From day one of Donald Trump's candidacy for president it was plain to many of us that his improbable run was all about drawing attention to the Trump brand. Dallas Mavericks owner and Trump troll Mark Cuban made it plain last summer that he believed Trump's goal was to lose the election while at the same time boosting his net worth. But Trump won, and he still took no time in turning the American presidency into a money pipeline feeding directly into the Trump Organization.
The cost of Trump's repeated visits to his own properties, Mar-a-Lago in particular, has gotten a good deal of attention. As it should, because taxpayers foot the bill for the expenses related to his travel. The same with the cost of Secret Service protection for his wife Melania, who insists on staying at Trump Tower in New York City instead of at the White House.
But largely absent from the discussion of the cost of Trump's travel is any direct mention of the incidental expenses incurred by the Secret Service agents who accompany him. And the money from at least some of those expenses indirectly goes right into Trump's pocket.
CBS News says that one line item to come out of Trump's Mar-a-Lago visits is a charge for "golf cart rental." Since Trump's inauguration, the Secret Service has shelled out over $35,000 so they can follow the Golfer In Chief around the links as he drives hard for the American people. Given the number of times Trump has been to Mar-a-Lago already, the cost of the golf carts will easily exceed $100,000 by the end of the year.
That isn't the only example of Trump pocketing taxpayer money for things he could provide free of charge, either. Politico reported last September that the Secret Service had paid the Trump campaign $1.6 million for the privilege of flying around the country with the candidate in a Trump-owned plane. They noted that reimbursing a presidential campaign for the cost of Secret Service travel is not unusual, and that the Clinton campaign also received payment. What is unusual is that in the case of Trump, his company owned the airplane, which means the reimbursement was going in his pocket, not to a third party.
Those are the things we know about. There are certainly others. Such as, where do Secret Service agents stay when at Mar-a-Lago? If they stay on the property, how much does Trump charge for it? And what about meals? Do agents hit the local Chinese buffet, or do taxpayers pick up the tab for food provided by Trump?
Donald Trump is by far the richest president in American history, even if he is only worth a fraction of what he says he is. The Trump Organization is a privately held company, so he has no stockholders to answer to should he choose to absorb the costs of things like golf cart rental at a Trump property. But he won't do that, because of the impact on his personal bottom line.
You have to hand it to Trump; he may not know much about running a country, but he knows how to feather his own nest at somebody else's expense. Mark Cuban was probably right about Trump's original goal. But when he got elected Trump very quickly realized that he had been handed a purse which is enormous even by his standards. And he knew exactly how he could game the system to his advantage.
America has been conned by the smoothest operator ever to hold the office of president. And the one thing everyone needs to remember about con men is that when the chips are counted, they always come out ahead.