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[The Strip Sense]

Donald Trump’s political positions could hurt his Las Vegas business

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Trump International Hotel could be a casualty of its owner’s political aspirations.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Pity the poor souls trying to make that Trump International Hotel

thing work in Vegas. They’ve got no casino, show or shopping, their lobby is usually quieter than a library and they greet absolutely no walk-in traffic thanks to a horrible location. DJT restaurant earned a Michelin star in 2008 and seemed poised to be the joint’s one calling card, but poor traffic led to downscaling, and it now suffers consistently middling reviews.

Oh, and that guy whose name is in gold letters across the top of the building is now an alleged politician who has adopted the very worst instincts of politicians, namely a cynical propensity to change positions to suit the moment. That, too, is now their headache to bear.

Other pundits can debate whether Donald Trump’s possible GOP presidential campaign is real or viable. He sure enjoys his own carnival barker act and may think his current utterances are as ephemeral as prior outlandish remarks that have generated decades of controversy.

This time, though, it’s not Trump having an inane feud with a specific celebrity or ex-paramour. In recent months, he’s deeply and personally offended blacks with his Obama birth certificate idiocy, women by opposing abortion rights and gays by reversing his own 2000 position favoring legal equality for all couples and now claiming he’s against even civil unions. Any day now, he’ll probably alienate Hispanics by asserting support of Arizona’s aggressive anti-immigration statute; you can’t win Iowa as a Republican without doing that, can you?

So who, exactly, will be left to stay in his fine lodging establishments? Christian fundamentalists? Do they visit Vegas much?

In the recession-pummeled hospitality industry—and especially the hyper-competitive Las Vegas market—what a man like Trump says on such issues can permanently alter the public’s perception of a brand.

Already, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has listed Trump properties on a site that urges readers to “consider Trump’s decision to stand against LGBT families when you’re deciding” where to stay, meet or play. The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, a group of 2,200 gay travel industry organizations and companies, will consider in May whether to kick Trump hotels out.

Yes, other Vegas moguls are proud Republicans without being so stigmatized, and there’s a reason for that. You never, ever hear Jim Murren, Steve Wynn or Sheldon Adelson take Rick Santorum’s side on marriage equality, abortion rights or immigration reform. Wynn rants angrily about health care and the national debt, but that’s it. And Adelson is consumed primarily with Israel. In 2008, Adelson told me he considered himself “a social liberal” and an environmentalist who is pro-choice and whose wedding chapels warmly welcome same-sex ceremonies.

The earnest people running Trump’s properties have a problem, so a spokeswoman pointed me to a list of charitable efforts they’ve made for local minority causes. Terrific, but tourists won’t know or care, especially when others on the Strip have become so fierce in pursuing blacks, Hispanics, women, gays and any other heretofore neglected potential customer group.

It may be unfair to associate the hotel with the man’s espoused views, but Trump’s showmanship has long been a boon to it. Welcome to the far more durable downside.

“When a hospitality or entertainment brand bears the very name of the executive or owner, as the verbose Donald Trump insists on everything he touches in the market, then you can’t blame consumers for confusing the two,” said Bob Witeck, a public relations expert who advises American Airlines and Marriott hotels on minority outreach and marketing. “His words, his values, his political opinions, touch his businesses or perhaps even smear them.”

Trump may someday try to take back his polarizing remarks, but that will only seem insincere. What’s interesting is that Trump is about to be the target of stealthy, subtle discrimination by potential customers who will choose elsewhere and never tell him why.

I doubt he’ll like it much.

Follow Steve on Twitter at TheStripPodcast or head to VegasHappensHere.com for his blog and weekly celeb-interview podcast, The Strip. Email him at SteveFriess@aol.com.
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