If one were drawing up a list of Donald Trump’s first principles of business, “Fake it ’Til You Make It” would probably be at the top. One of the young Trump’s more clever business tactics involved hiring workers and machines to push dirt around his frequently stalled or underfunded real-estate developments to present visiting potential investors with the illusion of industry. And he has developed a long-running reflex to offer unsolicited — and largely unverifiable — assessments of the strength and virility of his portfolio to anybody who will listen, perhaps in an effort to erase memories of the four (and counting) bankruptcies to which he was a party.
This habit of projecting the appearance of success is on full display in the Donald’s sideshow flirtation with a Republican presidential bid. Just as he did with his ultimately doomed 2000 Reform Party bid, Trump appears to have shrewdly taken stock of the political moment, identifying the most passionate cross-section of voters in the American electorate and undertaking a media blitzkrieg to convince them that he’s one of them. Most cynically he has taken on the Birther mantle, going further than any contender in questioning the circumstances of the president’s birth, and making the (again unverified) claim that he has dispatched gumshoes to Hawaii to investigate. With an underwhelming, wide-open GOP field and a starting advantage in name-recognition, Trump has even been able to catch some early polling momentum, and has assured us that he knows “many people at the White House” who say he is “the last person [President Obama] wants to run against.”
In other words, Fake It ’Til You Make It. But make no mistake, conservatives, Donald Trump is not one of you. Don’t believe it? Listen to the man.
Trump says he has found the light on abortion, and now describes himself as ardently pro-life. But it wasn’t always so. He told Fox News in 1999 “I’m totally pro-choice,” And later that year told the Associated Press he believed abortion was a “personal decision that should be left to the women and their doctors.” And even his newfound respect for life is undermined by a naïve view of the Constitution: When NBC’s Savannah Guthrie asked Trump on April 19 whether he thought there was a right to privacy in the Constitution, Trump replied: “I guess there is, I guess there is. And why, just out of curiosity, why do you ask that question?”
Though he now advocates repeal of Obamacare, the Trump of yesteryear was, by his own admission, “very liberal when it comes to health care.” “I believe in universal health care,” he told Larry King in October of 1999. In The America We Deserve Trump advocated government-administered exchanges that would be the “equivalent of single-payer.” He said that while “working out detailed plans will take time . . . the goal should be clear: Our people are our greatest asset. We must take care of our own. We must have universal health care.”
The last time he considered a presidential run, Trump advocated a one-time, 14.25 percent tax on the net worth of all individuals and estates worth over $10 million. The levy, he said at the time, would have raised $5.7 trillion which he would have used to eliminate (!) the national debt and shore up the Social Security trust fund. Trump rejected the notion that the soak would hurt the economy, predicting a 35 percent boost in economic activity as a result of eliminating the debt. “It would not be a shock to the system,” he said. Trump stands by his plan as the right solution for the times, telling a reporter in Florida “It would have been a beautiful thing to do. But the world is different.”
Think Trump is a champion of laissez-faire? Think again. In 2008 he told Neil Cavuto that we couldn’t let any of the “Big Three” auto companies fail. “I think the government should stand behind them 100 percent,” he said. “You cannot lose the auto companies.”
In The America We Deserve, Trump advocated “diverting money” from nascent missile-defense technology. “The question isn’t whether or not such a defense can be built,” he wrote. “The question is whether it is the right defense for our times. And I believe the answer is, largely, no.”
Though Trump writes that he is “generally” opposed to gun control, he also says he supports a ban on assault weapons and lengthening the waiting period required before purchasing a handgun.
The Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision construes the Fifth Amendment to allow governments to force property owners off their land if a new tenant would mean increased tax revenue. Trump has more than once teamed up with municipalities in an attempt to gut property rights, most egregiously to push an elderly widow off the Atlantic City property she’d owned for 30 years, and which Trump wanted to turn into a limousine parking lot. It should be no surprise, then, that Trump told Neil Cavuto that he agrees with Kelo “100 percent.”
Bush and Obama
In a TV interview shortly after the 2008 presidential election, at the height of Obama euphoria, Trump lavished praise on the president-elect and slammed outgoing President Bush as “evil.” “I think he has a chance to go down as a great president,” Trump said of Obama. “I think he’s going to lead through consensus.” Bush, by contrast, he described as “maybe the worst president in the history of this country,” who was “so incompetent, so bad, [and] so evil.”
The twice-divorced Trump reflects on his marriage to first wife Ivana in Surviving at the Top, published in 1990, expressing regret that he didn’t divorce sooner. “Why had I hung in there so long when things were just not what they should have been?” he asked. “It’s very uncharacteristic of me to act that way; I’m not one to let problems fester.” Trump also admitted to briefly considering an “open marriage” arrangement, before deciding it was too “tawdry.”
In 1999, with free trade enjoying the support of a vast coalition of mainstream liberals and conservatives, Trump sided with the Buchanans and Naders of the world in continued opposition to NAFTA. “The reason NAFTA looks okay now,” Trump told Larry King, “is because the economy is strong, but when the economy is not strong, which, unfortunately, will at some point happen, NAFTA is going to look like a disaster.”
To this day Trump supports economic protectionism vis-à-vis China. In a Fox News interview from April of this year, Trump repeated his advocacy of a 25 percent tariff on Chinese imports, and said he’d “love to have a trade war with China.”
— Daniel Foster is news editor of National Review Online.