Adonis Diaries

Trumpology: A Master Class

Posted on: May 2, 2016

Trumpology: A Master Class

The personality that looms largest over the 2016 campaign did not emerge on the political scene as an unknown.

In fact, Donald Trump might be one of the most deeply studied presidential candidates ever.

Beginning in the early 1990s, as the real estate mogul dealt with corporate calamities, and until last year, when he descended the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy, a half-dozen serious biographies have been written about a man who has imprinted himself on American culture in towering gold letters.

But those biographies—which dig into Trump’s family history, his early business successes and later financial disasters, his tabloid sex scandals and the television showmanship that saved him—had largely receded into the depths of Amazon’s bestseller list.

Now those books—which have not always been to Trump’s liking; he sued one of the authors unsuccessfully for libel—have become precious source material for those eager to explain Trump’s surge toward the GOP nomination.

Want to know where Trump inherited his entrepreneurial bent?

Gwenda Blair traces it to his grandfather, who ran a series of restaurants in the Klondike that featured some of the best food in town, as well as private areas where “sporting ladies” could “entertain” miners.

Who was really doing the deals that made Trump famous? Wayne Barrett will tell you the only signature that really mattered on a contract belonged to Trump’s father, Fred.

What broke up Trump’s first marriage? Harry Hurt III writes that Ivana “confided to female friends that Donald had difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection.”

How did a man who came perilously close to personal financial ruin sell himself as a master dealmaker? By exaggerating everything, including his net worth, which Timothy O’Brien revealed was far less than advertised.

And if you wonder what now drives Trump’s pursuit of the White House, Michael D’Antonio has argued it’s the same deep neediness he felt as a child and that has fueled every business deal and attention-chasing stunt since then.

John Bernson shared this link

I think we all know that Trump Is a huckster and a fraud. This story gives us the gory details. Definitive dirt.

There are five people who’ve gone deeper on The Donald than anyone else alive.|By Susan Glasser

In early March, Politico Magazine convened these five Trumpologists: Barrett, a longtime Village Voice reporter; Blair, a bestselling author; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist D’Antonio; Hurt, an author and videographer; and O’Brien, a writer and editor at Bloomberg.

They gathered, together for the first time, for a discussion at Trump Grill, a restaurant in the atrium of Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan—where Trump lives and his company is based.

Moderated by Politico Editor Susan Glasser and senior writer Michael Kruse and presented in edited form below, the conversation ranged from the emotional wounds that drive Trump to the roots of his demagoguery to his alleged ties to the mob.

The rest of the media might still be struggling to explain Trump’s political rise, but these five writers saw his ambition—and ego—from the very early days. Here’s how Trump the candidate came to be.


Michael Kruse: I’d like to start talking about Donald by talking about Fred Sr. and going back to the very beginning, to Jamaica Estates [the Queens neighborhood where Donald grew up]. What do people need to know? What should we know about Donald because of his father, because of that relationship?

Harry Hurt III: I ran into Fred at Coney Island, with his secretary-mistress, one day, and he usually went to a place called Gargiulo’s down in that area. But that was closed that day, and so I was with my researcher and we tailed them over to the original Nathan’s hot dog stand. Donald was flying somewhere at the time, and we overheard Fred wipe some mustard off his lip, like this here, and he said, “I hope his plane crashes.” And I looked at my researcher, and I said, “Did you hear what I just heard?” He said, “Yes, I did.” I said, “Well, that’s my man. That’s Fred. The apple don’t fall far from the tree.”

Michael D’Antonio: Gwenda, you met with him?

Gwenda Blair: The first time I met Fred was at FAO Schwarz, when Trump was launching Trump The Game, and Donald was sitting at a table, autographing boxes of the game, which is sort of like Monopoly only with Trump all over it, and there was a line out the door, down the street. There was an elderly gent in a faded raincoat, sitting over on the side, that I knew was Fred Trump, so I went over and talked to him. This was in about the early ’90s, and he was semi-out-of-it at that time.

