Editor’s note: Back in 2011, when Donald Trump was seriously thinking of running for president, Human Events’ then editor, Jason Mattera, interviewed the real estate mogul at his Fifth Avenue office in Manhattan.
“Look at everything I’ve built,” he said, while pointing to framed pictures of palatial properties around the world, from Panama City to Abu Dhabi to Chicago. “Aren’t they beautiful?”
That’s Donald Trump for you: gregariously proud. And why shouldn’t he be? The hotels and condos he was boasting about are, in fact, beautiful. For that matter, so was the view overlooking Central Park from the 25th floor of Trump Tower in New York City.
And it is exactly that hard-charging bravado, candor, and proven track record that Trump believes could catapult him to the highest office in the land. “I have a big ID, big recognition, maybe the highest there is among any candidate, some say of any candidate including the President,” he brags.
Who can disagree with that? The real estate mogul is an American icon. There’s “The Apprentice,” “Celebrity Apprentice, “Miss Universe,” “Miss USA,” “Miss Teen USA,” his fashion line, the inestimable hair, and his awesomely awesome public feud with Rosie O’Donnell. (“She’s unattractive, both inside and out.”)
When you hear “The Donald,” you automatically know who’s being talked about. Now that’s cachet.
But President of the United States? Is that really in the realm of possibility for Donald Trump?
Several of us from HUMAN EVENTS spent 45 minutes with him at his Fifth Avenue luxury office in Manhattan. What you’re about to read is an account of how serious he is regarding a presidential run, an uncut look into the billionaire’s bluntness about America’s wilting image in the world, and what exactly he would do to revitalize it. He doesn’t run away from his criticism of the Bush administration, nor does he back down about his campaign contributions to influential Democrats over the years. He speaks on the importance of religion in his life (“I am a believer”), America’s crumbling infrastructure (LaGuardia Airport in NYC is “Third World”), his pro-life conversion, the declining dollar, entitlements (his plan to fund them is, um, novel), and much more. Some of his views will anger free-market purists and other views will draw sharp criticism from Iraq and Afghanistan war evangelists.
But that’s Donald Trump. He’s not doctrinaire. He speaks his mind. And quite frankly, he’s earned the clout to think he’s right. He’s one of the most successful businessmen in the history of the planet.
Unlike many politicians who have handlers—who themselves have handlers—analyzing every word their bosses say, afraid that they might utter something “controversial,” Trump was open and direct. He had no entourage. It was just him. And that’s what’s so appealing about Donald Trump: He’s competitive, he’s candid and he’s confident.
But, more importantly, he knows America has fallen from grace, and that eats away at him. He wants to save this great land.
But can he?
“I know what I’m doing. I’ve made a tremendous amount of money, and I’m willing to put that skill to use in this country. I know for a fact that our country is being ripped off by every intelligent country in the world, whether it’s China or India. I can name so many of them.”
Unlike virtually every other possible presidential contender, Donald Trump isn’t focused on the bloated budget, Obama’s bevy of czars or ever-growing deficits.
His motivation is America and her standing in the world. “This country has become a whipping post, an absolute whipping post.”
Expectedly, Trump unloads on the countries he views as abusing American interests. “I see us being totally manipulated and controlled by Russia telling us how many missiles to make and when to make them. Since when does Russia start telling this country what we can produce in terms of the military?”
Great point. Why would President Obama let Russia push us around? They didn’t win the Cold War. We did, champ.
So while Trump’s competitors are zigging their message toward the need to rein in excessive government spending, Trump is zagging to a more general theme of restoring American Greatness, or, to put it more bluntly, flexing our muscles as a nation once again.
“What’s going on with OPEC is unbelievable. And you watch, as sure as you’re sitting here, the prices are going to go so high because nobody’s sitting there saying to OPEC, ‘This isn’t going to happen.’ They have no respect of this country, they have no fear of this country, and oil prices will destroy our economy again.”
