Amid scandal, bluster and insults, Donald Trump closes in on White House
Supercharging the bluster, hyperbole and media mastery that made him one of the world’s best-known businessmen, Donald Trump upended U.S. democratic traditions on a 17-month quest he hopes will lead to the White House.
From his grand Trump Tower escalator entrance into the Republican presidential race on June 16, 2015, Trump managed to be simultaneously charismatic and combative, elitist and populist, lewd and pious as he drilled into a lode of polarity and anti-Washington anger among American voters.
In Tuesday’s election against Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump is making his first run for public office. Trump called it a movement, not a campaign.
He drew enthusiastic crowds to rallies where people cheered him for “just saying what everybody’s thinking.” Critics labeled him misogynistic, ill-informed, uncouth, unpresidential, a racist, a hypocrite, a demagogue and a sexual predator, all accusations he denied.
It took Trump, 70, little more than 10 months to vanquish 16 other candidates and become the first major party nominee since General Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s to have no government experience. He drew a record number of votes in primary contests but in so doing created a rift in the party.
Then he squared off against Clinton, 69, in a race marked by controversies that included upheaval in his staff, charges he had groped women, and his claim, never supported, that Clinton and the media had rigged the election against him.
He shocked many by saying he might not accept the election result if he lost, repudiating a U.S. tradition of peaceful government transition. He said that as president he would investigate Clinton for her use of email while secretary of state. He vowed to send her to jail.
His campaign took a scandalous turn in October with the release of a 2005 video in which Trump, unaware he was being recorded, told a television entertainment reporter that he liked to kiss women without invitation and that, because he was rich and famous, he could “grab them” by the genitals without recriminations.
Trump dismissed the remarks as “locker room talk” and denied the subsequent accusations from more than 10 women who said he had groped them or made unwanted sexual advances.
GLOOM OVER AMERICA
Throughout his campaign – and especially in his Republican convention speech in July – Trump described a dark America that had been knocked to its knees by China, Mexico, Russia and Islamic State. The American dream was dead, he said, smothered by malevolent business interests and corrupt politicians, and he said he alone could revive it.
Trump said he would make America great again through the force of his personality, negotiating skill and business acumen. He offered vague plans to win economic concessions from China, to build a wall on the southern U.S. border to keep out undocumented immigrants and to make Mexico pay for it. He vowed to repeal Obamacare while being the “greatest jobs president that God ever created” and has proposed refusing entry to the United States of people from war-torn Middle Eastern nations, a modified version of an earlier proposed ban on Muslims.
Trump promoted himself as the ultimate success story. He dated beautiful women, married three of them, had his own television reality show and erected skyscrapers that bore his name in big gold letters. Everything in his life was the greatest, the hugest, the classiest, the most successful, he said, even though critics assailed his experiences with bankruptcies, the failures of his Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos and what they viewed as the misplaced pride he showed when presented with evidence he avoided paying taxes.
Trump had flirted with presidential runs in the past and some initially saw his campaign as a vanity project meant to indulge his ego and burnish his brand. It was expected to be short-lived but as the election season progressed, he became the front-runner, winning state nominating contests despite an unconventional campaign that relied on large-scale rallies and mostly ignored grass-roots work.
His hired advisers came to realize there was only so much they could do to rein him in. His inner circle was dominated by his three oldest children – Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka, along with Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner.
The rise of Trump, once a registered Democrat, threatened to blow up the Republican Party. Its establishment challenged his commitment to their tenets and organized against him. Prominent Republicans – including former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and congressional leaders – shunned him or offered lukewarm support.
Trump used Twitter as a weapon, firing off insults and mockery at those who offended him, including “Crooked Hillary” and Republican rivals “Little Marco” Rubio, Jeb “Low Energy” Bush and “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.
Another target was the family of a Muslim U.S. Army captain who died fighting in Iraq after the soldier’s father had spoken against Trump at the Democratic National Convention. Trump sniped back for days despite advice to move on.
