Remember when Donald Trump left the Republican Party?
The first time, that is, not when he stormed out of the GOP again in late 2011.
In late October 1999, Trump announced he was quitting the Republicans to consider running for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination. “I really believe the Republicans are just too crazy right,” he said.
Trump was especially interested in derailing — and smearing — Pat Buchanan, who was making the same party switch that day. Unlike Trump, Buchanan was actually a conservative — or, in Trump’s telling, a representative of the “really staunch right wacko vote.”
“Look, he’s a Hitler lover,” Trump said of Buchanan. “I guess he’s an anti-Semite. He doesn’t like the blacks, he doesn’t like the gays.”
It’s unlikely that Trump ever read any of Buchanan’s books, or even looked at the pictures. Perhaps he once colored one in, trying very hard to stay inside the lines. Buchanan was then three years removed from winning the New Hampshire primary and some 3 million Republican votes.
Back in 1999, years before BuzzFeed‘s McKay Coppins ate bison or Breitbart‘s Matt Boyle ate liberals, Trump wasn’t trying to rally conservatives. He was pro-choice, though conflicted about it: “I’m totally pro-choice. I hate it and I hate saying it. And I’m almost ashamed to say that I’m pro-choice, but I am pro-choice because I think we have no choice.”
Trump also favored a one-time 14.25 percent wealth tax on the super-rich to pay down the national debt. “The economy would boom,” he vowed. “We’d have no debt. Hey, I know about debt probably as much as anybody.”
“I can’t think of a better idea to cause capital flight out of the United States,” Buchanan told the New York Times.
This was Trump’s greatest presidential campaign. He was the candidate of Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Today Ventura is a washed-up former professional wrestler who occasionally turns up in public badly dressed and muttering 9/11 conspiracy theories. But back then, he was governor of Minnesota. As the Reform Party’s most senior elected official, he was the country’s best shot for creating a viable third party.
So naturally Reform Party founder Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire and two-time presidential candidate, wanted to kick Ventura and his supporters out of the party. They had some differences of opinion about trade and immigration, and also vastly different styles.
Mostly, Perot just wanted to run the political party instead of Ventura. Since he had no apparent desire to ever run for president again, it wasn’t really clear what he wanted to do with this political party. But when you are a billionaire, you get used to having whatever you want without having to really justify it to anybody.