President Donald Trump said in October 2019 that being president is costing him money. Lots of it.
“Whether I lost $2 billion, $5 billion or less, it doesn’t make any difference,” Trump said. “I don’t care. I’m doing this for the country. I’m doing it for the people.”
Well, he definitely cares. And now we know – thanks to the new Forbes 400 list released Tuesday – how much less rich Trump is today than when he ran for and won the presidency in 2016.
In 2016, Trump was worth $3.7 billion, according to Forbes. That dropped to $3.1 billion in 2017 and held there for 2018 and 2019. But this year Trump’s net worth dropped to $2.5 billion. That $600 million decline led Trump to drop from the 275th richest person in America in 2019 to the 352nd richest in 2020 – a drop of 77 spots. (It took a net worth of $2.1 billion to make the top 400.)
Why the dip in Trump’s fortune? The coronavirus pandemic. “The value of office buildings, hotels and resorts have taken a hit amid the pandemic,” reads the Forbes release on Trump’s wealth.
Now, $2.5 billion is still a lot of money. Like, a LOT of money. And being one of the richest 400 people in America is pretty exclusive company. But if you don’t think that the decline in his overall wealth and his position on the Forbes 400 will irk Trump, then you don’t know Trump.
This, from Jonathan Greenberg, a one-time reporter for Forbes, makes clear how much Trump cares:
“In May 1984, an official from the Trump Organization called to tell me how rich Donald J. Trump was. I was reporting for the Forbes 400, the magazine’s annual ranking of America’s richest people, for the third year. In the previous edition, we’d valued Trump’s holdings at $200 million, only one-fifth of what he claimed to own in our interviews. This time, his aide urged me on the phone, I needed to understand just how loaded Trump really was.
“The official was John Barron — a name we now know as an alter ego of Trump himself.”
So central is Trump’s wealth to his self-perception that he made a major show of how much money he had during the speech announcing his 2016 presidential candidacy.
“And I have assets – big accounting firm, one of the most highly respected – 9 billion 240 million dollars,” Trump told the audience gathered in Trump Tower in June 2015, adding: “So I have a total net worth, and now with the increase, it’ll be well over $10 billion. But here, a total net worth of – net worth, not assets, not – a net worth, after all debt, after all expenses, the greatest assets – Trump Tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, Bank of America building in San Francisco, 40 Wall Street, sometimes referred to as the Trump building right opposite the New York – many other places all over the world. So the total is $8,737,540,00.” (As Trump said these words, he waved a document around as, uh, proof – or something.)
In that same speech, he noted that “I’m really rich” and later made clear that all of this talk about his money wasn’t “to brag, because you know what? I don’t have to brag. I don’t have to, believe it or not.”
(Narrator: I don’t believe it.)
Within a month of that announcement, Trump was upping the ante, literally. His campaign released a statement that read this way:
“Mr. Trump’s net worth has increased since the more than one year old financial statement produced at his presidential announcement. Real estate values in New York City, San Francisco, Miami and many other places where he owns property have gone up considerably during this period of time. His debt is a very small percentage of value, and at very low interest rates. As of this date, Mr. Trump’s net worth is in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS.”
You’ll note that right around the time Trump was claiming a $10 billion net worth, Forbes, which is the gold – ahem – standard in regard to wealth, pegged his fortune at less than half that number ($3.7 billion).
Why the discrepancy? Well, look no further than this explanation by Trump of how he calculates what he is worth: “My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings, but I try … yes, even my own feelings, as to where the world is, where the world is going … and that can change rapidly from day to day.”
In short: Life comes at you fast!
Trump’s need – and it is a need – to be very, very rich – is widely regarded as one of the main reasons he has continued to be unwilling to release any of his previous tax returns, the first president in the post-Watergate era to enjoy that ignominious distinction. The speculation is that Trump knows that the returns would show him as considerably less rich than he has bragged about for years and, in so doing, reduce his appeal to voters who are drawn to his over-the-top money and attitude.
“They always call the other side ‘the elite.’ Why are they elite?,” Trump asked rhetorically at a campaign rally in Minnesota in 2018. “I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president and they didn’t.”
Remember that the story Donald Trump tells himself of his own life is that he is an up-from-the-bootstraps billionaire – ignore that “small” $1 million loan his dad gave him out of college – whose wealth is proof that he is better than all the people who sneered at him and mocked him over the years.
“My whole life really has been a ‘no’ and I fought through it,” Trump said at a New Hampshire town hall in October 2015. “It has not been easy for me, it has not been easy for me.”
In Trump’s mind, the richer he is, the more people he has proven wrong. Wealth equals vindication. And that’s why a decline in wealth – like he’s experience this past year – will bother him so much.