Donald Trump in his office, Midtown Manhattan, Nov. 17. (Photo: Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)
Donald Trump is already planning his palace on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Whether or not his campaign is successful, the Republican billionaire will have a presence on the street where America’s president lives. Trump is currently building a Washington, D.C., hotel about a half mile from the White House. When Yahoo News visited his New York City office on Tuesday afternoon, he was discussing the property with one of his closest advisers, his daughter Ivanka.
Trump’s D.C. hotel isn’t scheduled to open until next year in the historic Old Post Office Pavilion. Yet, in his characteristic way, Trump has already made his presence felt in the nation’s capital. Outside the construction site, there’s a massive billboard that reads “COMING 2016: TRUMP.” With the candidate in the midst of shaking up the Republican presidential primary race, this advertisement and its potential double meaning has attracted quite a bit of attention.
“It’s kind of phenomenal, right?” Ivanka said of the sign. “We were joking it’s probably the only project on Pennsylvania that’s ever been ahead of schedule and under budget. … We’ll keep it that way. A few months to go.”
But on Tuesday afternoon, the pair were discussing one feature of the project.
“I don’t think the lighting is going to go through solid marble” Trump observed, as Ivanka elegantly leaned over his desk and pointed at a series of photos depicting various possibilities.
“It’s a light panel system,” Ivanka explained. “It goes through solid marble and actually decently well, but it makes everything else black.”
Trump gave his approval.
“Honey, just do it. It’s the right way,” Trump said to his daughter. “You always backlight.”
Indeed, backlit marble is emblematic of the brand Trump has built for himself as a real estate developer and reality television star. Bold. Brash. Luxe.
Trump has brought his trademark swagger to his presidential campaign. He shocked the political establishment and liberals around the country by becoming a frontrunner after barging into the Republican primary in June with over-the-top insults for his opponents and controversial policy pronouncements for the public at large.
This no-holds-barred approach was on full display in a wide-ranging interview with Yahoo News on Tuesday. During the discussion, Trump weighed in on the presidential race, calling Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., “a communist” and hinting at his plans to go after Hillary Clinton, should he win the nomination. He also discussed the “unthinkable” security measures he believes will be necessary to monitor America’s Muslims in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the “safe space” and racism controversies on college campuses, and his favorite parts of Latino culture. The conversation concluded with Trump playing a word association game where he shared his opinions on Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian and Charlie Sheen, among others.
Though he stayed true to his ostentatious brand, Trump initially tried to strike a humble note when he assessed his chance of victory.
“I always want to think of myself as an underdog. I never want to think of myself as even leading,” Trump said, before breaking his momentarily modest stride a breath later. “I am leading. I’m leading substantially.”
Trump pointed to a pair of new polls that were released Tuesday. Morning Consult showed him with a 19-point lead in the GOP primary nationwide.A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that, in the wake of last week’s Paris attacks, voters were split between Trump and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton as the candidates best prepared to deal with terrorism (though Clinton had the edge). These numbers come after a brief spell in which Trump saw his average standing in Republican primary polls dip, as former neurosurgeon Ben Carson rose in the ranks.
Campaign headquarters in the Trump Tower, Midtown Manhattan, Nov. 17. (Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)
Early states’ polls also continue to show good news for Trump. The most recent polls in the first two primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire, all show Trump ahead. But while he has shouted these numbers from the rooftops, he also says he tried not to focus on them.
He uncharacteristically stumbled a bit while trying to explain the contradiction between how he promotes himself and the mentality he is trying to maintain to secure a victory.
“I’m leading everywhere. I still — I don’t — I don’t even think about it,” Trump said. “I just put my head down and get to — you know, I know how to win and I like to win.”
Trump finally settled on an explanation he found satisfactory.
“Well, look, right now I’m the favorite, let’s face it,” Trump said. “I mean, you know, I can be as politically correct as possible, but every poll says I’m winning by a lot. So, I’m the favorite, but I don’t like to think of myself as the favorite. I guess that’s a better way of saying it.”
Trump suggested some of his rivals who are not performing as well have the wrong mindset.
