A Run for his Money; Trump Discusses his Candidacy for U.S. President (Interview)

Date: Oct. 6, 1999
Location: Dateline NBC
Issues: Women Guns


Announcer: From studio 3B in Rockefeller Center, here is Stone Phillips.

STONE PHILLIPS: Good evening. He made his fortune in New York real estate. But these days, developer Donald Trump has his eye on a piece of property down in Washington. Trump, like another famous non-politician, actor Warren Beatty, is thinking of running for president. It can't be for the money and with his name on everything he's ever built, it can't be for fame. So why would he want to do it? Is it just another publicity stunt, or his ultimate bid for power? Tonight Donald Trump talks about politics, his very public private life at age 53, and as always, about money.

PHILLIPS: The president of the United States, Donald Trump.

Mr. DONALD TRUMP: Sounds good.

PHILLIPS: Sounds good to you?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, let's see what happens.

PHILLIPS: How serious are you about this?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I'm looking at it very seriously. I mean, you look out the window and you see all of what I've got going, and all, and I have a lot to lose. If you're a politician, there's nothing to lose. I mean, you're in one office, you want to run for another office, a higher office, but I'd be giving up a lot.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) Donald Trump's lavish, Fifth Avenue penthouse hasn't taken on the look of a campaign headquarters yet, but New York's most celebrated real estate tycoon has political heads turning, with his talk of running for the White House as a candidate for the Reform party. He certainly has the war chest and what other candidate has a war room with a view like this? But is he really serious about living in a building he can't put his name on?

(Stone Phillips and Donald Trump in Fifth Avenue penthouse; view of city from large penthouse window)

PHILLIPS: You are known as a master of self promotion. How do we know this isn't a publicity stunt?

Mr. TRUMP: I don't consider myself a great promoter. I don't even consider myself a great salesman. I consider myself a great builder and conceptualizer. I know what should be done and I'm able to get it done.

PHILLIPS: Will those skills translate?

Mr. TRUMP: I think they do translate. I think building is building and I do not only buildings, I mean, I build businesses, I build a lot of things, and I'm a quick study.

PHILLIPS: Everyone who runs for public office, has to be able to look into the camera and tell people why they should vote for him.

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I'll just look at you, I don't have to look at a camera. I'll look at you, I'll look you right in the eyes and say that I will be a great president, if I decide to do it. I know how things should run and this country has not run properly and if I were president this country would indeed run properly.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) Atlantic City's biggest casino owner, says the odds of him running are about 50/50 and if he does, he says his greatest support will come not from the super rich, but from the average Joe.

(View from penthouse window; Trump among crowded group)

PHILLIPS: You're a billionaire. You live in a New York City penthouse. How could you possibly relate to the needs and concerns of everyday Americans? You seem to have nothing in common with them.

Mr. TRUMP: I employ thousands and thousands of people and these are the working people and the people that like me most are the so-called construction workers, the taxi cab driver. I don't know why, it's what the polls say.

They say, the working people love you, but the rich people hate you. And that's true, other than the rich people that know me of course.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) But to know Trump is not necessarily to love Trump. He's got plenty of critics who don't like his high-rise buildings or his high-octane personality. And his detractors were only too pleased when he nearly went bust in a real estate crash of the early 90's. Having mastered the art of the comeback, Trump's now working on the art of political spin.

(Trump high-rise building; magazine cover featuring Trump; Trump leaving car)

PHILLIPS: Politically, how would you describe yourself?

Mr. TRUMP: I really think I've become socially quite liberal but generally speaking I'm very conservative and fiscally, very conservative.

PHILLIPS: But just a few years ago, you were 9.2 billion dollars in debt and you call yourself a fiscal conservative?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, no, you know, as I get older, I was—I was tremendously in trouble. The real estate markets had collapsed all over the world.

PHILLIPS: But you were spending a lot of money, a lot of the bank's money. Granted you made a spectacular comeback, but can the American taxpayer count on you to be careful with their money?

Mr. TRUMP: This country is essentially in huge debt and who understands debt better than I? I mean, who made a better showing with large debt than I did?

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) Pitching his brush with financial ruin, as a resume builder for the highest office in the land, may be pure Trump. But when you've got as much money as he does, you can always get a seat at the table.

(Trump among business associates; Trump)

PHILLIPS: According to Forbes magazine, you're worth about 1.6 billion dollars. How much of your own money would you spend on this campaign?

Mr. TRUMP: If I ran, I'd spend as much as necessary for me to at least have a shot. If it took 20, or 30, or 40 million dollars, I'd be willing to spend it, if I make the decision.

PHILLIPS: Would you accept federal matching funds, if you were nominated?

Mr. TRUMP: I'd have to think about it. I don't want to be a total schmuck and say, 'I won't take the money, I'm running against a Democrat and a Republican. I won't take the money.' I think probably I would. Why not? Everyone else does.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) In typical Trump fashion, he has some thoughts about those other guys who would be president. Suffice to say, he's not intimidated by the pros.

(Photos of current president nominees)

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) George W. Bush?

(George W. Bush)

Mr. TRUMP: Well, he's really untested and I was not happy with his response on the question on drugs.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) Al Gore?

(Al Gore)

Mr. TRUMP: He's very under-rated, frankly, and I think he is somebody that has more ability than is being shown, but if he continues to do as badly as he's doing and make every single mistake in the book, I'd probably have to take that statement away, about his being under-rated.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) Bill Bradley?

(Bill Bradley)

Mr. TRUMP: Bill Bradley is a loser in New Jersey. He's going to lose the election. People don't realize that, they think Bill Bradley is this wonderful guy that for moral reasons decided to get out of the United States Senate. The fact is, you know, he was going to be thrown out of New Jersey.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) So what kind of president would Donald Trump be? Well, this registered Republican says the president he most identifies with is Ronald Reagan. And when he talks about his vision for the country, he sounds Reagan-est.

(Phillips and Trump during interview; former president Ronald Reagan)

PHILLIPS: If elected, what's the first thing you would do as president?

Mr. TRUMP: I think the first thing is give the country spirit. The country doesn't have spirit and the one thing we have going, not insignificant, but the one thing we have going is a good economy. If that economy goes, we're going to be a very, very depressed place.

PHILLIPS: In a column you wrote for the New York Journal last week, entitled "America Needs a President Like Me"...

Mr. TRUMP: They put that headline in themselves...

PHILLIPS: That was their idea?

Mr. TRUMP: That was their idea.

PHILLIPS: But you didn't object?

Mr. TRUMP: I didn't object, I didn't fight it.

PHILLIPS: You predicted, "a dramatic downturn on the economy in the near future," and in your new book that's going to come out in a few months, you say we're in for a crash?

Mr. TRUMP: I think that there is a good chance that there could be big trouble in the future.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) If bad times are ahead, Trump thinks support for the Reform party will grow. In the meantime, Trump's battle cry—one term, two-fisted policies, no excuses.

(Phillips and Trump; photo of Trump)

PHILLIPS: Let's talk about your positions on some of the issues. You're for cutting taxes? How big a tax break?

Mr. TRUMP: I'd like to see major tax cuts.

PHILLIPS: Along the line, for what the Republicans are talking about—eight hundred billion or so? Would you go that far?

Mr. TRUMP: Along the lines of that number, yes, approximately at that number, and could even be more.

PHILLIPS: Health care?

Mr. TRUMP: The liberal on health care, we have to take care of people that are sick.

PHILLIPS: Universal health coverage?

Mr. TRUMP: I like universal, we have to take care, there's nothing else. What's the country all about if we're not going to take care of our sick.

PHILLIPS: Abortion?

Mr. TRUMP: I hate the concept of abortion. I hate—I hate anything about abortion, and yet, I'm totally for choice. I think you have no alternative too.

PHILLIPS: Gun control? Where do you stand on that?

Mr. TRUMP: If you could tell me that the bad guys, the criminals, wouldn't have guns, I'd be a hundred percent for gun control. But the fact is, if you have gun control, the only people that are going to obey the laws, are going to be the good guys. So the bad guys are going to have the guns, the good guys aren't going to have the guns, and what good does that do us? So, I'm not in favor of it.