Don’t mess with the U.S. of A. That’s what Trump’s memo to the electorate boils down to. He’s effectively carved out a completely different position from his other Republican colleagues. And this differentiation, in essence, rises above the annoying and never-ending political squabbles in Washington, D.C., and sets the sight on a much loftier goal that most Americans can rally behind: Rebuilding America’s dominance. Who doesn’t want to be associated with that?
It’s brilliant marketing, which shouldn’t come as any surprise.
[More exclusive excerpts at HUMAN EVENTS regarding The Donald’s take on abortion, Rush Limbaugh & Howard Stern, entitlements, Somali Pirates, Saddam Hussein, unions, and much more.]
So how would a President Trump handle OPEC’s grip on oil production? “It’s the tone. It’s the conversation that does it.”
“I have people that go to make a deal that can’t make it, then I have other people who go to make a deal and they make it. They make it better. Why is it that one person can’t make the deal and another person can? It’s all about tone. It’s really to a large extent about tone. It’s about selling. It’s about force if necessary, force of personality. But somebody has to speak to OPEC. They will destroy this country.”
Stern tone, got it. What else, Donald? We’ll need to do more than wag our fingers in the face of some sheik. That may get us up close and personal with the man’s turban, but that may not get the OPEC cabal to budge.
“They wouldn’t even be there if it weren’t for us. We have soldiers in Saudi Arabia they don’t pay for. Why aren’t they [paying for them]?”
And that’s where Trump’s successful business wits come in handy. He knows how to leverage others to get what he wants, or in this case, to get what America needs.
“Let me give you an example,” Trump says. “South Korea. We send our ships to protect them. Do they pay us? They don’t pay us. Why are we protecting them, and if we’re going to protect them, why aren’t they paying us?”
America as a country—America Inc., if you will—is being disrespected, and Trump says he won’t tolerate it. “If I decide to run—and if I win—that won’t be happening.”
But what about our exploding budget deficits? Surely, those do need to be dealt with, and dealt with fast. The Obama administration’s level of government spending is bankrupting the country.
Trump’s response? To shake down countries that have been freeloading off of America for years, or as he put it, “having countries that are ripping us off contribute hundreds of billions of dollars back into this economy and you wouldn’t have to worry too much about cutting the budget.”
Trump has special ire in his heart for China. “No single country has ever done to us what China is doing to us right now. I would institute a 25% tax on all products made in China.” Trump insists that the mere threat of such an excise tax may deter the Chinese from their avaricious appetite for manipulating currency and stealing technological secrets.
“I believe in free trade, but it has to be fair trade,” Trump stated emphatically. “We lose $300 billion a year dealing with China. That’s not the kind of free trade that I’m talking about.”
* * * *
Before Trump would have a shot at Obama, he’d first have to get through the Republican primaries in which many of the voters will not be sure of his GOP bona fides knowing he’s given thousands of dollars to Democratic organizations over the years, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as well as to powerful liberal Senators Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and John Kerry. In fact, CampaignMoney.com says that from 1999 to the present, nearly 60% of Trump’s political contributions went to Democratic candidates, while only 40% found its way into Republican coffers.
Trump makes no apologies for the contributions, admitting that he’s amiable with Reid, Schumer, and Kerry. “I will tell you they are all friends of mine. That’s an asset, really an asset, because when I look at the conflict going on with everybody in Washington, it’s like deadlock. And I’ve known these people for many years. They’ve been friends of mine, and you have to remember that I come from a very Democratic state.”
Trump’s a businessman, not a conservative activist, so it shouldn’t shock anyone that his political contributions range across the ideological spectrum. He’s needed to close deals, and those campaign gifts provided the elbow grease needed to move the contract along. “Frankly, I could say you have no choice,” he confessed. “I have made many friends with Democrats, and I have contributed to Democrats, and I’ve contributed great amounts of money to Republicans.”
