Despite Donald Trump’s best efforts, Republican National Convention–goers missed out on what could have been a very interesting video. The real-estate mogul tells me he filmed a five-minute commercial for Romney that featured the mogul saying “You’re fired!” to an actor with an uncanny resemblance to the president. The spot would have run at the convention, but the event’s schedulers ultimately decided to cut it. Trump says he thinks part of the reason for that was the hurricane, which changed the convention’s schedule. But he says Republicans also thought the spot might not have gone over well.
“Everybody thought it was great, but they were afraid to use it,” Trump says. “They thought it was too tough.”
“They didn’t want to rock the boat,” he adds, “and the problem with this country is nobody’s willing to rock the boat and everybody wants to be so politically correct.”
Trump also says he thinks the Romney campaign thought he was too controversial to be an asset in the general election. The star of The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice stumped for Romney in a handful of primary states and also made robocalls for him. But Romney’s campaign didn’t call Trump back once Romney won the nomination (a victory for which Trump takes partial credit). Not getting asked to make a repeat performance “was fine with me, because I do have lots of other things to do,” he adds, but he thinks he might have pushed Florida over to Romney in the general.
“I’m not unhappy about it,” he tells me, “but I think I would have made a very big difference for him, as I did in the primaries.”
And now, as the New York Post has reported, Trump is eyeing his own run at the presidency. While he’s far from making up his mind, he told me that “what’s happening with the country” will inform his decision-making process.
“Right now we’re a leaderless country,” he says. “Nothing’s going on, deals can’t be made, Congress is going in 15 different directions, and there’s nobody to steer them down the proper path. And it’s a very sad situation that’s taking place in the country, and that’s obviously one of the things I look at.”
Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, says the current Republican 2016 contenders have yet to impress Trump Tower. “He wouldn’t be unhappy if somebody great would just surface and help to rebuild America,” says Cohen. “He would be ecstatic. But that person’s not there, not in our current White House, and not in the cast of characters that appear to be the potential Republican nominees, and this is of concern to him.”
Trump adds that his work puts him at a disadvantage compared with other potential contenders. “It’s much more difficult for somebody like me to run than some politicians where all they do is run for office,” he says.
But the deck isn’t stacked entirely against him, he says. When I ask him if he is courting Republican leaders to lay groundwork for a campaign, he responds in the negative. “I don’t need funds,” he says. “I don’t need to raise money, like a lot of people, so that’s a big advantage if I decide to do something.”
But that’s not to say his life has been devoid of GOP politicos as of late. Two weeks ago, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) visited Trump’s office. It was the first time the two had met, Trump says. “I think he’s a terrific guy, and I support him fully,” he says. “I think he’s going to do fine. A lot of people are going to have tough elections. I think Mitch is going to come out great.”
Trump also is a strong supporter of Speaker John Boehner. “I know John Boehner very well, and I like John Boehner a lot. I think he’s got a very, very tough job, because he’s got factions within his own party that are pretty diametrically opposed to each other, but I think he’s got the right temperament, and I think he’s a terrific guy. He’s got to hold things together, and he’s been doing that.”
For now, though, Trump is keeping Republican insiders at arm’s length for the most part while he pays attention to data about his electoral prospects. “The candidates all want to see me,” he says. “I don’t go out of my way. Whatever it is, it is — I sort of view it that way.” He also tells me that all the potential 2016 contenders have sought his support because of his popularity with the American people. And he says Mitt Romney missed an opportunity by failing to capitalize on that popularity in 2012.
In 2016, America might find out just how big that base is.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.