PHILLIPS: Are you a gun owner?

Mr. TRUMP: I have a gun, yes. I own a gun.

PHILLIPS: What kind of gun do you own?

Mr. TRUMP: Who knows, I don't know, I go and practice, I have absolutely no idea what it is. I know that I pull the trigger and it works.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) And he pulls no punches when it comes to his potential rival for the Reform party nomination, a conservative fire-brand, Pat Buchanan. Zeroing in on Buchanan's new book, in which he questioned, whether America needed to go to war against Hitler's Germany.

(Photo of Trump, hands raised, wearing boxing gloves; Pat Buchanan; Buchanan signing his book)

Mr. TRUMP: It's hard for me to believe that he can be so stupid to write a book like this at a time...

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) Trump says he's afraid if Buchanan joins the Reform party movement, he'll move it to the fringe and make it a lot less appealing to mainstreamers like Trump.

(Buchanan in crowd)

PHILLIPS: Would you run just to stop Buchanan from getting a Reform party nomination?

Mr. TRUMP: That wouldn't be the reason I'd run. I wouldn't run unless I really thought I had a chance to win the entire election. It wouldn't be worth it to me. I don't want to say that I've got more votes than any independent candidate in history because it doesn't mean anything. That's good for one day and then you have to go back, to work. Here I am at work.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) Trump says what's made him even consider a new line of work are some surprisingly strong poll numbers among members of the Reform party and some encouraging words from one prominent member in particular—Minnesota governor, Jesse Ventura, a politician Trump admires.

(Trump speaking at meeting; Jesse Ventura in media)

PHILLIPS: You describe Jesse Ventura as "the embodiment of the political qualities America needs."

Mr. TRUMP: And I know politicians probably as well as I know anybody. I deal with politicians on a daily basis and they're very deceptive people. You know, Jesse's a straight talker and there's something very nice about that and something very refreshing and that's why he won his election.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) But in the new Playboy magazine, Ventura's straight talk landed him in hot water, especially his comments about organized religion, which he called, "a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people."

(Magazine cover; article featuring Ventura)

Mr. TRUMP: I don't think Jesse meant exactly what they say he said and I think that he's going to recover beautifully and I think that he's a terrific guy. And I disagree on organized religion. I think that religion really keeps people going down the straight and narrow. I think it's a very important factor in all of our lives.

PHILLIPS: Do you believe in God?

Mr. TRUMP: I believe in God, yeah. There has to be some reason we're doing all this. I mean, there has to be.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) Has Trump been on the straight and narrow? If he runs, would he be dogged by questions about his personal behavior, as so many politicians are these days?

(Trump exiting building with beautiful woman)

PHILLIPS: Anything in your personal life you want to put on the table now, so it doesn't come back to haunt you later?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I think my personal life has been an open book. I've been there for a long time and I've been out there for a long time. People know me.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) But there is something most people don't know about this high-rolling, fast living man about town.

(Trump in casino)

Mr. TRUMP: I've never done drugs, I've never had a cigarette, I've never had a glass of alcohol.

PHILLIPS: Not a single drink?

Mr. TRUMP: I've literally never had a glass of alcohol, and I'm proud of it. I had an older brother who had difficulties with alcohol and frankly, he was in a certain way, perhaps my greatest teacher. And because of that, I've never had a drink. And because of him, also, I've never had a cigarette. But I do like beautiful women.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) And being seen with beautiful women.

(Snapshot of Trump in group of beautiful women)

PHILLIPS: You've been divorced twice.

Mr. TRUMP: But two wives that like me.

PHILLIPS: Two wives that like you. And you admit that you enjoy the company of young, beautiful women. How's that going to play with the voters in this post-Monica era?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I think Monica did not play. You know, they say, that if Clinton had a supermodel he would have been everybody's hero. I don't know if I agree with that.

PHILLIPS: If you do make it to the White House, will there be a First Lady?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, there could be very easily and we will see, but that's certainly not a priority.

PHILLIPS: Any prospects on the horizon?

