Is the White House Big Enough for Donald Trump?

Is the White House Big Enough for Donald Trump?
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Donald Trump will announce next month whether he will run for president, with an event most likely at Trump Tower in New York City. But, in Washington on Tuesday, the businessman and television personality was preoccupied with another project in the works.

Trump had just finished touring his luxury hotel project at the Old Post Office, a historic building a few blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, and he hated the ultra-modern design proposed for one of the hotel’s anchor restaurants.

“I just think it will look terrible,” Trump said, coming to a halt in an unfinished ground floor corridor. “Sometimes that works, the super modern and the super old. I’m not taking the chance.” 

“OK,” Trump said, shifting the discussion. “Let’s go talk about the world. The little things. This is the big thing.”

On the same day that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was in town to schmooze Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, hoping to build momentum for his all-but-certain presidential bid, Trump had a different agenda. After checking in on his property, Trump would headline a meet-and-greet with Elizabeth Dole and the military caregivers her foundation supports. Later, a spokeswoman confirmed that Trump gave a “spontaneous $100,000 contribution” at that event. 

“Elizabeth Dole came to see me, and as soon as she talked about the caregivers, I said, ‘Wow, that’s an amazing thing,’” Trump said, walking toward the construction offices nestled within the hotel exoskeleton.

A few minutes later, Trump noticed a layer of dust that had settled on his black patent leather shoes. “When I make the speech I’ll have dust all over me. We went through all the rooms.”

“Steve,” he added, turning to one of his executives, “those rooms are fantastic.” 

Trump refocused on the interview: “This is what I do. This is my real life.”

By “this,” of course, Trump meant business, not politics. On and off since 1999, when Trump announced to Larry King that he was forming an exploratory committee for president and would consider picking Oprah Winfrey as his running mate, running for president has been one of his side gigs. 

Except that Trump, twice before a would-be candidate, has never actually run. In early 2000, he announced on NBC’s “Today” show that he would not seek the presidency as a Reform Party candidate. “You could only win the whole thing with a totally unified party,” he said at the time.

When Trump once again toyed with running in 2011, this time as a Republican, he grabbed media attention by raising unfounded questions about President Obama’s birthplace. But Trump opted not to launch a campaign, saying he was “not ready to leave the private sector.” 

This time, he looks like a candidate. He has hired staff in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, in addition to his team in New York. His likely Iowa campaign director, Chuck Laudner, ran Rick Santorum’s winning campaign there in 2012. When polls include Trump, he scores well, outpacing some sitting state and federal lawmakers who can’t match his national name recognition. And Trump has made regular appearances in the key early primary states. 

But no one believes Trump will run, and he knows it.

When Trump traveled to Iowa last weekend for a GOP cattle call, he said, “People would come up and say, ‘Mr. Trump we’d love for you to run. We know you aren’t going to, but can we have a picture with you?’” 

“They take me seriously, they just don’t think I’m running,” Trump said. “So that’s easily solved. People are going to find out in June. All I have to do is say, ‘I’m running,’ and have a news conference and announce that I’m running.”

“And I will tell you,” he added, “I’ve already in my own mind very much made my decision.” 

Should Trump announce next month that he will seek the Oval Office, his campaign would look unlike any other. Whereas most candidates network with Iowans at Pizza Ranch restaurants, for example, Trump has invited state party activists onto his private jet.

Trump also suggested Tuesday that he is prepared to self-fund his campaign, saying he would not personally raise money for a super PAC, as Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are doing.

“I don’t need a super PAC, because I’ll spend my own money,” Trump said. “The problem with this country is, no politician makes a legitimate decision because they’re controlled by their donors and by their super PACs, and also they’re controlled by lobbyists.”

Asked how much of his own money he would be willing to invest in his campaign, Trump said he would spend “whatever is necessary.” 

After Trump bowed out of the 2012 election cycle, he published what he said was a complete financial disclosure, which put his net worth at roughly $7 billion, including an estimated brand worth of $3 billion. Should he announce his candidacy for president, Trump would need to file such a disclosure with the FEC, a move he says he is prepared to make.

But Trump might stand out most for his rhetoric, which is often aggressive and bombastic, light on policy details, and in stark contrast to that of many other Republicans — especially if he makes the cut for the Republican primary debates, which current polling suggests he would.

Whereas many Republicans have defended George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq based on the information he had available at the time, Trump on Tuesday described the current climate in Iraq as “a catastrophic situation that was caused by two presidents that didn’t know what the hell they were doing.” 

“I said don’t do Iraq. Don’t go into Iraq. I said it very strongly. That’s called vision,” Trump said. “These guys all wanted everything else, and they’re trying to get out of it gracefully. I said don’t do it in 2004.”

Indeed, Trump was on the record earlier than many Republicans in opposition to the war, telling the Dallas Morning News in July 2004: “Look, the war is a disaster. The war should not have been entered into.” 

Republicans, of course, will have plenty of Trump’s prior remarks to mine. In 2011, when the Wall Street Journal asked whether he would keep troops in the country for another year, he said: “I would take the oil.” 

Republican candidates aren’t attacking Trump because, like many voters and members of the media, they don’t think he’ll run, don’t take him seriously, or both. 

But for Trump, running for president is not unlike another real estate project. As he tried to explain why he would want to seek the presidency, he instead turned to mock-ups scattered about — of the hotel ballroom, then a conference room.

“If you walked in there right now, the ceilings were falling down six months ago. The beams were lying on the floor. The windows were falling out. And that’s what it’s going to look like,” he said animatedly. He pointed to a mock-up of a bathroom. “Right now, there are no bathrooms. That’s what I do. The ballroom doesn’t even exist, and right now it’s being built. The country has to be reenergized, a new spirit has to be given to the country, because it has no spirit.” 

“When was last time you saw the country win? When did we beat China or Mexico or Japan in a trade deal? We don’t beat anybody,” Trump continued. “And it’s so easy. It’s going to be such fun and it’s so easy.”

The restaurant design, however, was proving a trickier matter. As the interview concluded and Trump exited the building, an aide handed over a mock-up and Trump launched once more into his misgivings, leaving his side project for another time.

 

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at rberg@realclearpolitics.com.

 

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