Donald Trump towers over rivals in his home territory on the Las Vegas Strip

‘The Donald’ is is tipped to win Tuesday's Nevada caucus – but the non-unionised workers at his hotel probably won’t be among his supporters

Tim Walker
Las Vegas
Tuesday 23 February 2016 00:07 GMT
Donald Trump with Trump Tower co-owner Phillip Ruffin in Las Vegas in 2005
Donald Trump with Trump Tower co-owner Phillip Ruffin in Las Vegas in 2005 (Getty)

Sheathed in 24-carat gold-infused glass, the word “TRUMP” emblazoned at its summit, the Trump International Hotel provides Republican frontrunner Donald Trump with a presence in Las Vegas that no other presidential candidate can match: his name on the skyline.

With the GOP race arriving in Nevada, this 64-storey erection, mere yards from the Vegas Strip, offers a telling glimpse of The Donald’s self-image. At a shop in the lobby, guests can purchase merchandise including Trump sparkling wine, Trump cuff-links and $18 (£13) sticks of the own-brand deodorant, “Success by Trump”.

The tower is a rallying point for Trump supporters such as 63-year-old Dane Senser, from California, who stood outside on Sunday morning brandishing two giant playing cards: the ace of hearts, which bore a portrait of Mr Trump and his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”; and a joker, with a picture of Mr Trump’s prospective Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Mr Senser, a small-business owner, said he was inspired by Mr Trump’s bestselling business tome, The Art of the Deal, to get his life back on track after losing his home to foreclosure. “When I saw he was running, I got so inspired. I said, ‘This man’s gonna be President, and I’m gonna help him’.”

Yet the race-baiting billionaire, who is expected to claim another comfortable victory at Tuesday's Nevada caucuses, has not always won big in Vegas.

Dane Senser said he was inspired by Mr Trump’s bestselling business tome, The Art of the Deal (Tim Walker)

Mr Trump shares ownership of the Trump International 50-50 with developer Phillip Ruffin. The tallest residential building in the city, the tower has no gambling facilities, but was designed as a $1.2bn luxury condo and timeshare development. During construction, Mr Trump promoted the project on his reality television show, The Apprentice, insisting it would be “the crown jewel of the Las Vegas Strip”.

After the tower opened on the eve of the economic crisis, however, many prospective condo owners demanded their deposits back. Some even brought lawsuits. They were dismissed, but plans for a second tower on the site were put on hold, and the building began operating as a hotel instead.

When condo sales were relaunched in 2012, penthouses that had once been expected to fetch up to $6m (£4.2m) were instead offered for $3.5m. Today, the tower is surrounded by empty brownfield sites, where other planned resort projects were postponed indefinitely during the recession.

Trump International is also embroiled in a dispute with its 700-plus workforce, which recently voted to unionise. The National Labour Relations Board sided with the workers, but Trump management still refuses to recognise the union, which says about 98 per cent of hospitality workers on the Strip are unionised, and that Trump employees are paid $3 an hour less than union rates.

The Trump organisation claimed union representatives had engaged in “severe misconduct” ahead of the vote to unionise in December. Representatives from the Culinary Workers union planned to picket outside the hotel on caucus day, according to its spokesperson Bethany Khan, who added: “Mr Trump says he’s a great negotiator, so we’re wondering why he hasn’t negotiated with us yet.”

Mr Trump is on slightly better terms with the city’s billionaires, such as Steve Wynn, owner of the eponymous Wynn hotel and casino, just across the Strip from the Trump tower. During the 1990s, the two fought a protracted, public feud over their rival developments in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but they have since patched up their differences.

Last year it was reported that Mr Wynn was acting as an unofficial adviser to the Trump campaign, though he struggled to comprehend his former rival’s political success. “It certainly is a spectacular and perverse moment in political history,” he told Vegas-based political reporter Jon Ralston.

Sheldon Adelson, the major Republican donor who owns the Venetian resort and the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has not personally endorsed any candidate, though his newspaper recently backed Marco Rubio.

Professor Eric Herzik, who chairs the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno, said Mr Trump’s staunchest support in the Silver State comes not from billionaires, but from an angry middle class. “Trump’s natural allies are people who are angry with the system,” he said. “Nevada was hit as hard as any state in the economic downturn and it still hasn’t recovered. Nevadans think, 'We’re not getting help, but the rich banks are'. Ironically, they’ve turned to the wealthiest guy running to represent their interests.”

Mr Trump’s rally at the South Point Arena in Las Vegas on Monday night was pitched as one of the largest in Nevada political history. Mr Senser said he would be there.

“Trump is a blue-collar billionaire. He understands people like me; that’s why he’s resonating,” he said, as he posed for photographs with his playing cards at the entrance to the Trump hotel. A short time later, he was shooed away from the premises by security.

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