“A lot of people don’t like to win. They actually don’t know how to win and they don’t like to win because down deep inside they don’t want to win,” Trump said. “It’s a deep, deep secret, but they don’t want to win and they don’t think they should be there. And we have some people that are very good and we have some people that shouldn’t be wasting a lot of time, including their own time.”
Trump’s audacious style and his improbable rise leave him with little patience for his weakest opponents.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal dropped out of the race a few hours after Yahoo talked with Trump, leaving 14 people still vying for the Republican nomination. Trump would like to see the GOP take action to thin the herd even more.
In particular, Trump singled out former New York Gov. George Pataki as someone who no longer belongs in the primary.
“You know, honestly, I think the party should take guys like Pataki … guys like Pataki who couldn’t get elected, you know, to anything right now — he’s got zero in the polls — and some others, they should not be allowed to go forward,” declared Trump, adding, “They haven’t even filed in certain states.”
Asked about Trump’s comments, Pataki spokesman Dave Catalfamo accused Trump of having “an unnatural obsession with Pataki.”
“I don’t understand his unhealthy obsession with Pataki, but he should focus on his own circus, carnival, campaign or whatever he calls it,” Catalfamo said.
But for Trump, jabs at Pataki aren’t gratuitous political violence. Elbowing the lesser candidates out of the way could mean their undercard debates will stop taking time on the national stage away from Trump.
“It’s really, I think, very unfair to the rest of the candidates because we all want more airtime,” said Trump. “I mean, I’ve been really happy with the debates. I’ve obviously done well in the debates because, since the last debate, I’ve gone even higher. And I’ve enjoyed the whole debate process, but frankly, I think, you know, more time should be given.”
Brutal attacks on his Republican rivals have been a hallmark of Trump’s candidacy. Last Thursday, Trump called Carson ‘“pathological” and compared him to a “child molester.” Trump has mocked businesswoman Carly Fiorina’s physical appearance and called Ohio Gov. John Kasich “desperate.”
Trump has also relentlessly bashed Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, calling him “low energy,” and needling him for the way his brother, former President George W. Bush, led the nation to war in Iraq. This assault preceded a drop in the polls for Bush, who was once seen as the inevitable and invincible Republican frontrunner. Trump also has taken credit for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker making surprisingly early exits.
Trump says he’s not taking his eyes off the Republican primary yet, but he expects Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination — and he’s bullish about his ability to take her out, too, when the time comes.
“I haven’t put my sights on Hillary yet. We have 15 people in the race. We had 17. We have 15 people in the race and my sole focus is the 15 people right now,” Trump said. “When I put my sights on Hillary like I did various other people who are now gone, I think that Hillary will fail and I think she’ll fail badly. She’ll fail on her record. I don’t think she has the strength. I don’t think she has the stamina to be president. I don’t think she has the strength or the stamina to be president.”
As for Clinton’s main Democratic rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Trump dismissed him as “over.”
Campaign staffers at Manhattan’s Trump Tower. (Photo: Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)
Trump claimed Sanders “lost” when he failed to attack Clinton during the Democratic debate last month for the controversy over her use, as secretary of state, of a private email account. At that forum, Sanders had one of the most widely talked about moments of the evening when he said people want to discuss other issues and are “sick and tired of hearing about” Clinton’s “damn emails.”
“He had a great opportunity to do some serious damage, and in order to be politically correct, and in order to be nice, and in order to get a good sound bite that lasted about 10 seconds with the applause — it wasn’t even a very big applause — he gave up the whole email scandal,” Trump said of Sanders. “He just lost the election right there. He just lost his election. No. He’s gone. He’s gone now.”
Trump also had harsh words for comments Sanders made in the most recent Democratic debate, which focused on the terror attacks that killed 129 people in Paris on Nov. 13. On a stage in Des Moines Saturday, Sanders declared “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” Trump described Sanders’ remarks as “off the wall,” though the Defense Department in 2014 issued a report predicting climate change would act as a “threat multiplier” that would exacerbate the risk of terrorism. In fact, Trump said, Sanders, who describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” isn’t really a Democrat at all.
