Get Off My Lawn: Conservatives Critique Trump On Eminent Domain : It's All Politics Republicans eager to blunt Donald Trump's front-runner status in the GOP presidential primary think they've found the issue that will finally sink the billionaire's White House hopes: eminent domain.
NPR logo

Get Off My Lawn: Conservatives Critique Trump On Eminent Domain

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/443131389/443200380" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Get Off My Lawn: Conservatives Critique Trump On Eminent Domain

Get Off My Lawn: Conservatives Critique Trump On Eminent Domain

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/443131389/443200380" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Conservatives who aren't happy that Donald Trump is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination are mining, mining for something to knock him out of that spot. So they're looking into his time as a high-profile real estate developer, and one issue they're hoping to exploit is Trump's support for eminent domain, as NPR's Joel Rose explains.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Eminent domain is generally not a big campaign issue. When the city forces someone to sell the property, it's usually to make way for something uncontroversial like a school or a road, but not always.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Trump supports eminent domain abuse because he can make millions, while we lose our property rates.

ROSE: That's an attack ad paid for by Club for Growth. It started airing last week in the early caucus state of Iowa. The ad refers to a controversial Supreme Court decision from 2005 that allowed a city in Connecticut to force the sale of a private home so that a big pharmaceutical company to put up a new office building. Most Republicans blasted that ruling as an assault on property rights. Donald Trump? Not so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I happen to agree with it 100 percent.

ROSE: That's Trump on Fox News in 2005, and it's not the only time he's defended eminent domain. In the most famous case, Trump himself was the developer who stood to benefit. This happened back in the 1990s, but it still drives conservatives nuts. David Boaz is with the Cato Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank in Washington.

DAVID BOAZ: This guy's a bully. Using the power of government to take a widow's property is pretty much the definition of a bully.

ROSE: The widow in this story is Vera Coking. She had raised her family in a three-story house near the boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J. Trump wanted the property to build a limousine parking lot for one his casinos, but Coking didn't want to leave, as she told ABC.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VERA COKING: I didn't want to sell because I was so close to the beach, and I loved the place.

ROSE: Trump reportedly offered her a million dollars, but Coking wouldn't budge. So Trump's allies at the state's casino reinvestment authority tried to seize the property, pay her a fraction of what private developers had offered and turn it over to Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COKING: I almost had a heart attack. I almost died. How could anybody come out and say, we're going take your home away from you?

ROSE: Trump wasn't shy about defending the effort to oust Coking. He told ABC her house was ugly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Everybody coming into Atlantic City sees that property. They're staring at this terrible house instead of staring at beautiful fountains and beautiful other things that would be good.

DANA BERLINER: It was absolutely outrageous to be taking a woman's home for a casino limousine parking lot. That was crazy.

ROSE: Dana Berliner is a lawyer at the Institute for Justice, the nonprofit law firm that represented Vera Coking in her legal battle with the state.

BERLINER: She had bright blonde hair, and she wore very large glasses usually with rhinestones on them. She was not the kind of person to go away quietly.

ROSE: Coking's side won the court case. She's still alive but not available for interviews. Her family eventually sold the house at auction. Trump's campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but he defended the concept of eminent domain as a necessary evil on ABC.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: You want to live in a city where you can't build schools? Do you want to live in a city where you can't build roads or highways?

ROSE: There were two other hold-outs on Vera Coking's block. They did eventually reach deals with Trump's casino. Neither of them wanted to talk on tape for this story, but both told me they have no hard feelings against Donald Trump and actually respect him as a businessman. Still, David Boaz at the Cato Institute thinks Trump's position on eminent domain should make conservative primary voters think twice.

BOAZ: If you really do believe that Donald Trump is a guy who believes in small government and free enterprise and the Constitution then this ought to shake your understanding in that way.

ROSE: Boaz says this is one of several issues that might cause conservative voters to peel away from Donald Trump in droves. But there's no sign that's happening yet. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.