When I asked President Trump about his practice of giving out hundred dollar tips to janitors and workmen, he became defensive.
“What tips? For who?” he said during an exclusive interview at Mar-a-Lago for my book “The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game.”
“People who help you,” I replied.
After more back and forth, Trump finally said, “I just like taking care of people. I love those people. I take care of the people. They take care of me, I take care of them.”
Trump, who said this is the only interview he has given or will give for a book as president, likes to project a tough guy image and never reveal this softer side of him.
For 26 years, Norma Foerderer was Donald Trump’s top aide. When she joined the Trump Organization in 1981, he had only seven other employees. No one knew so well both the personal and business side of Donald Trump.
In the only in-depth interview she ever gave, Foerderer, who has since died, told me there are two Donald Trumps: One is the Trump that appears to the public, making often outrageous comments on television to get attention for his brand and now his presidency; the other is the real Trump only insiders know. He listens without a touch of bravado.
That private Trump is “the dearest, most thoughtful, most loyal, most caring man,” Foerderer said.
Illustrating the difference between the public and private Trump, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce announced during the campaign that its members would be boycotting all Trump’s properties following his statements on illegal immigrants and his vow to build a wall across the entire Mexican border. But Trump subsequently met privately with Javier Palomarez, the chamber’s CEO.
“There were no bombastic statements of any sorts,” Palomarez said admiringly on CNN as he left the meeting. “It’s kind of interesting, the dichotomy between the private Donald Trump and the public Donald Trump. He listened a lot more than he spoke.”
When Trump came up with the idea of branding his condos and office buildings back in the 1980s, everyone in the real estate business thought he was nuts: Traditionally, obscure companies that no one had ever heard of sold and leased real estate.
But the Trump brand came to stand for quality, prestige and success. In the same way, Trump brands his presidency, marketing himself by making provocative comments to get attention. That brand consists of the tough-guy image Trump wants to project, never admitting a mistake or showing his softer side, keeping his emotions in check, always counterpunching when he is attacked, thus enhancing his power.
The fact that Melania Trump is a powerful influence in the White House is another example of Trump’s personal side that he doesn’t want out. She will sit in on meetings, summarize points others are making, and come up with her own strategy. Aides say her judgment is impeccable.
“Melania’s a good influence at keeping things focused on the main thing and not being in the weeds over a lot of small stuff,” former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told me for the book. “She has good political sense and comes down the right way on what the focus and agenda needs to be.”
Melania will give Trump articles to read, including negative ones, and she is not afraid to disagree with him.
At Mar-a-Lago one Saturday, Anthony P. Senecal, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago butler, opened the door at the main entrance to the estate to find Martha Stewart standing there. She had bicycled over to the club, and she asked if she could take a tour. Happy to oblige, Senecal asked her to return the next day at 3 p.m. when it would be convenient for Senecal, whom Trump eventually named the Mar-a-Lago historian.
When Trump came by later that day, Senecal told him about Martha Stewart and the tour he had set up for Sunday.
“Fine, just treat her right,” Trump said.
But hours later, Senecal went to see if Trump needed anything. He encountered his boss outside the master bedroom in what is known as the Pine Hall, a glittering antechamber with a crystal chandelier and murals that had once graced the walls of homes in France.
Without warning, Trump lit into the butler, screaming at him and calling him a “dumb ass
for scheduling the tour at 3 p.m. when workers would be shifting furniture around. Trump yelled that Senecal instead should have scheduled the tour for lunchtime, when well-heeled club members would be on hand to impress and be impressed by Martha Stewart. A perfectionist, Trump could not stand it when things were not done his way.
As her husband was tearing into Senecal, Melania entered the Pine Hall.
“I don’t think you should talk to Tony in that tone,” Melania said to Trump in her usual soft voice.
Trump never said another word about it. But the next morning when he and Senecal were in the mansion’s living room, Trump, without explanation, handed him $2,000 in twenties.
“It was his way of apologizing,” Senecal says.
Despite the occasional blistering tirades, Senecal says he loved working for Trump, who would act as if nothing had happened after delivering an attack. To be sure, giving his butler cash in twenties was strange, but, “Everything about Mr. Trump is strange,” Senecal says.
Senecal says Melania’s quiet comment and her husband’s later remorse are typical of her influence. Almost always, Melania delivers her advice in private, but occasionally, Senecal would pick up on their exchanges.
“Melania rules the roost,” Senecal says.
Ronald Kessler is the New York Times bestselling author of 21 non-fiction books, including “The First Family Detail” and “The Secrets of the FBI.” A former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, Kessler has won 18 journalism awards, including two George Polk Awards, one for national reporter and one for community service.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.