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christopher muther | commentary

The new campaign: Make America stay in Trump hotels again

Eric Trump (left) and Donald Trump Jr. attended an event for Scion Hotels in New York on Monday. That Trump Organization concept will be a chain of four-star boutique hotels.Kathy Willens/associated Press

Those familiar red and blue maps show the states that supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and now those same maps show another pattern: the locations where the Trump Organization could open a new chain of budget-friendly hotels to provide flea market chic and Americana-laden accommodation.

Was the 2016 election as much about market research as it was about issues? Like it or not, American voters provided hundreds of thousands of dollars of free market research for Trump Hotels.

The Trump Organization announced this week that it would launch a new hotel chain called American Idea. Gone is the Trump name. So, too, are the expensive luxuries often found in Trump’s brand name properties.


Donald Trump Jr. said inspiration for the chain came from traveling through America during his father’s presidential campaign. In other words — red states.

Let’s take a look back to see where all this potential strategizing began. Allow me to set the scene: It was a few weeks before the election and Trump’s numbers were looking shakier than day-old cafeteria Jell-O.

His percentages were quickly dipping, but not the figures found in the murky crystal balls of political prognosticators such as Nate Silver. What was dipping was the number of guests at his luxury hotels. The president owned a string of the hotels, and the contentious, often bitter tone of the 2016 election was starting to hurt the bottom line.

Surveys showed that those with the income to stay at Trump hotels were no longer interested. And many Americans who would have no qualms about staying in a Trump hotel simply didn’t have the disposable cash to do so.

The Trump brand, also known for its neckties, spring water, and a fragrance called Success, was taking a hit from incessant cable news chatter of bad hombres and nasty women. Suddenly, the fragrance surrounding the brand did not smell like Success anymore.


As life handed the Trump Organization hotel lemons, it made lemonade. Not the fancy kind of lemonade produced by liberal do-gooders like the late Paul Newman found in the refrigerated section of your local grocery store. The Trump Organization opted to make the inexpensive kind of lemonade that comes in granulated crystals and dissolves in water.

The 2016 marketing research campaign, otherwise known as the presidential campaign, made it clear that those who want to support their candidate would rather do so in a moderately priced three-star hotel revolving around “a concept rooted in local history and neighborly service” than some economically out-of-reach Trump branded tower.

American Idea hits on a couple of interesting points that came up during the free market research campaign of 2016. First, play to your strengths, and at the moment the president’s strengths aren’t Paris, or even Pittsburgh — it looks like it’s Mississippi. That’s where the first American Idea hotel will open. It’s also a state where Trump took the majority of the vote.

Trump is unabashed about his admiration for those color-coded maps that show the results of the election. He has brought copies of them to hand out at interviews and another is said to be framed and hung in the West Wing. He hands them out as a kind of parting gift. Perhaps his sons Donald Jr. and Eric Trump were looking at one such map and thought, “This is how we no longer look like Ivanka’s less savvy brothers. We open hotels in the red states where they love us!”


With that sort of reasoning, it might be a while before Massachusetts will see one.

Just as important as price point is the name. If the Trump name is getting in the way of bookings, just drop it. What’s greater than Trump? Why, America, of course. Ideas are good, too. Put them together and you’ve just bested Best Western.

Indeed, they’ll be competing against three star hotels such as Hilton, Marriott, and DoubleTree.

While the red states will enjoy the homespun values and all-you-can-eat covfefe bar at American Idea, where will blue-staters stay? That’s been taken care of, as well. The Trump Organization will soon roll out the Scion chain, a four-star boutique hotel that will likely not include any of the vintage Coca-Cola machines that will be used as decor in the American Idea properties. Scion will also start in Mississippi, but the boutique hotel formula is tried, true, and popular in Democratic strongholds.

Scion will be targeted toward millennials and picks up on the trend of more design, less space. Rooms will go for between $200 to $300 a night. The Scion brand was hatched before the free market research campaign of 2016, but it also drops the Trump name. That’s a smart move because only 37 percent of millennials voted for Trump.

Not everyone is a fan of the Trump Organization rolling out a new hotel brand while in the White House. Ethics questions abound.


“They’re cashing in on the red states,” Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert and law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told the Associated Press. “I’m not surprised that the Trump family would look to opportunities to commercially exploit his political success.”

It’s a suggestion the Trump folks reject. The suggestion is ‘‘pure, unadulterated nonsense,’’ said Eric Danziger, CEO of Trump Hotels, to the Associated Press on Tuesday. ‘‘I’m sure you’ve heard of American Express. I’m sure you’ve heard of American Airlines. . . . We didn’t invent the word ‘American.’ ’’

But a skeptic might see it otherwise: No matter how you voted in the presidential election, you may have played an important part in helping the Trumps determine how best to expand their hotel portfolio.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther