Casey Wasserman

The real story: a billion-dollar surplus

The real story: a billion-dollar surplus

he Los Angeles 2028 organizing committee on Tuesday released an inflation-adjusted budget, and in the rush to pounce on the new number, $6.9 billion, every single outlet missed the story.

The story is this, and it’s all there in black and white, though my colleagues in the press either don’t want to embrace it or simply can’t believe it, almost surely because they have been so thoroughly accustomed to Olympic finance horror stories: the fundamental truth is that Los Angeles and California are different, and so in 2028, as in 1984, LA will be the Games changer, meaning absent an act of God like an earthquake that turns abruptly turns Las Vegas into beachfront resort, LA28 is going to clear an absurd amount of money.

Like, an anticipated surplus of a billion dollars. 

On a budget of $6.9 billion. 

There is a place for caution and tempered expectation and all of that.

There is also reality. 

Eyes on the (2028) prize

Eyes on the (2028) prize

If the weekend seems a long way away for most if not many of you, 2028 probably seems like Pluto, the farthest reaches of your personal universe.

In Olympic time, however, 2028 is already on the horizon, and the days and weeks are already slipping by. These next 10 years are the imperative for the United States Olympic Committee and, indeed, for all who would understand the transformative potential of those Los Angeles Summer Games.

The USOC must — must — keep its eye on the prize.

That’s what it did Thursday in naming Sarah Hirshland, chief commercial officer of the U.S. Golf Association, its chief executive officer.

'Like, my parents are already saying they want to buy tickets!'

'Like, my parents are already saying they want to buy tickets!'

In blue shading to purple, the big sign to the left of the cauldron read, “The Games are Back.” To the right, purple back to blue, “LA 2028.”

With International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, LA mayor Eric Garcetti and LA 2028 chairman Casey Wasserman looking on, Rafer Johnson — the Rome 1960 decathlon champion who so memorably lit the cauldron at the 1984 Games — lit the cauldron again.

The Games are back.

Paris will stage the 2024 Games and Los Angeles 2028. Last Wednesday, at an assembly in Lima, Peru, the IOC ratified this historic double allocation.

In keeping with the approach that brought the Summer Games back to the United States for the first time in a generation, since Atlanta in 1996, Sunday’s moments at the Coliseum were — yet again — low-key and marked not by any of the excess, entitlement or pompsity too often associated with the Olympic scene but by a genuine display of what the Olympics is supposed to be about:

Friendship, excellence and respect.

Plus, most of all, and this cannot be stressed enough, especially from and for Americans, and from and for Americans especially now: humility.

In which my mother has (good) advice for the IOC

In which my mother has (good) advice for the IOC

Maybe you have a Jewish mother. Maybe not. I do. I’m the oldest son, of four boys. Let’s be honest. Being a sportswriter? Is this a doctor, or a practicing lawyer, or something else brag-worthy? OK. Does my mother truly, honestly care about sports? Do you have to ask? 

Like me, my mother went to Northwestern. Could she tell you who the Wildcats are playing this weekend? Not if her life depended on it. 

So you might understand further how little sports intrudes into my mother’s life, especially these past few days: last week, my mother, her husband of nearly 20 years (my dad passed away many years ago) and the fugly dog had to be evacuated from their home in south Florida because of Hurricane Irma. (Update: some minor damage to the patio outside, more or less everything OK.) 

Hurricane be damned, a matter of import apparently had been weighing on my mother’s mind. “I want to tell you something,” she said in that tone that when your mother uses you go, uh-oh. Obliging son that I am, I replied, “Yes?”

It has been a long time since, you know, I lived under my mother’s roof. Even so, she likes to keep up, at least in a general sense, with my whereabouts. She knew I was bound for Peru, and the International Olympic Committee session at which Paris would be awarded 2024 and LA 2028.

“These Olympic people,” my mother said, “have a big problem on their hands.”

DONE: Paris 2024, LA 2028

DONE: Paris 2024, LA 2028

LIMA, Peru — The teams from Paris and Los Angeles had not yet even taken to the floor to make their formal presentations Wednesday to the members of the International Olympic Committee when, with president Thomas Bach outlining the run of show, he explained how Paris would be getting the 33rd Summer Games in 2024 and Los Angeles the 34th in 2028. 

Everyone clapped.

Not yet, Bach said. Not yet.

Even so, ladies and gentlemen, that is pretty much how the 2024 and 2028 Games were awarded. 

LA for 28, Paris for 24: how it came to be

LA for 28, Paris for 24: how it came to be

For weeks now, Olympic insiders have known that Paris would get the 2024 Games and Los Angeles 2028. On Monday, it happened.

Simply put, there was too much win-win-win at stake.

This phraseology is how the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, had come recently to term the 2024/2028 double — as a triple play, really, a win for the IOC, for Paris and for LA.

The full IOC membership must ratify this arrangement at an assembly September 13 in Lima, Peru. That will be a formality.

Of course, in 2017 we don’t know whether by summer 2028 that triple play will have come true. As ever, time will be the measure of all things.

LA or Paris? The strategic play? Or emotional?

LA or Paris? The strategic play? Or emotional?

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — In a Samaranch-style bit of kabuki theater, the decision itself having been ordained long ago, the full membership of the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the double allocation of the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games to the last two cities standing in the campaign, Los Angeles and Paris.

In theory, the IOC will announce whether it’s LA first and Paris next, or vice-versa, at another all-members assembly in Lima, Peru, on September 13. In reality, this decision has been ordained as well. Paris almost surely will get 2024, LA 2028. This deal will be done in just weeks, maybe even before the calendar turns to August, and if you have noted that U.S. President Donald Trump has accepted French President Emmanuel Macron’s invitation to visit France on Bastille Day, July 14, well, maybe that is some strategic thinking there.

What we've got here, IOC: godawful failure to communicate

What we've got here, IOC: godawful failure to communicate

A beautiful scene unfolded Thursday inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum amid the International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission tour of the would-be 2024 Games venues.

It was everything that is great about the Olympics, past and present, inspiration then and now.

But because the IOC’s communications strategy is so godawful the IOC didn’t tell you about it.

This, in a nutshell, is why the IOC is facing a grave credibility crisis around the world. This, too, is why the IOC must come back to Los Angeles instead of opting for the only other choice in the 2024 race, Paris.

More of the same (Paris), or something new (LA)

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The choice the International Olympic Committee is facing for the 2024 Summer Games, even as it considers a 2024/2028 deal between Los Angeles and Paris, could not be more clear.

More of the same. Or something new.

Or framing it another way: Paris is after a Games. Los Angeles is offering itself in service to the Olympic movement.

Both cities made 10-minute presentations Tuesday to a convention of international sports federation officials in Denmark.

In the LA spot, mayor Eric Garcetti said, “Many believe that the bids ... are quite similar when in fact the two bids that we have presented before us are quite different,” a distinction that even in 10 short minutes times two became crystal clear.

Paris bid co-chair Tony Estanguet, to the audience: “We are promising a Games of real passion and purpose …” Anne Hidalgo, the mayor: “So why Paris now?”  She answered a moment later: “We believe we have the right city with the right vision at exactly the right moment for sport.” Paris bid chief executive Etienne Thobois: “We will deliver the best Games ever for the athletes based on three key pillars,” among them a “brand-new [athletes’] village.”

LA strategy director Angela Ruggiero, the IOC athletes’ commission chair: “Our commitment to you isn’t just for the 16 days of the Games in 2024. It is for the seven years leading up to them, and beyond.” LA bid leader Casey Wasserman: “I think we can all agree that 2024 must be a transformative Games for the movement. This means that the next seven years must inform the next 100 years.”

To springboard off the two radically different presentations Tuesday in Denmark:

At issue is way more than 2024 (or 2028). It is nothing less than the ongoing relevance and vitality of the entire Olympic movement.

This is not hyperbole. It is not drama. It is not Chicken Little sky-is-falling talk.

This is real, and the leadership of the IOC as well as most of the members, who in theory ought to be up to speed on the potentially existential crisis the movement is even now confronting but in some instances might well be a little slow on the uptake, had better sharpen their focus, and quickly.

It’s this elemental:

IOC leaders and members act as stewards of the brand and the movement. An Olympic Games is a multibillion-dollar enterprise. In the bid context, the role demands world-class risk assessment. The old days of cronyism and I’ll-scratch-your-back, you-scratch-mine — that, with the FBI as well as the French and Swiss authorities watching with interest, has to be yesteryear. In a related spirit, there can be no place for sweet but misguided sentimentality. To exercise anything but cold, hard judgment, particularly now, when the brand and movement are considerably imperiled, is to be irresponsible, almost to the extreme.

Imperiled? Unequivocally. Evidence, just the latest:

The Tuesday presentations from both LA and Paris followed Monday’s announcement from the National Hockey League that it was out of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games.

Bottom line: the league is willing to forgo the best two-week commercial the sport of hockey could ask for, and this with Beijing 2022 and China and the possibility of a market of some 2 billion consumers just waiting to be mined four years down the line.

Irrefutable conclusion: the league doesn’t think the Olympics are worth it. In its considered judgment, after being part of the thing since 1998, the Olympics are no longer relevant, or at least relevant enough.

That is a brutal blow to the IOC. No way to sugarcoat it. It is, to use a phrase, a nightmare on ice.

A comparison:

Would Manchester United stop its season for the FIFA World Cup?

Yes, yes, FIFA is in business to make money, the IOC is theoretically in it to help spread the values of friendship, excellence and respect, among others. But still — Man U and the other English Premier League teams are going to make it work out to go to Qatar in 2022 but per the NHL the Columbus Blue Jackets can’t, or won’t, put things on hold to send some guys to PyeongChang in 2018?

Starting from that premise, that the Olympic enterprise is not relevant (enough) for the league that for a generation has supplied the guys in the most important team sport on the Winter Games program, the IOC finds itself looking at just two cities left in the race for 2024.

When three cities have already fallen away: Rome, Budapest and Hamburg.

When the 2022 Winter Games campaign saw just two left standing by the end — Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan — with five other western European cities pulling out along the way because taxpayers or officials would have nothing to do with it: Oslo, Munich, Stockholm, Davos/St. Moritz and Krakow.

This is the moment of clarity.

The old model, the more of the same, is the one in which bid committees don’t tell the truth about the costs of their government-funded Olympic bids.

Examples:

Rio 2016, bid book $14.4 billion, reality check $20 billion or more. Tokyo 2020 bid book $7.8 billion, now estimated at maybe $15 billion, possibly $25-30 billion. Sochi 2014, bid book we won’t even go there, final tally a reported $51 billion.

Paris 2024 is more of this same.

The Paris people say they have 95 percent of their venues built. It’s the 5 percent that aren’t that mark the big-ticket items: that athletes’ village along with media housing and an aquatics complex. The Paris bid book costs those out at over $2 billion.

History says that $2-billion figure would be way low. It’s almost a guarantee, actually.

If there is one thing we have learned in this social media age, it is this:

Even those things that seem certain and stable can unravel, and quickly.

The almost-probable unraveling connected to that athletes’ village — wouldn’t it be fast and furious and the end game hugely uncertain? Consider how quickly the entire Budapest bid came crashing down — just weeks.

Wouldn’t a bet on Paris 2024 be the very same thing that has gotten the IOC into the deep credibility hole from which it is now looking up, seeking a way out?

When it should, by any reasonable measure of risk assessment, be seeking calm? Seeking stability?

As Garcetti also said Tuesday in the LA presentation:  “We believe LA2024 offers the Olympic movement something creative and new — not more of the same. This is an important time for our collective Olympic movement. A time that demands new thinking, new ideas and new solutions.”

The key difference: LA, just as it was in 1984, is privately financed. Surely with considered respect to the mayor, Wasserman said, “Free of government interference,” adding at another point, “The bottom line for everyone is that the bid we delivered to you in February of this year is the Games we will host in the summer of 2024. You can count on it.” Garcetti called it a “no risk, no surprises budget” because there will be no new permanent new venue to build. The all-in number: $5.3 billion, again, privately funded.

What does the reasonable person bargain for? Certainty.

Gene Sykes, the bid’s chief executive officer, noted that LA could have run the risk of building a new village — but opted not to, instead using the existing dorms at UCLA: “It takes a huge risk off the table.”

When risk is thus appropriately managed, then you can start laying out the “something creative and new.”

Wasserman, in Q&A, noting the advantage of not having to worry about construction: “We don’t have to build those facilities that normally take up the time, effort and resources of most bid and [organizing committees] … Our view is, because we will have two things that most [organizers] never have, time and money, to invest in growing those sports in the United States, to growing those sports in California and in Los Angeles … what a great place to start, when we have those seven years to really focus on engaging the youth, to develop sport in a way that, frankly, very few people have ever had the opportunity.”

The mayor, also in Q&A: “We see our legacy not just as a physical legacy. So often, the Olympics are about, what are you going to build? For mayors, it’s about — what part of town are you going to revitalize? Our experience from 1984 is what’s more important is the human legacy. It’s one of the reasons the profitability from the 1984 Olympics has spent $250 million on people and facilities and coaches. So, for instance, in a low-income area of Los Angeles called Compton, two African-American girls named Venus and Serena Williams were exposed to tennis as little girls. Today they’re two of the best tennis players in history. Our vision is to have a human legacy that sports is made free and universal for all youth in Los Angeles — forever."

Ruggiero, in the presentation itself: the chairman and chief executive of The Walt Disney Co., Bob Iger, would chair an innovation the bid is calling a “Sports Ambassador Program.”

It would, she told sports officials, “identify business leaders in California to work with you to maximize commercial opportunities in the United States.”

Let’s see — NBC is the IOC’s most important Olympic partner. Now welcome to the team Disney, which owns ESPN and ABC and (like NBCUniversal) runs a bunch of theme parks and operates signature movie studios.

Oh, and that George Lucas Star Wars museum is due to open literally next door to the LA Memorial Coliseum by 2020. Perhaps on May 4. Get the in-crowd joke: “May the Force be with you.”

If Iger and Disney now, this being April and Denmark, wouldn’t it stand to reason that by or at the next major milestone on this campaign, an all-members assembly at Olympic base camp in Lausanne, Switzerland in July, there would be news of yet more significant Los Angeles and California companies on board?

“Our bid isn’t about money, or ego, or boosting American pride or, frankly, even winning or losing,” Wasserman said during the presentation. “It’s about something much deeper.”

His next words brought forth the Olympic force, the reason all of this matters, or at least it's supposed to:

"It’s about ensuring that our — and your — Olympic dreams remain achievable, as far into the future as possible. To us,” he said, and it is exactly this kind of relevance, rooted in new ideas and creativity, that the Olympic movement needs, not to mention just a little bit of a wink and a nod, “that’s a dream worth sharing.”

Disclosure: If I have spoken to Bob Iger, it has only been in passing. His wife, Willow Bay, is the incoming dean of the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California; she is the current director of the journalism division. I have been on the Annenberg journalism faculty for the past six years.

Like gin and tonic: sports and politics mix it up

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The headlines are rich with stories about how sports and politics mix. This inevitably brings up the old fiction about how, especially in the Olympic scene, the two are supposed to be like church and state — separate and apart. That's a notion from way long ago. From a time when basketball players wore way shorter shorts.

Sports and politics mix all the time. Like gin and tonic. Hot dogs and hamburgers. Back and forth. Whatever.

A gentle reminder that in September 2014, the current International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, in a speech at the Asian Games in South Korea, said that for sure sport and politics mix.

Sport needs to acknowledge its relationship to politics and business, Bach said in that speech. At the same time, he said, the world’s political and corporate elite must be mindful of the autonomy of sports organizations or run the risk of diminishing the positive influence that sport can carry.

“In the past,” Bach went on, “some have said that sport has nothing to do with politics, or they have said that sport has nothing to do with money or business. And this is just an attitude which is wrong and which we can not afford anymore.

“We are living in the middle of society and that means we have to partner up with the politicians who run this world.”

With that in mind, these, please:

A few days back, many track and field friends got so incredibly fired up over the Somali-born British gold medalist Mo Farah, arguably the greatest distance runner of our time, and his widely publicized, Nike-backed freak-out over whether he could get into the United States, when it turned out that a simple call to the British Foreign Office affirmed that of course he could.

Let us all now look forward to the learned observations of Sir Mo on Iran's announced ban on U.S. wrestlers.

Or perhaps it is only his own plight that he cares about?

Nike as well? And what it knows not only about its employees but, if not more important, what market research tells it about the demographics and voting inclinations of its customers?

In a staff email, Mark Parker, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Nike, Inc., said he had been “moved” by the “powerful statement” that “Mo” — first name, as if everyone in corporate fun-world is the best of friends — “shared this morning.”

In that email, Parker went on to say, “Nike stands together against bigotry and any form of discrimination,” adding, “We’ve learned that on the field of play, where fairness and mutual respect are the rule, not the exception.”

That is of course a position to be commended.

Now, Mr. Parker, how far do those words reach?

Nike's business positions extend beyond the United States.

What, then, does Nike plan to do to stand up to the bigotry and discrimination of the Iranian regime? Or is standing up to bigotry and discrimination only a thing when it involves perceptions — that play to corporate image-making — of a certain Republican in the White House?

USA Wrestling statement on the reported Iranian ban:

“If these reports are true, USA Wrestling is extremely disappointed about this, which we believe would be an unacceptable situation. Wrestling is about competition and goodwill through sport, and is no place for politics.”

As for the reported Iranian action, and comparing it with President Trump’s executive order (and, by extension, Mr. Parker’s staff email):

1. Which governmental regime is using sport -- reasonable question: what other leverage does it have -- as retaliation?

2. Iran doesn't have an IOC vote so this means nothing for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid.

3. Feel free, at any rate, to ask around IOC precincts about perceptions within the movement about Iran.

4. If you want to rail on Mr. Trump, go right ahead. At least in the United States, presumably you enjoy the right to free speech — that is, unless you’re in, of all places, Berkeley, California, and you have controversial matters on your mind.

At any rate, take a moment to look up all the episodes over the years in which Iranian athletes have not appeared or simply refused to engage with Israeli athletes because the Israelis are Jews and from an official Iranian perspective the Jews are scum and the state of Israel illegitimate -- and when they get back home to Iran from these sickening displays of seeking to delegitimize Israel and dehumanize its competitors, the Iranian athletes are typically welcomed as heroes.

In 2012, amid the London Olympics, the Iranian sports minister noted that “not competing with Zionist athletes is one of the values and sources of pride of the Iranian people and its athletes.”

5. Please read these two relevant paragraphs issued Friday by the Islamic Republic News Agency, referring to a statement from the Iranian foreign ministry:

"Islamic Republic of Iran will appropriately counter any measure threatening the nation’s interests, as it has suspended issuance of visas for the Americans in a tit-for-tat move against the US travel ban for the Iranians.

"The ministry also stressed that the Islamic Republic would not allow the ominous realization of the dangerous plots and delusions of the Zionist warmongers and their supporters."

6. Would it be reasonable to assert that the Iranians do not hold to the position that, when it comes to the Israelis, fairness and mutual respect are the rule on the field of play?

This case is obviously the exception.

Indeed, it flat-out amounts to bigotry and discrimination because the Israelis are Jews.

There is no other reason, no other explanation.

Sir Mo freaked out because of ill-conceived concerns he was going to be banned. The Iranians do not compete against Jews because of reprehensible, indefensible, indeed vile religious hatred as well as slanderous political opposition. The Iranians would seem, absent a reversal, to have actually moved to have banned the American wrestlers from their country.

Which, comparing apples and oranges, is worse?

So — where is the outrage over the Iranian action/s?

More — what is to be done?

They say that advice is worth what you pay for it. This advice is free. So here goes:

Time can work in the most intriguing way.

President Trump’s 90-day immigration-related executive order is due to expire in, oh, late April.

The International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission visit to Los Angeles, in conjunction with the 2024 Summer Games campaign, is scheduled for April 23-25.

If it were me:

I would reach out to the White House and see if Mr. Bach, the IOC president, wanted to enjoy a White House visit with President Trump in, oh, mid to late April. Or if the White House was inconvenient, somewhere where the two leaders could meet. Maybe at the United Nations, which on the campaign last year didn't exactly seem like a Trump thing but is definitely a Bach hangout and is close to Trump Tower, where the new president has said the taco bowls are, you know, the best.

