Trump Picks $50 Million Entertainment Career Over Presidential Race

Image used under a Creative Commons license courtesy Gage Skidmore.

Announcing that he wouldn’t run for president on Monday, Donald Trump said in a statement that “business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector.” It’s not surprising that he didn’t choose to run a campaign that he almost certainly would have lost. But Trump’s decision was probably based as much on an ultimatum from NBC, the network that runs The Apprentice, Trump’s one undisputed business triumph, as it was by any particular love of business.

Mike Huckabee’s contract with Fox News pays him $500,000 a year, a sum that’s been quoted often in discussions of his decision not to run for president. But that contract pales in comparison to Trump’s take from his entertainment ventures: in its list of the wealthiest entertainers in 2009 and 2010, Forbes estimated that Trump makes $50 million annually from his entertainment ventures.

Trump might not have to sacrifice all of that income if he ran for president, because some of it comes from speaking fees, books, and products like a menswear line. There are no prohibitions on candidates receiving money for services rendered, so Trump probably could continue doing product endorsements as long as he wasn’t being paid unusually high rates for them, though he might have dropped some clients in order to avoid conflicts of interest or to appear more substantive. And NBC’s president for programming, Bob Greenblatt, told entertainment reporters that if Trump ran for president, the network would replace him but continue the show with a new host, a move they’d likely have been required to make to comply with equal time rules. That very public announcement left Trump with the unpleasant prospect of a campaign that could strip him of the most legitimate business enterprise in his portfolio.

Trump’s brief, incendiary campaign may have long-term negative implications for his brand, especially given how much he harped on President Obama’s citizenship. But continuing The Apprentice, one of the few things NBC knows works in the current lineup, gives Greenblatt desperately-needed breathing room to roll out an ambitious new programming schedule. Trump’s pseudo-run may have set the bar low for ugliness in the 2012 Republican primary, but in the short term, he’s still good business for NBC.