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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Nine Tales of Trump at His Trumpiest
And these just scratch the surface
It's that magical time in the presidential cycle again, when all the preelection year’s wild conjecture, clueless handicapping, and abject foolishness has ended, so that the election year's wild conjecture, clueless handicapping, and abject foolishness can begin. It's that time when panicked, demoralized citizens, who believe that our country is dying, compose themselves, do their civic duty, and choose the man or woman best suited to finish it off.
To all but the most obstinate poll-science deniers, that man could very easily be Donald J. Trump. In an impossibly large field, Trump has dominated for seven months. He hasn't, in fact, placed second in a national GOP primary poll since early November, when Ben Carson briefly nipped Trump by one point. And in all but one national poll since mid-November, Trump has enjoyed double-digit leads — up to 27 points — over his next-closest competitor.
When it comes to Trump, there's a lot of love going around. Arenas-full of swooning fans love Trump because he's saved them from politically correct tedium, while appearing to be as angry as they are. The press loves him because he's spared them from having to write about Jeb Bush, the low-energy former favorite who still seems to be screwing up his nerve to ask for his lunch money back. And Trump loves himself because, well, he's never come up shy in that department. ("Part of the beauty of me is that I'm very rich.") Originally assigned the role of court jester, Trump is now so fully committed to his own joke that he's nearly ceased to be regarded as one.
As reporters breathlessly cover his every speech, tweet, and fart (often indistinguishable), Trump has correctly calculated that if he's outrageous all-day-every-day, his abnormality becomes the new normal. It is no longer resented but expected. The man who was once accused by Vanity Fair of reading Hitler speeches in bed for propagandistic inspiration truly could title his own memoir — aside from the five or ten he's already written — Triumph of the Will.
If you're the sort of person who's been conditioned to accept reality-show excess as entertainment, which is to say the sort of person who lives in America, then what's not to love? There's the supermodel wife and the gold-covered "Trump"-embossed Boeing 757. There's the garishly decorated three-story Trump Tower penthouse that had a New Statesman writer, after a tour, calling Trump "a man whose front room proved that it really was possible to spend a million dollars in Woolworth's." There's that hair that looks like a mac-'n'-cheese-colored nutria that was hit by an oil truck. There's the permanent pucker, which at rest makes Trump look like a puzzled duck working out long-division problems in its head.
And who doesn't admire his fiscal conservatism? ("The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes.") His impeccable manners? (To Larry King: "Do you mind if I sit back a little? Because your breath is very bad.") His commitment to diversity? ("I have a great relationship with the blacks.") Who couldn't appreciate the executive know-how and tested mettle that come from telling La Toya Jackson "you're fired" on Celebrity Apprentice?
And as if all that doesn't qualify Trump to Make America Great Again®, he's a man who knows his own mind, except when he changes it. (Trump has switched his party registration five times since 1987, once every 5.8 years.) He's a man who tells it like it is, except when he's lying. ("Sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest and you all know it!") He's a man of rich contradictions. ("I'm actually very modest," he once bragged.)
But to lovingly catalog all of Trump's gaffes is a pointless exercise. Even calling them "gaffes" is a bit of a misnomer. Gaffes are what stop normal politicians. But a gaffe can't actually be considered a gaffe if, say, you give a speech in the belly of the evangelical beast, Liberty University, and show your total ignorance of the Bible (an amazing holy book, right up there with The Art of the Deal) by calling Second Corinthians "Two Corinthians," and yet you still sop up 42 percent of evangelical voters, as Trump did in a recent New York Times/CBS poll. Second-place Ted Cruz (or should I say "two place") only managed 25 percent. Expecting a gaffe to stop Trump, at this late date, is like expecting a traffic cone to stop a runaway train.
It could all still go haywire for Trump, of course. Cruz, a man with a delivery so oleaginous that he sounds less like he should be running for president than hawking repossessed Chevy Vegas with odometer rollback, is neck-and-neck with Trump in Iowa. Not that winning Iowa necessarily matters: In only two of the last six GOP contests where a sitting president wasn't running unopposed did Iowa's winner go on to become the nominee.
