Trump doubles down on support for eminent domain

Donald Trump sent two interesting tweets this morning. One, which has been widely covered, was a manual retweet of a user with the handle @WhiteGenocideTM, whose bio includes a link to a pro-Nazi documentary.

This isn’t the first time Donald Trump has retweeted a white nationalist or white nationalist propaganda, which poses a bit of a problem: Trump is exploiting the perverse tradeoff where the media can either continue to write stories every time he retweets white nationalists, thereby boosting his standing among the large subset of white Republicans that hold racist attitudes, or they can ignore him, thereby normalizing white nationalism.

However, while Trump’s tweet was wrong and bad and racist and awful and [insert negative adjective here], it was a tweet Trump sent earlier in the morning that likely has greater implications in the Republican primary:

It took a long time, but Donald Trump’s closest competitor in the Republican primary has recently started hitting Trump on a violation of conservative orthodoxy: defending the government’s right to expropriate private land for public use with fair compensation.

The attack is made a bit easier given Trump history with the issue, in particular.

Because while it’s one thing for Trump to defend the idea of eminent domain on its merits (correctly), in practice he has used it as a caricature of everything conservatives fear about special interests capturing the government. From the Guardian:

Donald Trump, via iprimages / Flickr

Donald Trump, via iprimages / Flickr

For more than 30 years Vera Coking lived in a three-story house just off the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Donald Trump built his 22-story Trump Plaza next door. In the mid-1990s Trump wanted to build a limousine parking lot for the hotel, so he bought several nearby properties. But three owners, including the by then elderly and widowed Ms Coking, refused to sell.

As his daughter Ivanka said in introducing him at his campaign announcement, Donald Trump doesn’t take no for an answer.

Trump turned to a government agency – the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) – to take Coking’s property. CRDA offered her $250,000 for the property – one-fourth of what another hotel builder had offered her a decade earlier. When she turned that down, the agency went into court to claim her property under eminent domain so that Trump could pave it and put up a parking lot.

It’s one thing for the government to offer fair value for a home that happens to be in the way of a planned highway or public building. The Supreme Court has even held that in certain cases, the public interest can even justify the government forcibly buying land for private use. Trump has praised the 2005 case, Kelo vs. New London, that upheld the government’s ability to use eminent domain in such a way. Conservatives, predictably, consider Kelo to have been a disaster.

Especially since it opens the door for rich jerks like Donald Trump to use the government for undesirable ends. It’s easy to see cases in which the government has a legitimate interest in buying someone’s property for public use, but limousine parking lots really aren’t what comes to mind there. And the kind of political influence that Donald Trump has made no bones about wielding in his private life is exactly the kind of crony capitalism that working class conservatives (and pretty much anyone in the 99%) positively loathe.

There’s a real opening here for Ted Cruz and other Republicans to use Trump’s support for eminent domain to undercut his case for office, but only if they can keep the focus on Trump’s abuse of the policy. As long as we’re talking about schools, road and bridges, Trump’s support for eminent domain falls in line with his other violations of conservative orthodoxy that Republican voters aren’t actually worried about (single payer health care, for instance). If we’re talking about widows and limousine parking lots, on the other hand, it could do some real damage.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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