“I think he’s a communist. I think he’s actually a communist with a socialistic bent,” said Trump, adding: “Anybody that would say that the Paris attacks were caused by global warming, there’s something missing. Even the most ardent global-warming believers aren’t buying that one.”
Trump’s presidential bid has been built on three things: verbal missiles aimed at his opponents, bold promises and controversial policies, including calling for a massive wall along the Mexican border.
Physically, Trump’s campaign is housed in a series of sparse, partially-constructed rooms with exposed ceilings in his Manhattan headquarters, Trump Tower. In typical Trump fashion, the walls of these offices are covered in massive pictures of his face and cocky slogans rendered in all capital letters: “THINK BIG AND KICK ASS,” “TRUMP POR PRESIDENTE,” and, of course, the campaign’s main motto, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”
Trump’s eponymous skyscraper is the epitome of his signature style. It’s on a marquee block on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and features pink marble, dramatic lighting, cascading waterfalls, gilded escalators, and, most importantly, massive golden letters on the outside bearing the Trump name. His corner office is on the 26th floor with a view of Central Park, walls festooned with his awards and framed magazine covers bearing his likeness. Trump holds court surrounded by trophies and gifts in a red leather chair that sits behind a massive desk piled high with paperwork.
Trump’s take on the Paris attacks fits with the rest of his doctrine. He’s promised to “bomb the shit out of” the jihadist group ISIS, which is based in Syria and has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Trump has also vowed to take an aggressive approach with Muslims here in the United States and suggested there should be a national effort to monitor mosques. He has spoken wistfully of the New York City Police Department’s mosque surveillance program, which was abandoned last year after generating substantial controversy.
Trump told Yahoo the architect of that program, former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, is someone he might think about for a position in a Trump presidential administration.
“Ray’s a great guy,” Trump said. “Ray did a fabulous job as commissioner and, sure, Ray would be somebody I’d certainly consider.”
After Paris, Trump said “security is going to rule” in the United States, in order to take on what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism.” America has currently agreed to take in 10,000 refugees from the ISIS stronghold in Syria. However, if he is elected, Trump said he would deport any Syrian refugees allowed to enter this country under President Obama.
“They’re going to be gone. They will go back. … I’ve said it before, in fact, and everyone hears what I say, including them, believe it or not,” Trump said of the refugees. “But if they’re here, they have to go back, because we cannot take a chance. You look at the migration, it’s young, strong men. We cannot take a chance that the people coming over here are going to be ISIS-affiliated.”
Yahoo News has reported that about half of the approximately 2,000 refugees from Syria who have come to the U.S. so far have been children. Another quarter are more than 60 years old. The Obama administration has maintained that the extensive screening process for these refugees makes the program safe to maintain — not to mention a reflection of America’s core values.
But Trump doesn’t buy it. He also has concerns about the larger Muslim community here in the U.S., he said.
Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.
“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”
Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.
“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”
Trump has never shied away from saying what he described in this instance as the “frankly unthinkable.” His campaign launch included a moment where he described immigrants from Mexico as “not the right people.” Trump would later warn that immigrants from south of the border included rapists and other criminals. These remarks sparked a national firestorm. At multiple points in his conversation with Yahoo News, Trump expressed exasperation with political correctness.
While critics have accused Trump of being racist, he predicts he will win both the Latino and the black vote.
Trump was a star athlete in high school and he played soccer. When asked whether he could recall relationships he had with Latinos and other minorities from his youth, Trump claimed he had “great relationships” with the “Hispanics” at his high school, the New York Military Academy, through the soccer team.
“I had great relationship with the Hispanic — we had a lot of Hispanics in the school actually from different countries, Venezuela, from Brazil, and they all played soccer, and I was on the soccer team and I developed great relationships with them,” Trump said. “Terrific people, terrific spirit, great spirit and some went on to success and some are no longer with us. I mean, they were literally killed in some of the, you know, tough areas.”
Trump also touted his poll numbers among Latino and African-American Republicans.