Okay, so he needed political muscle to help build his empire. But is Donald Trump a committed Republican? The New York Daily News reported that he registered as a Republican in 1987, then switched to the Independence Party in 1999, then became a registered Democrat, then switched back to a Republican in 2009.
That’s quite the seesaw ride. Couldn’t he make up his mind? He says indeed he has.
“I was a Republican for many years, and then I wanted to sort of see and sample what everybody had in mind,” adding that New York City is almost entirely run by Democrats, which accounts for his party-hopping. “I’m really at a point where I’ve witnessed the Democrats. I’ve witnessed many different groups. I started as a Republican, and I finished as a Republican. That’s where I want to be.”
Trump isn’t out of the woods yet. There’s another primary hurdle he’d have to cross. A number of Republican primary voters still like President George W. Bush even though they strongly object to the former President’s binge spending. Plus, to his credit, Bush believed that ousting Saddam Hussein and invading Iraq would help prevent another 9/11-style attack on American soil. Thus far, he’s been correct.
But, according to Donald Trump, not only was the former President mistaken on various issues, he called him “evil” and said he “lied” about those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. At one point, Trump indicated that he was disappointed that Nancy Pelosi didn’t initiate impeachment hearings against Bush.
That sounds like a MoveOn.org fundraising letter, does it not?
Not to Trump.
“Iraq now is a breeding ground for terrorists. It’s called the Harvard University of terrorism,” he said, adding, “We’ve totally de-neutered [Iraq], and as soon as we leave, Iran is going to take over the oil.
“But they won’t be doing it if I’m President. I can tell you right now,” Trump declared with the bluster that only he can get
Trump also believes we should be reimbursed by Iraq for liberating that country. “They have $15 trillion worth of oil. Why aren’t we taking our money back? Why aren’t we getting it back?”
If Trump declares his candidacy, he’ll likely be joined on stage by a Republican field of those who were and are still strong supporters of the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, another difference that might hurt him in early primary states, but would benefit him in a general election with a country exhausted by two never-ending wars.
Having said that, Trump goes out of his way to explain that his anti-war positions should not be interpreted as weak posturing, or a fundamental misreading of America’s foreign enemies.
Far from it.
He boasts that under a President Donald Trump “our military will be stronger than ever before. Nobody, nobody will be messing with the United States.”
And there it is again, circling back around to his theme of restoring American Greatness. His stance on Iraq and Afghanistan doesn’t come across as a MoveOn.org pitch. It’s a call to recalibrate our interests and priorities as a nation.
“I want to build our highways. When I look at airports in China, at airports in Abu Dhabi and Qatar and the different places, [and then] you land in New York, at LaGuardia Airport, at Kennedy Airport, it’s like a Third World airport system.”
Other tycoons, including Steve Forbes and Ross Perot, attempted presidential runs, but didn’t even come close. Being a successful businessman doesn’t mean you’ll coast to election—just ask Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman.
But Trump’s not just a businessman. He’s an American personality. He’s a man that can bring the constituencies of Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern together, which, as he observes, is “probably tougher than [bringing] the Republicans and the Democrats” in concert.
Early polls seem to embrace The Donald’s bid. When Trump started to make tremors about the presidency, a Newsweek/Daily Beast poll found that he trailed Barack Obama by only three points among likely voters. And a recent NBC poll that showed Trump with higher approval ratings than either Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty.
Many Republican lawmakers scoff at the idea of Trump’s jumping into the campaign ring. Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander told CNN’s Candy Crowley that Trump has “absolutely no chance of winning. … He’s famous for being famous. He may be good in business, but he’s not going to be President.”
To which Trump responded, “Sen. Lamar Alexander, I do not know and have heard very little about over the years, perhaps because of a certain ineffectiveness …”
Naturally, there’s the feeling that this entire move is one granddaddy PR stunt by America’s favorite billionaire. Perhaps. Only Trump himself knows what his intentions are. All we can do is take the man at his word for now.