There’s no shortage of writing about President Donald Trump, including multiple tell-alls that promise the reader insider access into everything from Trump’s businesses to his chaotic first term.
A new book by veteran reporters Allen Salkin and Aaron Short does something unique. After speaking with over a hundred sources on the record, Salkin and Short convincingly make the case that Trump has been serious about being President for over a decade. “The Method to the Madness: Donald Trump’s Ascent as Told by Those Who Were Hired, Fired, Inspired–and Inaugurated,” which goes on sale today, demonstrates through a series of in-depth interviews that Trump didn’t just run for president on a whim: He spent over a decade deliberately working to get elected to the highest office in America.
Their story ends when Trump rode the escalator in his viral election announcement; but what they learned from everyone from his advisors to the downtown club scene in 1990s Manhattan (when Trump was on the hunt for wife number three) sheds light on his character and decision-making process.
Raw Story spoke with Salkin and Short about their new book. The discussion has been edited for clarity.
Raw Story: So, there have been a lot of insider accounts trying to explain Trump. What did you guys discover that makes your book different, than, like Bob Woodward’s?
Allen Salkin: Well … our book ends at the escalator. And our book makes the case that no other book makes, which is that Trump was intentional and worked for 15 years, diligently, with intention and thought to the task of how does a guy like him get elected president?
And we do it with 114 on-the-record, non-anonymous sources. I think if you read it you will put it down and go “Geez, you’re right.”
Aaron Short: And it’s important to have all these voices included in the book because you don’t have the narrator’s spin on what the facts are, what the truth is. This way you could see, this is where you hear from people who liked Trump, disliked Trump, worked for him, were bullied by him….this is where they all come down.
And you don’t have to think whether you like Trump or you think he’s the devil, kind of based on all of these different people. Whereas, if you read a lot of other political books, you get a lot of “an aide said this” and it doesn’t show people’s biases. Here you see what everyone’s bias is. Because they tell you. On the record.
And you can make a judgment based on whether it’s spin or genuine feeling. You can tell whether or not they’re manipulating the truth.
Salkin: We also just have a whole bunch of scoops in our book that nobody else has. Behind the scenes stuff, from The Apprentice … just very funny facts. How Trump first learned to use Twitter, how he chose his playlists.
And we’re aware that how Trump chose his playlist is the least of our worries in a period where there’s children dying in detention centers. We’re not making that equivalence. But if you want to know how this guy thinks for real, our book does it better than any other book.
Short: And it outlines some of the same process he’s using in the White House. The Tweeting, the way he berates aides, the way he makes decisions. It’s the same thing that he’s been doing for 15 years. That hasn’t changed really. And you can see how he came to make those kinds of decisions. Like when he first started to get Twitter and learned to communicate through twitter.
Raw Story: Right. How did he get addicted to Twitter?
Salkin: He was always addicted to media. Twitter is the latest iteration of what he used to do with gossip reporters at the New York tabloids. Just drop these irresistible, confrontational nuggets that reporters loved.
So he was made for Twitter. Ultimately he got sold on trying it out as a way to promote Ivanka’s jewelry line.
Short: Although he have to give credit to some of the people around him. Justin McConney, then Trump’s social media manager, was his main Twitter guru. And then Sam Nunberg and Roger Stone also suggested Tweets and shaped his messages. And also it was some of their main ideas to say, “You know..people want to hear you. You should engage in this.”
Which is a lot of the way that Trump’s process works. People come to him with suggestions and he tries it out. And if it works, you know, he just runs it into the ground!
And Twitter is in the news today because Trump said maybe Twitter needs to be regulated, so this is an interesting moment for Twitter right now. But if there’s another medium that’s coming up that he’ll jump on like Twitter.
Raw Story: So one of your scoops is that Donald Trump has drunk alcohol before, right? Because it’s one of his main things that he never, ever, ever drinks.
Salkin: It’s funny because I was working in newspapers in the 1990s and one of the things that motivated me to write this book was knowing there were a lot of people with Trump stories that had not communicated them.
So I loved the idea of an oral history. I had written a book about the food network (From Scratch: Inside the Food Network) and was frustrated — there were so many great stories I couldn’t include in there. And I love the idea of an oral history, particularly of Trump. And let’s have everyone tell their stories.
I knew there were a bunch of people who knew him. Journalists, especially, who knew Trump in the 1990s and 2000s. I thought “Let them start talking.”
I spent a ridiculous amount of time, and it was only like three pages in the book, a whole week going down this rabbit-hole of 1990s downtown Manhattan nightlife. And then I start hearing from the bartender, who in the book we call Lara B.
Lara B. Sharp. And she was the bartender who served him. And you know, like everybody else, it’s one of those things that people think they know about Trump, he doesn’t drink.
Basically you know if you let people start talking, they tell you things. And I’ll tell you the other interesting thing about this.
This is the era when Trump is single and looking for wife number three. And he was looking for her at parties where there were fashion models. The models would go to these clubs, they were letting them into the clubs for free. Ultimately it worked. He went to a fashion week party, where he was introduced to Melania.
And nobody is saying he drank to excess. But, to me the most interesting part of this is that when you read Donald Trump’s quotes, saying he doesn’t drink, he’ll say, “And anyway, I don’t like it.”
Well, the most obvious question a journalist should ask is, “How do you know you don’t like it if you have never tasted it!” You must have tasted it! But he says “I’ve never had a beer!”
You know, it’s not world peace, it’s not the Mueller report whether or not he drank. But it’s certainly interesting. It’s gotten a hell of a lot of attention. It’s all over the place. It’s part of a persona. “I’m better than everybody else, I don’t drink.” Well. I mean you’ve got to give him credit, he certainly has a lot of energy for a guy with his physique at this point.
Raw Story: So how would you characterize what you frame as “the method to Trump’s madness?”
Short: We found that Trump is very particular about his decisions. He likes a lot of feedback, he reaches out to a lot of people. The phone is very important to him and not just for Twitter. He calls a lot of his friends and he runs stuff past them.
People in his inner circle, people who he meets, who he’s having dinner with. And culling all that information … because he likes to have a lot of information to make decisions. He then determines sort of … what’s the best course of action, for him at that time. And if it isn’t working, he changes it.
So I think he’s not …. OK there are a few exceptions. Certainly he’ll stick with immigration and trade policies. He’s stuck with those things because he believes that he’s right. But on other policies or messages, as soon as it isn’t working, it gets quietly abandoned. He changes it. He doesn’t necessarily acknowledge that he made mistakes either.
And we see that pattern happen kind of over and over again. In things large and small. It’s not like the decision process changes. Whether you’re talking about building a wall at the border… or figuring out The Apprentice finale.
Raw Story: What’re the ramifications of his decision-making process?
Short: You don’t get a wide view of opinions, if he’s just talking to people in his inner circle. He’s not talking to experts who disagree with him. You’re not necessarily getting people who are going to challenge him. Whereas Presidents tend to seek out views that are diverse to figure out what’s best for the country.
And it also matters more now that he’s the head of state and you’ve got complex government agencies that need to make all their decisions based on this … it mattered certainly much less when you were maybe pitching a new advertising campaign for a new casino or which building to put a licensing deal on.
But I think he doesn’t care about the optics of his decision-making process.
Salkin: And I think the public likes those optics. Americans like to get a sense that they know how decisions are being made. And Trump is never … he’s just used to operating in the autocracy of the Trump organization, where he doesn’t have to explain himself.
Short: I think Twitter is his “transparency” and anything more than that is just irritating.