Many conservative pundits and Tea Party activists are criticizing GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s ongoing support of eminent domain, but the real estate billionaire is not backing down.
“It would have been easy to say I’m totally against eminent domain but that is not a fair thing to say because without it, states couldn’t function,” GOP Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump tells Breitbart News in an exclusive interview.
But Trump offers a somewhat more nuanced understanding of eminent domain to Breitbart News, one that seems to acknowledge that using it for exclusively private gain is the wrong thing to do.
“If you were going [to use eminent domain] to rip down a house and build another house, no way,” Trump says.
On that point, Trump and Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, seem to be in agreement.
“Having the government take one person’s property for another’s gain is not a conservative principle,” Phillips tells Breitbart News.
“But if you’re going to build a factory that’s going to have 5,000 jobs, that’s entirely different,” Trump says.
And here is where Trump and his critics differ.
In 1946, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Carmack that:
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution says “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” This is a tacit recognition of a preexisting power to take private property for public use, rather than a grant of new power.
Trump and his critics have different views on what constitutes “public use.”
Unfortunately for critics of a more expanded view of eminent domain, the Supreme Court’s very unpopular 2005 decision in Kelo v. New London supports Trump’s more expanded view.
Pundits are almost unanimous in their criticisms of Trump for his eminent domain position, but Tea Party activists are more varied in their assessments.
It remains to be seen, however, how significant the eminent domain issue will be and whether it will derail the Trump for President juggernaut.
The Club for Growth, for instance, one of Trump’s staunchest critics, launched a $1 million anti-Trump television ad buy in Iowa on September 15 that hit him for his support for eminent domain. While a poll paid for by the Club now claims Trump trails Dr. Ben Carson in Iowa, other recent polls show that Trump remains the GOP frontrunner by a nationally as well as in the key states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. In Iowa, the recent NBC News/WSJ/Marist poll shows Trump still in the lead, ahead of the second place Carson by 5 points.
Early returns suggest that eminent domain may not be a big enough issue to move the needle either up or down for Trump.
Trump’s comments Tuesday night on Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Bret Baier doubling down on his support for eminent domain and the unpopular Kelo v. New London Supreme Court decision have not been well received by many in the conservative grassroots community.
Trump appears to be correct–from a limited government perspective–on 4 big issues–illegal immigration, defending gun rights, opposing ObamaCare, and opposing ObamaTrade.
Most who subscribe to the limited government world view believe Trump is wrong on eminent domain, at least as it relates to taking private property for private development with tangential public benefit, as opposed to direct public benefit.
For his part, Trump is confident that he can persuade voters that eminent domain, properly used, can be a significant benefit.
“I was just talking with some very conservative people today, and they just don’t understand eminent domain,” Trump tells Breitbart News.
“These people, they’re not just being thrown out. Everyone said ‘you’re taking their property,’ but they’re getting paid at least fair market value,” Trump says.
“What people don’t know is, usually you go through a condemnation, and [the property owner] will get 2, 3, 4 times the value of their house. People don’t know that,” Trump tells Breitbart News.
Trump acknowledged that the condemnation process is difficult.
“It’s always unpleasant,” he says. “They always say you pay them fair market value, but politically, they will pay you much more.”
Trump is enthusiastic in describing the benefits of eminent domain in helping communities economically.
“You can’t build a road without eminent domain,” he says. “In order to survive as a country, how you can not have roads?” Trump asks rhetorically.
“There are things like this… you have a community that’s doing poorly…. if people can’t make it there, they’re going to move to a different state or different city,” Trump tells Breitbart News.
Despite his energetic defense of eminent domain, critics remain unconvinced.
“Donald Trump thinks the issue of eminent domains has not been properly ‘explained to most conservatives.’ Perhaps Trump might explain why the Constitution should be read to permit the government to kick elderly widows out their homes for the direct benefit of people like him,” says Reason Magazine’s Damon Root in response to Trump’s comments to Bret Baier.
While Fox News, the Club for Growth, National Review, and conservative pundits are hammering Trump on the issue, Tea Party activists who spoke with Breitbart News say his eminent domain position won’t sway them one way or the other.
And some Tea Party activists, especially those with small business experience, seemed to express some sympathy for Trump’s view.
“As an independent oilman since 1984, I fully understand eminent domain and its true process,” Eric Olsen, founder of the Montana Tea Party, tells Breitbart News.
“Trump spent much time explaining it to Bret Baier. Bret seemed confused on the issue which does not surprise me,” Olsen adds.