But with a sizable chunk of the electorate now poised to take the great leap forward with Trump, it may be worth hitting the pause button for some quiet reflection. Who is this man and what do we really know of him?
After combing my vast Trump archive, as well as contacting Trump sources, I present herewith nine of Trump's Trumpiest moments — a Trump Moments collage, if you will — that distill the very essence of the man. Not unlike Trump's tremendous cologne, Success, an inspiring blend of fresh juniper and iced red currant, with rich bottom notes of vetiver, tonka bean, birchwood, and musk. (In a word, "classy.")
One cannot hope to capture Trump's entirety, since he contains multitudes. For instance, sometimes Trump will say he's "really rich," while at others, he'll say he's "very, very rich." That's Trump for you. Just when you think he'll zig, he zags. But as with the Republican primary, sometimes choices just need to be made, no matter how imperfect.
I. GOLF CHEAT
Americans are a forgiving people. They'll forgive a guy who cheats in business or on his wife. (Trump's been accused of both.) But will they forgive a man who cheats at golf? According to the Washington Post's Ben Terris, Trump is in trouble if they don't.
Despite Trump's allegedly having a 4 handicap and owning scores of golf courses ("the best in the world"), he plays about as straight as a corkscrew. When Alice Cooper was asked who is the worst celebrity golf cheat he's ever played with, he responded, "I played with Donald Trump one time. That's all I'm going to say."
Sportswriter Rick Reilly, who played golf with Trump for his book Who's Your Caddy?, gave Trump an 11 on a 10-point cheating scale, telling the Post that Trump fabricated scores on his scorecard, called gimmes on chip shots, and conceded putts to himself by raking his ball into the hole rather than actually putt-ing. "He rakes like my gardener!" Reilly said.
When Mark Mulvoy, then-managing editor of Sports Illustrated, played golf with Trump in the mid-'90s, the two were forced to take cover when a storm rolled in. After the rain subsided, Mulvoy returned to the green to see a ball that he didn't remember 10 feet away from the pin. When he asked whose ball it was, Trump replied, "That's me."
"Give me a f—ing break," Mulvoy told Trump. "You've been hacking away in the . . . weeds all day. You do not lie there." According to Mulvoy's recollection to the Post, Trump responded: "Ahh, the guys I play with cheat all the time. I have to cheat just to keep up with them."
Trump, for his part, denied knowing who Mulvoy is, claimed never to have played with Alice Cooper, and of Reilly, he said, "I always thought he was a terrible writer. I absolutely killed him, and he wrote very inaccurately."
Maybe. Or maybe cheating jibes with Trump's worldview. As Trump told Timothy O'Brien inTrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald: "If you don't win, you can't get away with it. And I win, I win. I always win. In the end, I always win, whether it's in golf, whether it's in tennis, whether it's in life."
II. Needy or Greedy?
Back in the olden days of the 1980s and early '90s, before every snarky 22-year-old with a Twitter account and a dream became a satirist, ridiculing public figures was mainly left to the professionals. And nobody did it better than Spy magazine, which treated Donald Trump like a piñata with a comb-over.
In an exhaustive survey of the late Spy's archive, Bloomberg's Andre Tartar found that Spy mentioned Trump an average of 8.7 times per issue in its first 50 issues. What they called him wasn't pretty: a well-fed condo hustler, an ugly cuff-link buff, a close-friend-free millionaire, a Forbes 400 dropout. The most frequent and hurtful insult of all was "short-fingered vulgarian."
Trump, for his part, took the bait at least once, declaring to the New York Post's Page Six, "My fingers are long and beautiful, as, has been well-documented, are various other parts of my body." But the sobriquet stung the thin-skinned Trump badly enough that Graydon Carter, Spy's cofounder and the current editor of Vanity Fair, writes that to this day, he occasionally receives an envelope from Trump, "generally a tear sheet from a magazine. On all of them, he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers. I almost feel sorry for the poor fellow because, to me, the fingers still look abnormally stubby." (On Twitter, Trump has called Carter "sloppy," "a disaster," and a "major loser — just ask his wife!")
