Hillary Clinton found the physical embodiment of one of her main attacks against Donald Trump Wednesday in the abandoned remains of the Trump Plaza hotel and casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Standing directly in front of a marquee where only the faint remains of the words “Trump Plaza” are still visible, Clinton said the billionaire's defunct projects scattered across this struggling resort town are monuments to the fact that Trump is bad businessman who only cares about making himself rich.
“What he did here in Atlantic City is exactly what he will do if he wins in November,” she said. “It’s the same scam over and over.”
Taking her press corps on a field trip to survey Trump’s wreckage was an effective bit of political theater, and one that demonstrated Clinton strategists’ belief that they too can score points by using Trumpian spectacle and bravado.
Trump’s buildings, emblazoned with his name, have always been at the core of his image, but Clinton hoped to use one against him in a bit of show and tell of what can go wrong after Trump loses interest in a project.
Her remarks even included a bonus dig at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a close ally of the presumptive GOP nominee, whom Clinton joked was too busy “holding [Trump’s] coat” to get the state’s economy working again.
But it was the second major event in a row in which Clinton did not address the biggest election-related story of the week -- FBI Director James Comey’s statement that Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state was “extremely careless,” but likely not criminal.
Comey’s announcement, delivered hours before Clinton was set to campaign with President Obama Tuesday, came as a major relief to Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters. But Republicans are sure to jump on the FBI director’s rebuke, on which Clinton has yet to comment, other than in a statement from her press secretary.
Trump delayed the announcement of speakers at the Republican National Convention to “let today be devoted to Crooked Hillary and the rigged system under which we live.”
The Trump Plaza opened to great fanfare in 1984, as the largest and tallest casino and hotel in Atlantic City. Trump predicted profits from day one, but the plaza hit bumps almost immediately with the departure of a major partner and eventually closed in 2014, long after Trump had sold his stake. Now abandoned and coated in dust and sea salt, its owners say they plan to keep the property closed for another 10 years for tax reasons.
Drawing on heaps of recent investigative reporting, Clinton said the story of Plaza is typical of Trump’s business ventures.
“When this casino collapsed because of how badly he managed it, hundreds of people lost their jobs, shareholders were wiped out, lenders lost most, contractors -- many of them small businesses -- took heavy losses and many themselves went bust,” Clinton said. “But Donald Trump, he walked away with millions.”
At the Plaza and other hotels in Atlantic City, Trump reportedly misled regulators, took on more debt than he could handle and underpaid contractors, in some cases driving small businesses to ruin with bills he failed to pay.
Clinton said she took this “personally,” since her father owned a fabric business in Chicago that made drapes and window shades for offices and hotels.
Trump has defended his ventures in the city, blaming the failure of his casinos on the larger decline of Atlantic City gaming. He says he had the foresight to get out when he did.
“I made a lot of money in Atlantic City and left 7 years ago, great timing (as all know),” Trump tweeted in anticipation of Clinton's visit Wednesday.
But Clinton said Trump’s attitude only further underscores her point.
"He got rich and got out," Clinton said. “That says everything you need to know about Donald Trump. It’s not about what he can build. It’s about how much he can take.”
In a statement, Trump said he helped the city. “I created thousands of jobs and made a lot of money in Atlantic City, which was what, as a businessman, I am supposed to do for my company and my family," he said in statement.
Americans give Trump a clear edge on who would better handle the economy, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and Clinton is trying to undermine his businessman credentials as well as destroy his image as a champion of the little guy.
Meanwhile across town, nearly a thousand unionized cooks, housekeepers and servers were on strike at the Trump Taj Mahal, which Trump no longer owns. The members of UNITE Local 54, which had endorsed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, walked off the job last Friday, ahead of the busy July 4th weekend, to demand better pay.
The casino is now partially owned by billionaire Carl Icahn, a Trump ally whom the presumptive GOP nominee has said might serve in a key role in his administration.
Clinton visited the picket line to express support. She made a similar show of solidarity to workers striking at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas earlier this year.