Ever heard of a “reverse merger?” Donald Trump probably has.
He is one of the most brilliant businessmen in history, after all—just ask him.
In a reverse merger, the owners of a private enterprise take control of an empty shell of a public company. They stuff their private business into the public shell so they can start selling stock. Here’s an example: After the company that made Eskimo Pies and Chipwich treats sort of melted down, financiers acquired its empty hulk and inserted a cleaning products business.
Or take a more recent example: the Republican Party. Trump has reverse merged that grand old enterprise with the private wholesaler of his own personal brand.
The GOP used to be a purveyor of robust worldviews, political philosophies, and plans for governing the world’s most powerful country in a dangerous and rapidly changing world. It competed in a duopoly with a firm called the Democrats. But after years of lax management, poor product development, and hostile takeover attempts, there isn’t much left. The sad shell has been on display at the Republican National Convention this week.
On Tuesday, the Trump family completed its acquisition. On Wednesday, in a gesture toward continuity, the new firm rolled out a veteran of the old GOP, Mike Pence, to serve as No. 2—but observers doubt that he will be more than a figurehead. On Thursday, the new enterprise goes to market.
Throughout the convention, beleaguered sales representatives for the hollowed-out company have been pitching products from the stage of the Quicken Loans Arena, but hardly a word has been spoken about its once-proud product line.
Strong foreign policy built on pragmatic alliances? Nope.
Conservative concern over mounting public debt? Rarely mentioned.
Free trade? Not in the catalog.
Reverence for limited government—especially limits on the power of popular demagogues? Sold out.
Instead, there have been hours and hours of talk about throwing Hillary Clinton, CEO of the Democrats, in prison. They’ve audience-tested a new advertising slogan: “Lock her up!”
Pence told the crowd that Trump will win in November, and that got some appluase. But when he said that Hillary Clinton “will never become president,” the roar was a good deal louder and longer. Shareholders had hoped for more from the outfit that rolled out such perennial winners as Emancipation, national parks, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
One holdout from the old firm, Ted Cruz from the Texas office, tried to make a final sale from the old book of business. “We have no king or queen. We have no dictator,” he told the convention hall. He spoke of the free spirit that put a man on the moon 47 years ago, and saluted the sacrifice of a Dallas police officer whose murder left a 9-year-old daughter bereft. He was booed off the stage, and his wife left the arena in a hail of shouted abuse.
Trump’s product line is still in development. He has said the firm will go into the construction business, building a wall—often described as “a great wall” or a “tall wall”—across the rugged mountains and trackless deserts of the southern U.S. border. He has proposed a transportation subsidiary to deport 11 million people from the United States. He has suggested a big data initiative to bar all Muslims from the country until they can be screened.
But so far, none of the initiatives is off the drawing board. Perhaps Trump will have more to say when he unveils the new operation.
The thing about reverse mergers is, they have a rather spotty track record. In the best of circumstances, they are an efficient way to bring an enterprise to the public. Trump’s acquisition of the GOP has certainly achieved that.
On the other hand, customers can find themselves confused or wishing they hadn’t bought into the deal. Some find themselves nostalgic for the old products, wondering if—with a little more effort—the company could have made them fresh and relevant for a new generation.