Mr. TRUMP: I better not comment. That one could get me in trouble. Beyond anything else, that one could get me in trouble.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) The woman Trump's been seeing for the past year is not surprisingly, a model, Milani Kinnaus. We rode with them on their way out for a night on the town.

(Photo of Trump with Milani Kinnaus; Stone Phillips in car with Trump and Canelf)

PHILLIPS: How did you meet Donald?

Ms. MILANI KINNAUS: We met him at the party one year ago.

Mr. TRUMP: She thought I was the best looking man she'd ever seen and she had to have me.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) And if he had to have a First Lady?

(Group in car)

PHILLIPS: If drafted, would you serve as First Lady in the White House.


PHILLIPS: See, I'm getting you into trouble, Donald.

Mr. TRUMP: She would be some First Lady, wouldn't she.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) Especially if she could lend in the hand on the campaign trail.

(Trump in group signing autographs)

PHILLIPS: If you're going to run for president, you got to shake a lot of hands and you make no secret of the fact that you don't like to shake hands with people you don't know because you're afraid of the germs.

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I'm not a big fan of shaking hands...

PHILLIPS: How are you going to run for office and not press the flesh?

Mr. TRUMP: Maybe we'll change something there. Look, if I have to do it, I do it. I'm not a big fan, that when I'm having dinner, and I'm eating, and I'm ready to pick up a roll or something, and a guy walks out of a bathroom and says, Mr. Trump, I'm a big fan of yours, can I shake your hand? Now the good news is you don't eat the roll, that's the good news, OK? Because it's always positive. But, you know, I am not a big fan of the handshake. I think it's barbaric. They have medical reports all the time. Shaking hands, you catch colds, you catch the flu, you catch it, you catch all sorts of things. Who knows what you don't catch?

PHILLIPS: If you hit the campaign trail, will you shake hands?

Mr. TRUMP: I will be shaking hands.

PHILLIPS: Will you kiss babies?

Mr. TRUMP: I'd kiss babies, well, kissing babies isn't so bad. I'd much rather do that than shake hands.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) When you think about it, other than catching a few extra colds, what's Trump really got to lose? The president's got a limo and famous friends. He even gets to hang out with beautiful women. But there is one thing Trump might miss if he pulls off the political upset of the century and changes his address from the Tower that bears his name, to the house that never will.

(Trump leaving building; Clinton's limo; Clinton among friends; Clinton with women; scanning Trump Tower; White House)

PHILLIPS: If you take a $ 20 bill out here, and we look on the back of it, there it is, the White House. Now, as I count them there are two floors in the White House. When's the last time you lived on the second floor of any building?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, it's been a while, it's been a while, but it's still a very beautiful building isn't it?


PHILLIPS: Trump says he'll announce whether or not he's running in a few months, right about the time his new book is scheduled to hit the stores. By the way, after the interview, Trump shook my hand.

Announcer: This is DATELINE Wednesday for October 6th, with reports tonight from chief consumer correspondent, Lea Thompson, Hota Kotbe and Keith Morrison.

Coming up, those products you see on TV infomercials, ever wanted to put them to the test before you buy?

LEA THOMPSON reporting: This is a mess.

Announcer: Which ones work and which ones don't? The answer may surprise you in a DATELINE Good Housekeeping exclusive.


STONE PHILLIPS: A pleasure cruise to an exotic place—for millions of Americans it's the perfect getaway.

(Voiceover) This year a record six million people are expected to cruise to an ocean vacation. The cruise industry has an outstanding safety record. But what happens when there's danger at sea?

(Passengers aboard pleasure cruise; rescue helicopter above cruise liner)

Unidentified Rescue Officer: It looks like air rescue is just arriving.

PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) You may remember seeing this, a ship in flames near Miami last year. All the passengers were brought safely to shore. Tonight, the story of another fire on board. It too was put out safely. So why is the anger still burning.

(Ship in flames; passengers aboard ship)

Ms. JOY HUNTEN: I was just appalled. That is the kind of stuff that people shouldn't be allowed to get away with.

PHILLIPS: The story coming up on DATELINE.


Announcer: You're watching DATELINE, winner of five Edward R. Murrow awards for excellence in broadcast journalism. More than any other news magazine.

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