But Spy's best caper came when they conducted their "Who Is America's Cheapest Zillionaire?" sting operation. After setting up a phony company called the National Refund Clearinghouse, they began mailing checks in installments to 58 well-known people, everyone from Richard Gere to Woody Allen to Rupert Murdoch to Donald Trump. The checks were for laughable amounts: $1.11, $2, and a measly 64 cents. Of the entire list, only two people cashed all three checks: Donald Trump and Adnan Khashoggi, the arms dealer/Imelda Marcos codefendant. (Khashoggi would also sell his prized yachtNabila to the Sultan of Brunei, who in turn sold it to Trump, who in Trumpian fashion, renamed it theTrump Princess.)
Perhaps Trump isn't a cheapskate. The Hollywood Reporter, after all, did allege that he hired actors to enthusiastically fill out the crowd at his presidential announcement for 50 bucks a pop. But it does become a little clearer how the Smoking Gun website found Trump to be "the .00013 Man" — as in, that's what percentage of his income the billionaire had donated to charity. As the New York Post's Phil Mushnick once quoted a Trump business associate: Trump is "the kind of guy who writes a small check to a charity, then spends $10,000 publicizing that he gives to charity."
III. Trump Will Sue You
Or at least he will threaten to. It's not entirely clear whether Trump is a bully, or just a baby. But for a candidate who spends so much time knocking government, Trump sure does make its courthouses his home away from (one of his six or so) homes. As Crain's New York Business has reported, Trump has been a plaintiff or defendant in lawsuits filed in New York state courts 65 times and in federal lawsuits 172 times — and that's just for starters.
A (very) incomplete list of people or entities Trump or Trump minions have either sued or threatened to sue includes: NBC, ABC, the BBC, the Daily Beast, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal for suggesting he had cash-flow problems, his biographer, a rapper who name-checked him, the Palm Beach airport for making too much noise, the Club for Growth, Jeb Bush's super-PAC, John Kasich's super-PAC, Rosie O'Donnell (she called him a "snake-oil salesman," he called her "a fat pig"), Bill Maher (for not ponying up on a $5 million "bet" that Trump could not prove he's not the "spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan"), a Twitter user who duped him into retweeting a tribute to serial killers, a Scottish offshore wind farm that would infringe on the view at one of his golf courses, his first wife for publishing a novel that resembled their marriage, his second wife's bodyguard, a financial analyst for predicting his casino would fail (it basically did), and the Onion for publishing a satirical piece, under Trump's fake byline, titled "When You're Feeling Low, Just Remember I'll Be Dead in About 15 or 20 Years."
My personal favorite, however, has to be the time Trump went after Julius and Eddie Trump (no relation to Donald) for having the misfortune of sharing his last name. As Crain's tells it, back in 1984, the non-megalomaniacal-billionaire Trumps had bid on a drugstore chain, their company name being the Trump Group. But a letter was mistakenly sent to the (Donald) Trump Organization from the publisher of Drug Store News, welcoming the wrong Trump to the industry.
The next day, Trump's pitbull lawyer, the late and legendary Roy Cohn, demanded that the other Trump Group change its name by the following day or there would be blood. Trump filed suit, alleging of the other Trumps, who were born in South Africa, that they were, as Crain's put it, "nothing but a pair of late-arriving immigrants trying to piggyback on his good name."
The "impostor" Trumps pointed out that they were formidable Trumps, too. They'd been profiled byForbes in 1976, well before most people had any idea who Donald Trump was. Before they registered "the Trump Group" in 1982, the only companies that turned up in their search were those connected with mollusk pesticides, nut candy, and toilet paper.
After the case lingered for five years, a state judge smacked down The Donald, essentially telling him his name wasn't the special snowflake he thought it was. If Donald Trump had only demanded to see the birth certificates — which he's since become adept at doing — he'd have realized that the other Trumps had been using their last name longer than he has.
