Donald Trump charmed hundreds of suits Monday night at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Washington. It was the “Winter Dinner” for The Economic Club of Washington, D.C. Wearing a dark suit, one of his own Trump-branded blue striped ties and the infamous bird’s nest hairdo, he sat for an on-stage interview with club president David Rubenstein, who he periodically showered with compliments.
Rubenstein began with a burning question: “It’s rumored that you’re thinking of going to Iowa soon,” he said, alluding to Trump’s ongoing presidential aspirations.
In fact, he is. For politics and real estate.
Responding to his critics, he said, “A lot of people think I’m having fun with it or playing games. The country is in serious, serious trouble as you know.” He semi-pointedly answered the question, saying, “I love what I do. I would rather do what I’m doing than run for president. Unless I see someone outstanding, I’d be very inclined to do it.”
Trump’s bragging at this point is nearly an art form. He mentions his “big voice” and his “millions and millions” of followers on Twitter and Facebook.
He gets in a dig at a certain MSNBC host, saying he loves his work more than he does “getting abused by Chris Matthews.” (With that, he eyed Matthews’ wife, Kathleen Matthews, a Marriott exec sitting in the audience.)
All bullshit aside, Trump said he’ll decide in 2015 in March, April or May.
Trump travels with an entourage that includes a couple of tall, beefy security guys and Sam Nunberg. Some may remember Nunberg as the feisty aide who was fired last year after Trump got horrifically bad press in BuzzFeed at the hands of then-political editor McKay Coppins. (One can’t help but envision the scene where Trump might’ve said, “Nunberg, you’re fired!”) Coppins made Trump out to be the phoniest of non-presidential candidates and claimed he never has any intention of running for anything. Things got ugly. Trump fired back with a hit piece on Coppins that he bottle fed to Breitbart News‘ Matthew Boyle.
Nunberg was rehired some months later, his adoration for “Mr. Trump” intact.
Nowadays Trump acts like he barely knows who Coppins is. Asked if he ever thinks about Coppins and how he was portrayed in BuzzFeed, he tells me he barely talked to Coppins and would have no idea who he was even if I told him. “He’s just another phony guy,” he said. And again, just for reinforcement: “He’s just a phony guy.”
The greatness of Trump is he’s so authentically himself at all times that you don’t feel gipped or like he’s putting on an act. This is the act. He bulges with self-confidence — and he’s not remotely embarrassed about it. Words and phrases that always punctuate a Trump talk are as follows: 1. Anything he really likes is “phenomenal.” 2. Anything he’s accomplished in his life begins with,”It’s interesting…” 3. Someone he really doesn’t like is “pathetic.”
He’ll talk about his hair, his children, his clothing, bankruptcy accusations and what he’ll do in old age. Anything Rubenstein asked, he readily answered.
On his hair: “It is legitimately my hair,” he said, looking almost sad having to explain it again. “I’ve always combed it the same way. I get abused. It may not be beautiful, but it is mine.”
On his tie: “Yeah, this is actually a Trump tie,” he said, flipping it over. “These things are like steel. Anybody want it?”
On bankruptcy: He says he has used bankruptcy as a business tool. “I didn’t file for bankruptcy,” he said. “It’s a tool. I’ve never gone bankrupt.”
Rubenstein threw him a softball by asking Trump how he’s managed to raise children who don’t seem spoiled.
“It’s very complicated,” he said. “From the time they were two-years-old I would say ‘no drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes.’ I also say no tattoos but that seems to be failing.” He says he repeated the mantra when the children were 15.
On aging and someday retiring: He won’t retire — he refuses. “My father had an expression: To retire is to expire.” And Trump has no plans to expire. Mentioning the Old Post Office he purchased to build a $200 million hotel in Washington, which he refers to as part of the “tri-state area,” he says, “I can fix the Old Post Office instead of getting a facelift.”
Speaking of Washington hotels, he has a sweeping insult for this town. “I shouldn’t say this, but Washington doesn’t have the great luxury hotel it should. Everyone knows that,” he said. Trump’s name will indeed be etched on the building, “but it will be very, very small.”
What’s the best and worst part of being Donald Trump? He gushes about his life, family and wife: “I have had a good time in my life. I have a wonderful family and a wonderful wife.” But the best? “I really love what I do.” And the worst? “I can’t walk Manhattan.”
The dinner menu sounded sophisticated and filled with delicacies. Red and green oak lettuce served with roasted pear, candied pecans, dried cherry and truffle vinaigrette, followed by red onion beef tenderloin and a seared crab cake atop wild rice pilaf and baby carrots. And for dessert: ginger cheesecake.
But there’s no way Trump consumed this dreary meal.
The lettuce was wilting and if there was vinaigrette splashed on the leaves it went undetectable. The beef had a gamey, unpleasant flavor, the seared crab cake was sweaty and unremarkable. More edible than any other course was dessert. But even that was mildly disturbing. After a few bites of cheesecake with graham cracker crust, you got the distinct sense that sickness might come fast if you consumed the whole thing.
Trump closed the evening by taking questions from a small cluster of reporters who trailed behind him and his posse in the back of the ballroom. Trump was friendly and enthusiastically took our questions.
One reporter called out a name: “Jeb Bush!”
Trump didn’t waver. He declared, “This country does not need another Bush, that I can tell you.”