As of late October, the New York Times had counted 282 people and things he had insulted on Twitter since declaring his candidacy.
The Trump candidacy was brimming with contradictions. The candidate who vowed to bring back jobs to the United States had his clothing line and campaign hats manufactured in foreign countries. The man who decried the corrupting power of money in politics boasted of having bought influence himself.
Undocumented workers had been used on his building projects but as a candidate Trump vowed to ship illegal immigrants out of the country. He said no one respected women more than he did but even before the groping accusations emerged, he was branded a misogynist for making fun of the appearance of rival candidate Carly Fiorina and an apparent reference to the menstrual cycle of Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.
Trump’s campaign trail demeanor seemed to draw from his experiences as host of “The Apprentice,” a reality TV show where he barked a crowd-pleasing “You’re fired!” at contestants who fell short in competitions.
His speeches were often unscripted and featured boasts on everything from his money to his IQ. He peppered them with dubiously sourced declarations, misperceptions and false statements.
He suggested that gun rights activists could act to stop Clinton from nominating liberal U.S. Supreme Court justices, a remark the Clinton campaign called dangerous.
Trump boasted of a fortune he put at $10 billion, although in September Forbes magazine estimated it at $3.7 billion, making him the 156th richest American.
Trump regularly made comments that would have doomed a more conventional candidate, such as when he said his supporters were so loyal that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in New York and not lose a single vote.
In May he would draw accusations of racism for questioning the impartiality of a judge – born in the United States to Mexican immigrants – who was hearing a lawsuit against him.
No other candidate referred to the size of his genitals during a debate. He was flattered when Russian President Vladimir Putin called him a “brilliant and talented leader.”
Trump mocked Senator John McCain, the Republicans’ presidential candidate in 2008, for having been captured during the Vietnam War and said he wanted to punch a protester in the face at a Trump rally.
Trump was born to money on June 14, 1946, in the New York City borough of Queens, the fourth of five children of Fred Trump, who would become one of the city’s biggest developers and landlords, and his wife. It was Fred Trump who taught Donald the value of self-promotion and a killer instinct.
By his own admission, Trump was not an easy child and in the eighth grade his parents sent him to the New York Military Academy in hopes of instilling needed discipline. Through student and medical deferments during the Vietnam War, Trump would never serve in the U.S. military but said the school gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Trump went to work for his father’s company, which focused on the outer New York City boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island and owned an estimated 15,000 apartments. In 1973 the Trumps were charged with racial bias in their rental practices before reaching a settlement with the U.S. government.
With a $1 million loan from his father, Trump eventually went into business himself in Manhattan, where he became a regular at some of the city’s most exclusive clubs and developed a reputation as a ladies’ man.
TRUMP TOWER FLAGSHIP
He soon made his mark with a series of real estate and development deals, including redoing an old hotel at New York’s Grand Central Terminal. In 1983 he opened his flagship, 58-story Trump Tower, which serves as both his primary residence and Trump Organization headquarters.
More projects around the world would follow, including golf courses, the Mar-a-Lago private resort in Florida, New York’s venerable Plaza Hotel and casinos.
Trump’s projects had mixed success. The flops included the real estate-oriented Trump University, Trump Mortgage, Trump Airlines and Trump Vodka but it was his experience with four casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, that took the golden luster off his empire.
Timothy O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” wrote that in the 1990s Trump was out of money and twice had to go to his siblings for loans. A former employee said the Trump Organization would have shut down if the family had not come through but Trump disputed that in his 1997 book “Trump: The Art of the Comeback.”
While he never filed for personal bankruptcy, the downturn in the gaming industry sent parts of Trump’s corporate empire to bankruptcy court in 1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009. In the 2009 bankruptcy, the unsecured creditors received less than a penny on the dollar for their claim. Trump resigned as chairman four days before the filing.
(Writing and reporting by Bill Trott in Washington; Additional reporting by Diane Craft; Editing by Howard Goller)