IV. Donald Trump, Failure
For someone who constantly toots his own success horn ("I'm the most successful person to ever run for the presidency, by far"), Donald Trump sure does fail a lot. Never mind his two failed marriages, the four corporate bankruptcies, and his failure to find a suitable hairstyle over the course of his adult life.Time magazine and others have run entire lists of his failures.
There was Trump Airlines, Trump Mortgage ("Who knows more about financing than me?"), Trump the board game, Trump casinos, and three stabs at Trump magazines (may they all rest in peace). Though The Donald doesn't drink, there was also Trump Vodka ("success distilled"), with Trump once predicting the "T&T" (a Trump and Tonic) would become the most "called-for cocktail in America," before the company ceased production due to lack of interest. There was also Trump Steaks (the "world's greatest"), which used to be featured in the Sharper Image catalogue, where most people go for their meat-buying needs. As Time suggests: "The company has since been discontinued— maybe it had something to do with the Trump Steakhouse in Las Vegas being closed down in 2012 for 51 health code violations, including serving five-month old duck."
But most egregious was Trump University, a purported real estate school that attracted the attention of New York's attorney general, who brought a $40 million suit on behalf of 5,000 people. The New York Times described Trump U as "a bait-and-switch scheme," with students lured "by free sessions, then offered packages ranging from $10,000 to $35,000 for sham courses that were supposed to teach them how to become successful real estate investors." Though Trump himself was largely absentee, one advertisement featured him proclaiming, "Just copy exactly what I've done and get rich."
While some students were hoping to glean wisdom directly from the success oracle, there was no such luck. At one seminar, attendees were told they'd get to have their picture taken with Trump. Instead, they ended up getting snapped with his cardboard cutout.
What must have been a crushing disappointment to aspiring real estate barons is a boon to Republican-primary metaphor hunters.
V. He Loves The Little Guy, Unless the little Guy Needs to be Crushed
Or in one case, not even a little guy, but a little old lady. Among civil-libertarian Trumpologists, Vera Coking has become something of a folk hero. As outlined by the Washington Post's Manuel Roig-Franzia and the Institute for Justice (whose lawyers represented -Coking), in the 1990s, Coking was a then-septuagenarian widow and proud owner of a three-story boarding house in Atlantic City, where she'd lived since 1961.
As casino developers circled, her house became vulture bait. In the '80s, Penthouse's Bob Guccione offered her $1 million to sell so he could throw up a casino on her land. Coking passed. So Guccione began building around her, going so far as to construct skeletal beams over her roof. But in the middle of construction, his project went bust.
Trump swooped in, having bought Guccione's remains, seeking to enlarge his casino empire with the Trump Plaza (now closed). He too made a play for her land, desiring to turn it into a waiting area for limousines. While attempting to get her to sell, Trump buttered her up with Neil Diamond tickets, though Coking had no idea who Neil Diamond was. She still stubbornly refused.
So Trump went to work around her, dismantling Guccione's unfinished construction. And while Trump has aggressively disparaged the condition of her house, as though that justifies trying to take it, Coking's lawyers charged that demolition crews had started a fire on her roof, broken windows, removed her fire escape, and "nearly destroyed the entire third story of her home by dropping concrete blocks through the roof." Coking still refused to sell.
Enter the city's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, a highfalutin' name for an eminent domain operation, working in cahoots with Trump to remove Coking's house from her possession. In 1994, the casino authority made her an offer she couldn't refuse: They would give her $251,250 for her house (750 grand less than what Guccione had offered a decade prior). And if she didn't accept within 30 days, they'd take her to court to snatch her land through eminent domain.
Coking and the city ended up duking it out in court, Trump throwing in with the casino authority. But after years of wrangling, in 1998, the Superior Court of New Jersey ruled in Coking's favor, shutting Trump and Co. down. Trump, who has repeatedly expressed rapturous support for eminent domain, claiming it's necessary to build roads and schools (if not limousine parking lots at casinos), called Coking's house "a tremendous blight on Atlantic City."