Wait. I hear the screaming from our French friends: "So unfair!"

OK, well, French president François Hollande and Bach got together for a face-to-face meeting in November 2013 in Paris.

And in April 2015 in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC’s base.

And, apples to apples, even during this 2024 campaign, in October 2016 in Paris, where Hollande presented Bach with a flag from the 1924 Paris Games and Bach said the “Paris bid is a very, very strong bid because of the unity and the large support it is sparking off,” adding, “Personally, I’m very impressed by the unity among both the sporting and political worlds.”

So — hope to see you soon in the United States, Mr. IOC President. If you get to the White House, and, a hand towel from the men's room, um, accidentally finds its way into your suit pocket and you leave with it as a memento of your visit, oh darn, we totally will understand. Barbara Walters and Meryl Streep, among others, have maybe collected some White House knickknacks, and Ms. Streep is even a Presidential Medal of Freedom of Winner. Again, Mr. IOC President, hope to see you soon.

Speaking of France:

The Paris 2024 bid on Friday launched the international phase of its campaign by revealing its new slogan, “Made for Sharing,” with co-chair Tony Estanguet saying in a statement that the tagline shows Paris “is a city welcome to ready the world,” adding, “We want to use the Games to break barriers and build bridges of understanding between communities and nations.”

Pause.

You can just hear the dialogue if not the cackling in the focus groups contrasting “bridges,” on the one hand, and “walls,” on the other, right?

Asked if the slogan was a rip on Mr. Trump, the French prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, told reporters Friday, “France has this idea of building relationships through the values of respect, fraternity and solidarity...

"It’s a very simple answer."

Uh-huh.

Class: we shall now examine France's colonial years, particularly but not exclusively in North Africa, and let us pay particular attention to the notion of "building relationships through the values of respect, fraternity and solidarity," with special regard to France's many Muslim constituents, and how those relationships continue to play out now, in our time, within France itself or in the way France is perceived within Europe and beyond.

The mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said in the same news release that Paris, “more than any other city, has embraced this culture of sharing and connection.”

Also Friday, French police shot and wounded a man who shouted “Allahu Akbar!” as he attacked them with a machete at the Louvre, the world’s most visited museum. Police sources told the British outlet The Telegraph that the assailant was a 29-year-old Egyptian who had arrived in Paris on January 26 after acquiring a one-month tourist visa in Dubai.

Hollande said, according to the newspaper, that the attack was “clearly an act of terrorism,” the latest that has put France in a  "state of emergency" that has lasted now for nearly two years.

From the U.S. president:

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/827499871011819520

Kudos. Applause. Way to be clever and think outside the boundaries, because this is exactly what the Olympic space needs, even if it's in the bid arena: something never, ever done in the 20 years I have been covering Olympic bids, which rigidly stick to the format of bid books and presentations.

Here is LA24 chair Casey Wasserman with part one of a series of "What's Not in the Bid Book!" He promises a look at stuff like best hikes in LA, where to buy cool sneakers -- and says, controversially, that Tito's Tacos, presumably the location in Culver City, California, offers the best tacos in town.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlrRRw0SbmE&feature=share

OK, so not perfect: I mean, what would you expect from someone who went to UCLA?

Advice to Wasserman as he builds his series, since most “in LA” stuff tends to revolve around the Westside, Downtown (which now goes by the trendy moniker ‘DTLA’), trendy spots like Los Feliz and Silver Lake and, of course, surfer and movie star hangout Malibu and the sprawl of the San Fernando Valley.

Check out the Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the Manhattan Beach pier (free, kids of all ages love it) and the backside of the Palos Verdes peninsula (looks like Italy, locals only because it's way off the freeways).

There’s even a Golf Digest ‘top 100 public course’ way out there on the peninsula backside, with incredible views of the Pacific and Santa Catalina Island some 20 miles southwest of the mainland. The course is breathtakingly beautiful and has been featured in literally dozens of movies, commercials, TV shows and photo shoots.

It's Trump National.