sign, reading: open to bribes. 

Conservative elites might step up if they were confident the rule of law would protect their interests – in terms of money lent to him and in terms of political advantage. If he becomes president, however, that confidence would melt into the air, as he wouldn’t need conservative elites anymore. Indeed, with the powers of the presidency, he’d exact revenge on any elite conservative who ever put any interest above his. 

They can’t trust him enough to control him. 

Why would they bail him out when they’re bailing out on him?

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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