The brassy widow, for her part, called Trump "a maggot, a cockroach, and a crumb."
VI. Twidiot or Twilight Lover?
As of this writing, Donald Trump has 5.75 million Twitter followers, and has tweeted over 30,000 times, excluding the occasional deleted tweet, such as: "I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th."
Trump is very proud of his Twitter prowess. Which isn't saying much, since he's very proud of everything. But he's especially proud of his Twitter prowess. "Many are saying I'm the best 140-character writer in the world," he once tweeted, with trademark reserve. And in a way, he has a point. Twitter was made for Donald Trump, conducive to his staccato delivery, short attention span, and penchant for covering himself and others in shame.
He does frequently fire off a funny one-liner, which is even funnier when you picture him saying it: "I have never seen a thin person drinking Diet Coke." But for the most part, his tweets serve two purposes: telling the world how great he is ("My twitter has become so powerful that I can actually make my enemies tell the truth") or how much of a loser everyone else is ("Word is that @NBCNews is firing sleepy eyes Chuck Todd in that his ratings on Meet the Press are setting record lows. He's a real loser!").
Last fall, the Boston Globe analyzed candidates' 2016 presidential campaign announcement speeches using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, an algorithm that assesses everything from word choice to sentence structure and then spits out a grade-level ranking. If there's any doubt that our politics are getting dumber, it should be noted that George Washington's Farewell Address rates at a graduate-degree level. And the top of this year's pile, among both Republicans and Democrats, was former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, who apparently talks to us (not that anyone's listening) at an 11th-grade level.
Keeping it much simpler for the common folk (at least for the ones whose houses he's not trying to swipe), Trump, of course, ranked dead last. His announcement speech, says the Globe, "could have been comprehended by a fourth-grader. Yes, a fourth-grader." Though no analysis was done of Trump's tweets, I'd be shocked if a first-grader couldn't get the gist.
I spent an hour or so printing out pages of tweets, after conducting searches of Trump's Twitter feed using many of his favorite insult-buzzwords, and here's what I found:
"Dope"—3 pages (Though Harry Hurt, "who wrote a failed book about me" (Lost Tycoon), made two lists simultaneously as a "dummy dope.")
I grew bored and quit before finishing a search for "poo-poo head."
Nobody in politics, journalism, or celebrity-world who criticizes Trump escapes his Twitter wrath. Why, even my own boss Bill Kristol, in Trump's tweets, is "a sad case, his magazine is failing badly." My colleague Steve Hayes (who ranks a whole page and a half of Trump heckling unto himself) is a "failed writer and pundit . . . with no success and little talent."
Even though it's no longer a status symbol to get insulted by Trump, since he pretty much insults everybody, it's enough to make a guy feel left out. So I went to one of the numerous online Trump-insult generators, and was assigned my own: "This idiot Matt Labash has failed miserably. We're not dealing with Albert Einstein. SO SAD."
Trump does have a softer side, however. Especially when it comes to teen-heartthrob vampire-movie stars. When Twilight's Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart hit the skids offscreen after Stewart allegedly cheated, Trump seemed to take it personally, as the Pattinson/Stewart tweets fill a whole page. It all kicked off with: "Robert Pattinson should not take back Kristen Stewart. She cheated on him like a dog & will do it again — just watch. He can do much better!"
Over the course of the next month, Trump mourned that the relationship "will never be the same. It is permanently broken." He cautioned Pattinson, "Be smart, Robert." He mentioned that the Miss Universe pageant — which Trump then owned — would soon be airing and that an "open invite stands for Robert Pattinson" to attend.
Twilight, of course, is about forbidden love. And Trump's Pattinson fixation got some talking about the love that dare not speak its name. Except it's Twitter, of course, where everything is always spoken. So Twitter user "broken urinal" wondered: "Is Donald Trump like gay for Robert Pattinson?"