The other occasion I talked to him was at City Hall, during some of the hearings about what was going to be Trump City [a controversial Trump development on the Upper West Side]. He whipped out a picture of Donald in his wallet, when Donald was very young. I think he was with his dad, and maybe he was in his early 20s. And he showed me that that’s his son, as if I wouldn’t have known who his son was. Was he living in the past? I don’t know, but he was, again, humble, seeming to me that he wanted to be there, didn’t want to get out ahead of his son. And I think this was a very diminished old age, obviously, and there was something very touching about it, actually, when he was sitting there, and very much at odds with everything I had learned over the years about his dad’s MO.

Kruse: Which was what?

Blair: Be a killer.

Timothy L. O’Brien: Hard-driving.

Blair: Hard-driving, never give up, never bog down, double down, all of that stuff.

O’Brien: Fred Jr. [Donald’s brother] was scared of him.

Blair: Fred Jr. was scared to death, and I talked to kids who grew up with them, who went to school with Fred Jr. and Donald. They said the old man was like a terror.

D’Antonio: The one telling story I heard about the father was from Major Dobias at the New York Military Academy [which Donald attended], whose main assessment of Fred was that he was very German, and by that he meant really tough, really demanding and cold.

I think everybody is always wondering about what is the original wound, you know, what caused that hole that Louis C.K. talks about that Donald is trying to fill up, and part of it is shaped like a father figure. I don’t know that he even recognizes it. Does Donald use any word other than “tough” to talk about his dad? I mean, that’s the word he used with me over and over again. He was tough. He was tough. He was tough.

Blair: Demanding.

D’Antonio: Demanding, right, or in Harry’s book, where he talks about the father murmuring to these children, “You’re a killer. You’re a king”—you know, this is fatherly love in the Trump universe, and it seems almost disturbed to me.

Wayne Barrett: Fred was the consummate state capitalist, just like his son. Everything he did was subsidized either by the Federal Housing Administration or the state Mitchell-Lama housing program. And so political connections were all that mattered to him. I mean, that was the key to success, and Donald inherited that, and he inherited the connections for himself.

Hurt: They were Democratic, weren’t they, largely?

Barrett: Right. Out of the Madison Club in Brooklyn. I went to see Joe Sharkey, who—

Hurt: That wasn’t his real name, was it?

Barrett: Yeah. Joe Sharkey.

Barrett: He was the county leader of Brooklyn in the ’50s, and so I asked him, “When did you first see Fred at the FHA?” And he said, “I went down to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural, and after the inaugural I went over to the FHA, and Fred was already there.”

D’Antonio: Wow.

Barrett: So Fred was on top of every loose dollar or possible subsidy, and he was devouring it.

But, you know, this debate that Marco Rubio stirred, about whether or not Fred bequeathed $200 million to Donald, I think this is the whole point. I don’t believe it’s true, but I think it misses the point, and I think it’s a point that almost all of our books make, is that all of the original deals—Fred had to come in and sign the bank documents. None of them could have been done without Fred’s signature.

O’Brien: The Grand Hyatt [a New York hotel Donald Trump bought and refurbished in the 1970s] was co-signed.

Barrett: Yeah. I tell the tale about how Fred has to come to the closing in Atlantic City, and he’s against Donald going into Atlantic City. But he goes to the closing, they sit up there and sign all the documents with all the mob guys, you know, to buy all the leaseholds. And Fred and Donald leave and they go down to the limo, and somebody upstairs realizes that Fred missed one document. And they call out the window for Fred to come back, because they’re not going to do a deal with Donald.

I mean, I had his tax returns at that time. We got them—probably Tim got them—from the [New Jersey] Division of Gaming Enforcement, and Donald was worth nothing. He was worth nothing. Even the $35 million credit line that they started with for Trump Tower was signed by Fred.

O’Brien: So this whole notion that he’s said a lot—that, “Oh, I got a million dollars from my father”—that’s just pure hokum. His father’s political connections and his financial connections launched him, kept him supported. His father bought $3.5 million worth of chips at Trump Castle [the Atlantic City hotel and casino] when the bonds were coming due, to keep him afloat so he could make a bond payment. He inherited, probably conservatively, over $150 million from Fred, so that’s more than $1 million, just for the record.


Susan Glasser: My question is going back to the family, the narcissism. Is Donald the first and only one we’ve turned up so far?
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