“I had great relationships with the Hispanics, always have had and I do today,” Trump said. “Don’t forget, I’m leading in Nevada with Hispanics. I’m leading in a lot of places with the Hispanics. People don’t realize that I’m also leading with the African-Americans big, and I think you’ll see some interesting stuff come out.”
Polls do show Trump leading among Republican primary voters in Nevada, which has a large Latino population. But multiple other polls show that Trump would lose the black vote in a general election matchup.
A hat from Donald Trump campaign headquarters. (Photo: Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)
So, what is Trump’s favorite aspect of Latino culture? When asked, he praised the Latino “spirit” — and used the opportunity to take another shot at Jeb Bush.
“Well, I like — I love the culture. I think the people have tremendous spirit. There’s a great energy that they have, the opposite of Jeb. There’s a great energy that they have, a tremendous, it’s a tremendous strength and energy,” Trump said. “You know, I have thousands of employees over the years, tens of thousands of employees, many have been Hispanic and they really are terrific to work with. And, frankly, I always look at it that I work with my employees as opposed to them working for me.”
Trump believes his lack of political correctness is a large part of what has helped him appeal to voters. He pointed this out when discussing the growing activism on college campuses where many students are calling for “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” to protect them from offensive commentary and disturbing educational content. Trump has no patience for this trend.
“It’s gotten out of control. It’s all gotten out of control. … First of all, you’re really tampering with freedom of speech when you do that. At the same time, it’s trying to be politically correct and that is so bad,” Trump said. “I think it’s one of the reasons I’m leading by so much in the polls, because we don’t have time to be so politically correct in this country and we have much bigger problems, as you can see.”
One of the main battlegrounds for the new college activism is the University of Missouri, where the school’s president and chancellor announced they would resign earlier this month. Their exits came after widespread protests of an alleged climate of racism at the school.
For his part, Trump thinks the school’s leaders made the wrong choice and that their departures will only encourage future student uprisings.
“Well, I thought that the people that resigned from University of Missouri were weak and ineffective people. I think they sent the absolutely wrong signal when they resigned so sheepishly. … It just showed such grotesque weakness and that just sent a signal to go out and do whatever you want to do, and now you’re going to see this problem all over,” Trump said.
Trump doesn’t believe there was racism on campus in Missouri. Still, if he led the school, he said he would stand up to both the demands of the protesters and any discriminatory behavior.
“I would have handled things differently. First of all, I would have made sure there was no discrimination or any of that — and I don’t think there was. But I happened to look at the list of demands, those demands were crazy,” Trump said. “Many of those demands were absolutely — not all — but many of those were absolutely over the top. And to watch these two men grovel and resign like two babies — whoever paid them in the first place?”
This is the Trump brand. Everything is big, loud, lit from the back. He’s has a showman’s lack of fear about weighing in on any issue with his unabashedly un-P.C. opinions. That’s part of the reason Yahoo News decided to close out our conversation with a little word association game where Trump shared the first thing or two that came to mind when we brought up a series of topics.
“Nice man,” said Trump.
“Monica Lewinsky,” Trump said with a satisfied smile.
Trump’s word for ISIS?
Trump had to think for a moment when asked about one of his primary rivals that he actually has a good relationship with, Sen. Ted Cruz.
“Supportive — very strong supporter of what I say,” Trump declared. “I’d say very supportive.”
He doesn’t have such kind words for Sen. Marco Rubio.
“A lightweight,” said Trump of Rubio.
And what about the world outside of politics? Trump still has plenty of opinions and is willing to share them all.
“Terrific,” said Trump.
“Sad,” Trump said.
“Good guy,” said Trump.
The only person in our conversation about whom Trump seemed to hold back was Kim Kardashian. When asked about her, he didn’t fire off a quick one- or two-word description.
“Well, look, she was so nice to me. I mean every time I see her she’s just — I’m just going to say she was always nice to me,” Trump said.
And what about himself? What is the one word he’d use to sum up the Trump brand?
“Make America great again,” Trump said, turning to his campaign slogan.
Before we left, Trump also offered three words for Yahoo News and the rest of the media.
“Treat me good,” he said.