Donald Trump’s admirers, like those of Ross Perot in an earlier epoch, cite his business success as his main qualification and believe that the acumen that he has demonstrated in making himself rich enough to do incredibly vulgar things like gold-plating the seatbelt buckles in his airplane is a skill that’s transferable to things like trade policy and immigration law. There may be something to that line of thinking, but Ross Perot is not the entrepreneur whom Trump most closely resembles.
You heard it here first: Paris Hilton 2016.
Trump has a great deal in common with Hilton, much more than a famous blond hair-do. Hilton is — or was, more on that in a bit — an heiress to a splendid fortune based in part on real estate. Trump, despite his eternal posturing as novus homo, is a New York City trust-fund brat who inherited a vast real-estate portfolio from his father. Hilton used her standing as a figure of public interest to create a career for herself as a celebrity, as someone who is “famous for being famous,” as the saying goes. Trump still owns a great deal of real estate, but his largest asset, according to his own financial statements, is his celebrity: He values his personal brand at many billions of dollars, more than any building or golf course or property he owns.
Which is to say, Trump and Hilton are in the same racket.
And there’s real money in that, of course. A great many properties that say Trump on the front door aren’t actually owned by Trump or his business interests, but simply pay him for the use of his name. (De gustibus . . . ) One notable monstrosity that used to be a Trump property — the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City — slipped through his fingers, as he was obliged to give up most of his equity in bankruptcy proceedings. Trump is averse to using the word “bankruptcy,” instead talking about taking a property and “throwing it into a chapter.” A chapter of what, you might wonder? In the case of the casino, that was Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
Paris Hilton? No bankruptcies so far.
And there are some indications that she’s better at leveraging her celebrity than Trump is.
#related#The value of that Trump brand is probably overstated — Forbes estimates its real value as being in the millions of dollars rather than billions, as Trump claims — and it must certainly be headed south. Trump will no longer be part of The Apprentice — where, ironically, his catchphrase was “You’re fired!” which is what he is — and Macy’s has discontinued his fantastically tacky clothing line, to the great disappointment of the Chinese and Mexican manufacturers who stitched it. NBC and Univision have dropped his Miss USA Pageant. Alas, the United States Football League is a thing of the past, and there is no obvious way to significantly monetize his professional-wrestling appearances. Trump has a brand, but it isn’t clear what if any products will be associated with that brand in the future.
According to his financial statement, his actual money-in-the-bank wealth — cash and marketable securities — comes to about $300 million.
How does he stack up to Paris Hilton?
Hilton’s personal brand is, angels and ministers of grace defend us, up-and-coming, apparently. Given that she is less than half of Trump’s age, she appears to be set to outperform him in the famous-for-being-famous racket.
Trump got booted from the tie-rack at Macy’s, but there are now Paris Hilton–branded stores in 40 countries. Her dozen-and-a-half varieties of perfume have done nine-figure sales. She made a hit record with Lil Wayne and licensed her name to a beach club in the Philippines. She has at least 16 merchandise-licensing deals. Ironically, her first foray into celebrity life came as a model at the agency owned by Trump, the business practices of which are . . . thoroughly Trumpian. She earns more than $10 million a year from product licensing — more than what Trump claimed on his last filing. Trump earned $150,000 for appearing at a Samsung corporate event; Paris Hilton makes more than $1 million per “performance” working as a party DJ.
Donald Trump and Paris Hilton share an occupation: publicity whore. Paris Hilton is better at it.
Unlike Trump, Miss Hilton will not be inheriting the family fortune. If the gossip pages are to be believed, Barron Hilton is so embarrassed at what has been done to his family name that almost all of his billions are going to charity, not to the grandkids. When Donald Trump is being seriously considered as a presidential candidate, Barron Hilton may have shown himself the last man in America capable of being embarrassed.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.