Trumpology: A Master Class
Susan Glasser is editor of Politico. Michael Kruse is a senior staff writer for Politico.
The personality that looms largest over the 2016 campaign did not emerge on the political scene as an unknown. In fact, Donald Trump might be one of the most deeply studied presidential candidates ever. Beginning in the early 1990s, as the real estate mogul dealt with corporate calamities, and until last year, when he descended the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy, a half-dozen serious biographies have been written about a man who has imprinted himself on American culture in towering gold letters. But those biographies—which dig into Trump’s family history, his early business successes and later financial disasters, his tabloid sex scandals and the television showmanship that saved him—had largely receded into the depths of Amazon’s bestseller list. Now those books—which have not always been to Trump’s liking; he sued one of the authors unsuccessfully for libel—have become precious source material for those eager to explain Trump’s surge toward the GOP nomination.
Want to know where Trump inherited his entrepreneurial bent? Gwenda Blair traces it to his grandfather, who ran a series of restaurants in the Klondike that featured some of the best food in town, as well as private areas where “sporting ladies” could “entertain” miners. Who was really doing the deals that made Trump famous? Wayne Barrett will tell you the only signature that really mattered on a contract belonged to Trump’s father, Fred. What broke up Trump’s first marriage? Harry Hurt III writes that Ivana “confided to female friends that Donald had difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection.” How did a man who came perilously close to personal financial ruin sell himself as a master dealmaker? By exaggerating everything, including his net worth, which Timothy O’Brien revealed was far less than advertised. And if you wonder what now drives Trump’s pursuit of the White House, Michael D’Antonio has argued it’s the same deep neediness he felt as a child and that has fueled every business deal and attention-chasing stunt since then.
In early March, Politico Magazine convened these five Trumpologists: Barrett, a longtime Village Voice reporter; Blair, a bestselling author; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist D’Antonio; Hurt, an author and videographer; and O’Brien, a writer and editor at Bloomberg. They gathered, together for the first time, for a discussion at Trump Grill, a restaurant in the atrium of Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan—where Trump lives and his company is based. Moderated by Politico Editor Susan Glasser and senior writer Michael Kruse and presented in edited form below, the conversation ranged from the emotional wounds that drive Trump to the roots of his demagoguery to his alleged ties to the mob. The rest of the media might still be struggling to explain Trump’s political rise, but these five writers saw his ambition—and ego—from the very early days. Here’s how Trump the candidate came to be.
Michael Kruse: I’d like to start talking about Donald by talking about Fred Sr. and going back to the very beginning, to Jamaica Estates [the Queens neighborhood where Donald grew up]. What do people need to know? What should we know about Donald because of his father, because of that relationship?
Harry Hurt III: I ran into Fred at Coney Island, with his secretary-mistress, one day, and he usually went to a place called Gargiulo’s down in that area. But that was closed that day, and so I was with my researcher and we tailed them over to the original Nathan’s hot dog stand. Donald was flying somewhere at the time, and we overheard Fred wipe some mustard off his lip, like this here, and he said, “I hope his plane crashes.” And I looked at my researcher, and I said, “Did you hear what I just heard?” He said, “Yes, I did.” I said, “Well, that’s my man. That’s Fred. The apple don’t fall far from the tree.” ...