VII. Ladies Trump Loved, And The One Who Got Away
While I don't pretend to speak for Mr. Trump, I can say with some certitude that he's not gay for Robert Pattinson or anyone else. Ladies love The Donald, and The Donald loves them back. Being a gentleman, he doesn't really like to talk about it. Except when he does. Such as in his 2007 book, the title of which I'm not making up: Think Big & Kick Ass in Business and Life.
Here, Trump tells us that "I always think of myself as the best-looking guy and it is no secret that I love beautiful women. That is why I bought the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. . . . The women I have dated over the years could have any man they want; they are the top models and most beautiful women in the world. I have been able to date (screw) them all because I have something that many men do not have. I don't know what it is but women have always liked it."
Just a guess: billions of dollars?
Unlike Trump's friend Geraldo Rivera, who he says "did something which I thought was absolutely terrible. . . . He wrote a book naming many of the famous women that he slept with." Trump would "never do that." Except for that time he went on Howard Stern's radio show to cross swords with gossip columnist A. J. Benza, who claimed his model girlfriend, Kara Young, had cheated on him with Trump. Trump didn't seem to mind: "I've been successful with your girlfriend, I'll tell you that."
But whatever. Trump writes that he would never pull a Geraldo move, since "I have too much respect for women in general, but if I did, the world would take serious notice. Beautiful, famous, successful, married — I've had them all, secretly, the world's biggest names, but unlike Geraldo I don't talk about it. If I did, this book would sell 10 million copies (maybe it will anyway). The one thing I have learned with women over the years — they want it (sex!) more than we do."
Trump seems to have settled down nicely with his third wife, Melania, who is young enough to be his daughter. Though he seems to have sized up his actual daughter, Ivanka, as well. As Trump once toldThe View when asked how he'd feel if she posed for Playboy: "I don't think Ivanka would do that, although she does have a very nice figure. I've said if Ivanka weren't my daughter, perhaps I'd be dating her."
Incest aside, the problem with dating/marrying younger women, of course, is that they tend to age. Sometimes after loving them, you have to leave them. This can get uncomfortable, even for the world's most successful, classy, terrific person. As one Trump intimate tells me, when Trump was going to break things off with his second wife Marla Maples before the relatively modest prenup-limit expired and he'd have been on the hook for more money, Trump didn't have the stomach to tell her. So, the intimate says, "He leaked it to the Daily News, left the paper on the bed, and he went out to breakfast."
Now that's class.
But at heart, Trump is a romantic. And Trump has said that much of romance is about the challenge. The singer Michael Bolton once told me that after Trump broke up with Maples, Bolton started dating her, which made Trump so jealous, that he took her back. "But then when he could have her," says Bolton, "he didn't want her anymore."
A less than world-class tremendous amazing person might settle merely for bragging about the women that he's had. But Trump, it seems, even brags about the women he'll never have. In 1997, shortly after the death of Princess Diana, Trump appeared on Dateline. While we were all mourning England's rose, Trump took it harder than the rest of us. Diana's candle not only burned out long before her legend ever did, but also before Trump could ask her out.
"I would have loved to have had a shot to date her," he told Stone Phillips, "because she was an absolutely wonderful woman."
"Do you think you would have had a shot?" asked Phillips.
"I think so, yeah," The Donald responded. "I always have a shot."
VIII. A Donald Trump Joke
Apologies to Mr. Trump if that subhead read like I was suggesting he is a joke. He most certainly is not. He is a very serious person. Don't believe me? Let him tell it: "I am a very serious person," he said in 2011, right around the time he was seriously inquiring whether Barack Obama was an American citizen.
What I meant to say is that I have a Donald Trump joke. Actually, it's not mine. It was told to me by a former Trump-world executive, who says Trumpsters liked to tell it amongst themselves, as it captures a certain essence. But since it's a little salty, with mature themes and adult language, and since I am a family-friendly writer, I will let him have the floor:
So Donald Trump is riding in an elevator. The elevator doors open, and a gorgeous blonde steps in. She sees him, and says, "Oh my God, you're Donald Trump!" And he says, "Yes, I am." And she says, "Can I suck your *$@!?" And he says, "What's in it for me?"
