Editor's note: This column was authored by Patrick Holland.
Since his entrance into the crowded field for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump’s campaign has caught fire. He is polling above 20 percent, nearly double the support of his closest rival, Ben Carson, and energizing conservatives who believe his brash personality and business experience could transform Washington. Trump’s popularity among those on the right is understandable from a populist perspective, but lovers of free markets should beware “The Donald.”
Trump has a troubling relationship with property rights. He has consistently abused government power by using eminent domain to seize land for his own business endeavors, running roughshod over the rights of nearby residents and businesses.
There is no better example of this than Trump’s battle with Vera Coking.
In the late 1990s Coking, an elderly widow, owned a small house in Atlantic City. Over the course of the three decades she lived in her home, Atlantic City went through a massive development boom, and The Trump Plaza Hotel was constructed on an adjacent property.
As property values rose, Trump began to eye Vera’s property for his own ventures. Coking, however, was not interesting in selling.
After she turned down an offer of $1 million for the property Trump appealed to the government for help. Using his influence, he successfully persuaded the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to seize the land with eminent domain and turn it over to him for development.
Luckily, with the help of the Institute of Justice, Coking won her underdog battle against the Trump and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and was allowed to keep her land.
Had Trump gotten his way, Coking’s beloved home would have become a parking lot for limousines.
But Trump’s disrespect of property rights extends well beyond the shores of the United States.
Two recent films, You’ve Been Trumped, and A Dangerous Game, document the destruction caused by the construction of Trump-owned golf courses in Scottish communities. A particularly concerning story was that of a village whose water supply was cut off because of irresponsible building practices. Just as in Atlantic City, Trump used his influence to persuade the local government to turn a blind eye and, in some cases, even aid in his wrongdoing.
Trump is, of course, happy to protect the sanctity of his own property rights.
In January, he sued Palm Beach County for $100 million over noisy aircrafts arriving and departing from Palm Beach International Airport. In the suit, Trump alleged that the county was violating his property rights by allowing the airport’s flight paths to pass directly over his exclusive South Florida beach club.
This was not the first time Trump had attempted to enforce his property rights in Palm Beach. In 1995 he won a similar suit against the county and in 2010 he tried again, only to have his case dismissed.
For those not convinced that President Trump would govern with the same disdain for property rights that businessman Trump has exhibited, look no further than his own words on the subject.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Kelo v. City of New London that governments may seize private land for nearly any reason, not just for “public use” as specified in the Constitution. Any policymaker with respect for property rights would have condemned the ruling, but Trump did not. Instead, he went on Fox News and told Neil Cavuto, “I happen to agree with it 100 percent.”
Even Trump’s controversial plan to build a wall on the US-Mexican border will infringe on American’s property rights.
Much of the land needed to build the wall is privately owned. To begin construction, the government would need to either buy the land or take it using eminent domain. For many ranchers and natives with land along the border, Trump’s wall could ruin their property, and their way of life.
Trump’s rhetoric may sound appealing to some, but Republicans should not support a man whose inconsistent support for property rights is dictated by his own self-interest. Trump’s blatant disdain for free market values should automatically disqualify him from representing the party that takes pride in its embrace of economic liberty.
Patrick Holland is a Young Voices Advocate, and a contributor at Economics 21. He studies Political Science and Economics at Swarthmore College. You can follow him on Twitter here.