Trump: I Represent Millions, I’m Very Handsome


trump2For Republican presidential hopefuls, the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are dominating travel schedules.

But a flashy office building in midtown Manhattan is also a key campaign stop in their packed timetables.

Newt Gingrich, the current Republican frontrunner, is the latest contender to visit Trump Tower to pay homage to “the Donald”, the flamboyant real estate mogul and host of America’s version of The Apprentice reality television show.

Mr Trump’s powerbroker role in the party’s presidential campaign is vexing many Republican grandees – not least as he continues to hold out the possibility that he might launch an independent bid for White House next year.

And in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, he was typically immodest about why his endorsement is such a highly-coveted prize for those who would be president.

“I’m very handsome, it’s my looks,” deadpanned Mr Trump, 65, who is as famous for his extravagantly combed hair as his outspoken views and “You’re fired” television catchphrase.

Then he continued with his usual swagger: “It’s because I represent the millions of Americans who wanted me to run and who are tired of this country getting ripped off by China and OPEC [the Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries] and the rest of the world. We’re a laughing stock – run by stupid people.

“They see me as someone who wouldn’t allow this to happen. The candidates want my endorsement because those millions of Americans listen to me and respect me.”

Mr Trump, who has just published a new book, Time To Get Tough: Making America Number One Again, which excoriates Mr Obama and reads very much like a campaign manifesto, cites two pieces of evidence to back up his claims of political influence.

He topped opinion polls earlier this year among Republicans when he said he was considering a run for the party nomination, before opting instead for another Apprentice series when he learned that federal election rules on equal television time meant he could not have done both.

And then there is the success of the show. “I’m a ratings machine,” he boasted.

Mr Trump’s critics, and there are many, believe that his spring flirtation with a White House run as a Republican was simply a publicity stunt to drive up ratings for the show, while the latest buzz that he might make a bid as an independent is aimed at promoting his book.

But what is clearly true is that Mr Trump has probably had more face time with the Republican field than any other American voter. As well as Mr Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann have all visited Trump Tower, as did Herman Cain before dropping out of the race, and Sarah Palin, before not getting in.

Mr Trump’s kingmaker status was briefly dented last week when all but two of the candidates declined an invitation to attend a debate that would have been moderated by him in Iowa on Dec 27. But he managed to give a positive spin to even this apparent snub.

Several candidates told him, he said, that they would only take part in the debate if he promised not to run for president when The Apprentice goes off the air in May. He refused, he said.

“If the Republican, in my opinion, is not the right candidate [to defeat President Obama],” he declared, “I am unwilling to give up my right to run as an independent candidate. I must leave all of my options open.”

After Karl Bush and Ari Fleischer, President George W Bush’s former chief adviser and spokesman respectively, criticised the plans for a Trump-moderated debate as a demeaning “circus”, he responded: “They are third-rate political hacks who gave us Obama after Bush crashed and burned.”

Indeed, he brushed off criticism that a reality television star, property tycoon and co-owner of the Miss Universe pageant is not a serious political player. “I was chosen for The Apprentice as I am such a successful businessman. That’s why I’m a star. I give the figures in my book. I am worth $7 billion. Everyone knew I was rich, but not this rich.”

He praised both Mr Gingrich and Mr Romney, the two favourites in the Republicans’ rollercoaster race, and said that he intended to make an endorsement before Iowa votes on Jan 3

“Newt has taken off as if he’s fitted with a rocket chip, but they are both my friends,” he said, declining to say whether either would eventually be graced with his approval.

On the campaign trail itself, the mood had turned nasty last week. Knocked off balance by Mr Gingrich’s return to the head of the field from the near-political dead, Mr Romney’s campaign deployed high-profile supporters to depict the former Speaker of the House of Representatives as an inconsistent and unpredictable leader who would stand no chance against Mr Obama.

John Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor and prominent Romney backer, said that Mr Gingrich was prone to “self-aggrandisement” and “off-the-cuff thinking” that “is not what you want in a commander-in-chief”.

In 1994, Mr Gingrich led the Republicans to their first majority in the House of Representatives in four decades on the back of his Contract with America pledges. But he was widely blamed for forcing a federal government shutdown in a 1995 budget stand-off with President Bill Clinton, fined $300,000 for ethics breaches in 1997 and, facing a party coup, stepped down in 1998.

Mr Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, also released a new campaign advertisement emphasising the longevity of his marriage and stability of his family and religious life, driving home a not so-veiled difference between the two men’s personal backgrounds.

Mr Romney has been married to his wife and childhood sweetheart Ann, the daughter of a Welsh-born businessman, for 42 years and comes from a prominent Mormon family – itself a disadvantage with some evangelical Christian voters.

That is in contrast to twice-divorced Mr Gingrich, whose third wife Callista, 23 years his junior, was a congressional staffer when he began an affair with her. Previously a Southern Baptist, he later converted to her Roman Catholic faith, which is also a negative for some on the religious Right.

Mr Gingrich had pulled comfortably clear three of the first four nominating states, while Mr Romney has failed to ignite the Republican base, despite the backing of many in the party establishment and a well-financed operation.

Whether taking the gloves off halts Mr Gingrich’s momentum, or backfires as a sign of panic, will be revealed by polls in coming days.

But as Republicans turned on each other with gusto in their race to become their party’s candidate, Mr Trump saved his greatest contempt for Mr Obama. “He’s a terrible president, a terrible leader,” he said. “The country is going to hell under him.”

And despite being heavily criticised as the most vocal exponent of the “birther” movement that claims that Mr Obama was not born in the US, he still insists there is a lack of paperwork that the president’s mother was even in hospital in Hawaii at the time of his birth.

His book gives details of his personal fortune, totalling his net worth at $7 billion (including a $3 billion “Trump brand” estimate), with more than $270 million in liquid assets, which he says could fund a presidential campaign.

Others are not convinced by his sums – Forbes magazine, which publishes an annual billionaires’ list, puts his net worth at a mere $2.9 billion. That sum would still be more than bankroll a powerful late entry into next year’s White House race.

His book kicks off with two of his populist initiatives – placing a 25 per cent import tax on Chinese-made goods and breaking OPEC’s the power over the oil market – before running through other favourite conservative themes, such as repealing Mr Obama’s health care law and cracking down on illegal immigration.

It delivers a blistering critique of the current occupant of the White House. Mr Obama is “pursuing some sort of bizarre ideological mission that flies in the face of America’s free market tradition”, he writes.

“Based on their words and policies, Michelle and Barack Obama apparently believe that capitalism and entrepreneurship are bad. The way they see it, raising taxes is a way to punish people for having the audacity to work hard and get rich.

“This country is an economic disaster now… because Barack Obama doesn’t understand how wealth is created – and how the federal government can destroy it.”

He also gives voice to the constituency of Americans who accuse Mr Obama of undermining their standing in the world. “We have become a laughing stock, the world’s whipping boy, blamed for everything, credited for nothing, given no respect.”

Few public figures in the US raise evoke such visceral reactions as Mr Trump. But whether they love or loath him, nobody can accuse him of mincing his words.

{The Telegraph/ Newscenter}



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