IX. The Donald and Me: A Love/Hate Story
If you'll permit me to close with a personal anecdote, back in 1999, when Trump was just playing at being a presidential candidate, instead of leading the pack, I accompanied him, along with a small group of reporters, on a several-day swing through California as he was sizing up the Reform party nomination. I generally detest campaign stories, as they're typically populated by politicians, who on average tend to be some of the dreariest people on earth. But I have to admit, traveling with Trump was a romp.
We got into tussles with Whoopi Goldberg's people, who would not relinquish the coveted spot by the rooftop pool of the L'Ermitage Beverly Hills hotel. Therefore Trump, in his opening press conference, was taking the sun straight in his eyes, making him squint more than usual as reporters availed themselves of hand sanitizers set out in a fishbowl. (Germophobe Trump thinks shaking hands is "barbaric.")
We spun by TheTonight Show, where Jay Leno razzed Trump backstage, as Trump was there to plug whatever book his ghostwriter had written at the time, the revenue from which, he assured me, would merely pay for his "airplane fuel to go back and forth from California." We went to the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance, "a world-class human rights laboratory," where a rabbi walked us through re-creations of the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz, with Trump muttering to the rabbi, "Great location!"
On his plane, Trump was a (literal) arm-puncher and towel-snapper. We laughed at his jokes. Drank his booze. Politely nodded yes when he asked if we wanted to sit in the cockpit. Enjoyed hours of off-the-record locker-room chitchat. His campaign was absurd, but he was a great host— a real barrel of monkeys.
I found Trump hilarious, which was much easier to do back when he didn't have even an outside shot at becoming president of the United States. After going home, I wrote up my travels in a semi-barbed story that I'd characterize as "begrudgingly affectionate." But after filing it, some loser editor headlined the piece "A Chump on the Stump." When I later asked a Trump aide what Trump thought of the profile, I was told, "He never got past the headline."
Roughly one year later, I ran into Trump at a party. As I rounded a bend, I smacked right into him and Melania, his supermodel girlfriend, now his wife. (Whether she was actually ever a "supermodel," as opposed to just a really-competent model, I can't say. But when you're in Trump's company, you tend to fall into the same hyperbole that he does.)
I thought about ducking Trump, but decided to take my medicine like a man. I reintroduced myself, reminding him of how he knew me. "I remember you," Trump said. A promising start. But then he continued, "And I think you know what I think of you. Not much. Now head out."
When Donald Trump is miffed at you in person, he does carry a natural air of authority. So I reflexively turned on my heels to head out. Except then I remembered, I was having fun at this party. And it wasn't his party. I was an invited guest. Why would I leave? So I turned around to inform him of this cold, harsh reality — that I had zero intention of heading anywhere. When I did, Trump said nothing. He just clasped Melania's hand, then headed out of the room himself, leaving me in billionaire/competent-model stardust.
You might think I'd be sore for receiving the high hat. After all, we had history. Trump and I had been to hell and back together. Or at least to Reform party meetings and the Auschwitz re-creation. But I wasn't sore. Not even a little. Instead, I had respect for Donald Trump. While Washington parties are usually chock-full of people who quietly loathe each other while doling out backslaps and air kisses, Trump seemed to hate me and wasn't about to pretend otherwise. Even if he had to sacrifice his own enjoyment to prove his point.
It caused me to flash back to our trip. At one stop in Anaheim, we went to a Tony Robbins conference, where The Donald was doling out successory-wisdom to a crowd of desperate Babbitts, while getting paid 100 grand for 20 minutes' work. He shocked both the crowd and Tony Robbins with his unconventional advice, everything from "always have a pre-nup" to "people tend to be very vicious— keep the left up."
But what really impressed itself upon me, the edict that seems to be Trump's guiding principle and, by extension, that of those who follow him, was: "Get even. When somebody screws you, screw 'em back, but a lot harder."
I had to hand it to the guy, and have to even still. He sticks by his principles. Or principle. It may be the only one in his arsenal, but by God, he sticks to it. ♦