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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Donald Trump and the Emanuel Brothers—What’s the Deal?

Rahm Emanuel, Donald Trump, Ari Emanuel
“Deal” is the best word to describe the relationship between Donald Trump (center) and the Emanuel brothers, Rahm and Ari.   Photography: (Rahm Emanuel) Esther Kang; (Donald Trump and Ari Emanuel) Chicago Tribune

Within minutes of the White House’s release of Barack Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate yesterday, Donald Trump took the credit, saying, “I’m very proud of myself”—only he could get the president to do what he should have done a long time ago.

Trump’s campaign to vilify Obama is dominating headlines these days, so it’s worth a look to examine the real estate tycoon’s ties to two of the president’s most energetic backers: Rahm Emanuel and his younger brother, Ari.

“Deal” would be the best word to describe the relationship among Rahm, Ari, and Trump, who employs Ari as his agent and gave Rahm $50,000 for his run for mayor last December. 

First, the Rahm connection: Trump, who opened the Trump International Hotel and Tower here in 2008 and will undoubtedly hope to add another pastel namesake to Chicago’s skyline, recognized that Rahm would soon be running the nation’s third largest city. Why wouldn’t he want to curry favor? Trump has given more money to Democrats than Republicans—among them Ed Rendell, Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, Charles Schumer—people Trump hoped would be friendly to his buildings, casinos, and golf courses.

As for Ari, pit-bull co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and the model for Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold in HBO’s Entourage, he seems made-to-order for Trump, who has called the younger Emanuel a “close friend.” Why wouldn’t the boldest, hyper-aggressive builder (and host of NBC’s The Apprentice), and the boldest, hyper-aggressive agent get together?

And despite Donald’s nonstop anti-Obama diatribes, apparently he and Ari are still doing business. When I called Ari Emanuel, I was instructed by an underling to email my request. I specifically asked for confirmation that Ari still represents Donald.  No response yet, but no denial either. I also emailed Mayor-elect Rahm’s press spokesman, Tarrah Cooper, and asked about the Ari/Donald tie. “The Mayor-elect is not going to comment on his brother’s relationship with his clients,” she emailed back.

I called Trump’s office and talked to Michael Cohen, the registered Democrat and former Obama backer who is choreographing Donald’s run for president, presumably on the Republican ticket. Cohen told me that Trump is booked for the next few days; after New Hampshire, he heads to Las Vegas and then to D.C. for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. I asked Cohen in an email to confirm that his boss’s agent is still Ari Emanuel. No response as of post time.

Whether Trump really does plan to run for President (he promises to announce by June) or whether he’s just trying to goose his TV ratings, it’s hard to understand how the Emanuels—whose physician/bioethicist brother Zeke also has ties to the Obama administration—can do business of any kind with Trump. The Donald’s efforts to belittle the president are just so relentless—Trump called Obama “the worst president in American history,” a weakling on the battlefield and with OPEC, a useful idiot for the Chinese who are “ripping off America,” and a “terrible student” who somehow won admission to Columbia and Harvard Law School. “Release your transcripts!” is Trump’s latest outlandish demand.

Reporters will continue to swarm to Trump for such stuff. Serious Republicans will continue to struggle for airtime to introduce themselves to voters. Meanwhile, President Obama—with his lovely wife; his sedate manner and clean-cut hair; his trim frame and conservative suits; and his best-selling, serious, lyrical memoir, Dreams from My Father—looks a lot better than the twice-divorced, fleshy Donald—he of the orange comb-over weave, flashy suits, fashion model wife, and list of co-written books (consider his 2007 offering, Think Big and Kick Butt—in Business and Life).

Is it possible that the Emanuels see Trump as actually improving Obama’s re-election chances? Is there something in it for everyone? With Trump ranting away every day on scores of radio and TV shows, his Celebrity Apprentice ratings, not surprisingly, are up. And that benefits the bottom lines of both The Donald and his agent.

One thing is certain: Trump is not going to be the Republicans’ nominee. And given how he changes his mind without worrying if the public notices, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the man—who once denounced Reagan and “W” as the worst presidents ever, who previously pushed for universal healthcare and abortion rights—ended up contributing to Obama sometime in 2012, and then, sometime in 2014, writing another big check to Rahm’s next campaign.

Update (August 27, 2015): Trump did not donate to Rahm in his most recent mayoral race, but did say this to the Chicago Tribune editorial board

I don’t know Bruce (Rauner) but I do respect Rahm. I gave him a contribution because his brother is a great friend of mine — Ari, king of Hollywood. I love Ari. And Ari asked me to give him a contribution. I like Rahm very much.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.


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