“I support the majority of Trump’s comments on eminent domain. Singling out a case like Kelo vs New London does make a point that eminent domain is abused at times but we have to remember that majority of business does use eminent domain for direct public benefit. But keep in mind that the taxes received through the Kelo type case do benefit public directly through public spending of those tax dollars. Of course, as Teaparty conservatives we believe that governments do not spend money wisely,” Olsen continues.
“America needs pipelines, roads, sewers, powerlines, etc to move on with a growing infrastructure,” Olsen concludes.
“Trump’s views are not out of step with the history of the application of eminent domain,” Tennessee Tea Party activist Mark Skoda, a Trump supporter, tells Breitbart News.
“In my opinion, he is simply taking a position that can be seen as good business, so long as it is applied fairly and with just compensation. At least he is clear about his views on this matter and one can take a decision about his campaign in this context,” Skoda adds.
Supporters of Ted Cruz see Trump’s position on eminent domain as yet another reason to back their man.
“I support another candidate, Ted Cruz,” Toby Marie Walker, founder of the Waco, Texas Tea Party tells Breitbart News.
“Trump’s position on eminent domain doesn’t sway me one way or the other. Many of his supporters don’t seem to care what positions he holds or has held, they just want someone who tells it like it is and damned the consequences. Principles and policies are not a high priority to them, Trump’s rhetoric is his selling point,” Walker adds.
“Trump’s attitude is typical of big real estate developers who are eager to lock arms with big government and run roughshod over the rights of the individual,” Nashville Tea Party founder Ben Cunningham tells Breitbart News.
“Private property rights represent absolutely essential limitations on the power of big government and the fact that Trump is willing to violate these principles to make a buck is repugnant,” Cunningham adds.
“There are many things to like about Trump but his stance on eminent domain endangers our foundational private property rights and makes me even more willing to get out and work hard to elect Ted Cruz,” Cunningham concludes.
“Trump is strong on a lot of good issues,” Tea Party Nation’s Phillips tells Breitbart News.
“He is saying things that the American people want to hear. He is missing the boat on eminent domain. I’m not sure how much it will hurt him since he is so strong on Immigration and Trade. But I think there will be some backlash on it,” Phillips, who has endorsed Ted Cruz, adds.
Trump’s opponents for the 2016 GOP Presidential nomination have criticized Trump on eminent domain, but so far, those criticisms have not had much impact on the race.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), lagging far behind in the polls, tried to hit Trump in August on the issue of eminent domain, but his critique failed to hurt Trump or help Paul.
In fact, Paul was in eighth place among the candidates seeking the 2016 GOP Presidential nomination at 4.3 percent in the polls when he began that attack, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls taken between August 9 and August 16.
Paul now stands at an even more distant tenth place with the support of only 2.3 percent of GOP primary voters, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls taken between September 17 and October 4.
During that same time period, Trump has remained in first place, and his poll numbers have increased from 22 percent to 23.2 percent.
Despite Paul’s lack of success, critics still attack Trump for his history using eminent domain.
Reason’s Root describes Trump’s unsuccessful attempts to use eminent domain to obtain the house of an Atlantic City widow, Vera Coking, two decades ago:
In 1994 Trump sought to personally profit from eminent domain abuse by using government power to kick an elderly widow out of her Atlantic City home.
This despicable event was made possible by a shadowy state agency known as the Casino Reinvestment Development Corporation (CRDC), which sought to take the home of a woman named Vera Coking, who lived just off of Atlantic City’s famous beachfront boardwalk, and replace it with a new limousine parking lot for the nearby Trump Plaza hotel and casino.
Thanks to the expert legal help of the Institute for Justice, whose lawyers represented Coking, the CRDC’s desire to wield eminent domain on Trump’s behalf was laughed out of court. “What has occurred here is analogous to giving Trump a blank check with respect to future development on the property for casino hotel purposes,” declared the Superior Court of New Jersey in a sharp ruling against Trump and the CRDC. Vera Coking stayed in her home.
Not surprisingly, Trump offers a different interpretation of his business dealings with Vera Coking.
“I was going to expand this hotel for 2,000 rooms. I couldn’t make a deal with her. In the end I didn’t do it. I would have paid up to $5 million for her house,” Trump tells Breitbart News.
“Fortunately she held me up [in the development of that hotel]. I would have paid her $5 million and she saved me a fortune I would have spent had I built [the expansion],” Trump adds.
Trump points out that he was willing to pay Mrs. Coking about ten times what her house finally sold for.
“It sold for half a million dollars a few years ago,” Trump notes.
Mrs. Coking now lives in a retirement home near her grandson in California.