Donald Trump from 1988: What he said then and what it means now

For those who think that Donald Trump is a policy swapping former Democrat, the below clip from 1988 is rather telling, and astonishing. Trump was critical of the Reagan administration because of its policy on exports—for not being conservative enough. This is Trump as a young man shortly after writing The Art of the Deal on the newly created Oprah Show extremely confident and riding on top of the world. What is even more astonishing is that Trump has stayed on top of the world really his whole life. Aside from a few marriages, he’s been remarkably successful for a long period of time without any kind of emotional meltdowns along the way and it’s due to his extraordinary confidence. This is the Donald Trump that I grew up with, and he is the reason I think he would be a great president. What’s really interesting is the very political answer he gave while talking about the field of candidates in the 1988 presidential election, from Bush to Jesse Jackson. I think many people hold his non-committal political positions against him because they don’t understand business. For successful people, one very key ingredient is that you have to know how to navigate around people who might get in your way. Trump showed that he was hedging his bets no matter who won the nomination because as a business man, he knew the consequences of a government aligned against him. And he wanted to continue to be successful. Watch for yourself.

Being in business is very dangerous. Politicians are always looking for a contribution and you have to be careful who you say no to. If you give to the wrong guy and the other person wins, that person might come after you legislatively. It happens all the time. Regulations are used to extort vast billions of dollars a year from business people. A lot of the reason that business people use the Chamber of Commerce and other community organizations to keep orthodox politicians in their seats of power is to protect their businesses from activist government regimes. Market fluctuations and political fall-out are two of the most troublesome elements for a business person’s career. Those who have not had to deal with a zoning board, they don’t understand how difficult political tides can work against you. In Donald Trump’s case, New York is notoriously progressive. It has been for years, so there has always been a lot of liberalism associated with those city government positions. If a rich businessman like Trump gives money to both parties, the zoning issues get resolved quickly. If he only gave to Democrats or Republicans then there would be trouble during subsequent administrations. That’s a ridiculous fact of life in the world of commerce.

Government should not have that kind of power over commerce. But it does and will for quite some time to come. It’s a game all business people have to play. If you don’t play it, you will lose your business. What’s remarkable with Trump is that he has survived for so long with so many parasitic politicians always looking to soak up every last dime that they could extract from him. People have to understand the nature of a politician, and for those who are not rich, or even wealthy and in business, they likely believe that politicians do good things on their behalf with each election. They don’t. All they want is to get elected. Their primary function is to raise money for more elections and they owe the people who give them money constant legislative favors. The vote occurs with donations, not the voting booth. Business people do not give money for any other reason but to protect themselves from intrusive government. Sometimes money is given for more government interference so to perhaps destroy a rival. But the money given is always about getting something. It’s not given for fun.

Trump in that 1988 clip understood this concept very well and he was commanding those around him with the leverage he created even back in the Reagan administration, which was comparatively very business friendly compared to what it is today. When Trump’s father warned him that the family business did not have what it took to make it in Manhattan, it wasn’t the business of real estate that he was talking about, it was about being an aggressive enough mover and shaker to survive that political environment. Jesus would not make a very good businessman. He was a good man, but sometimes when playing aggressive games, you have to be an aggressive person.   Trump is often criticized for his use of eminent domain occasionally as a fault—which it is. But it’s a tactic developers often use to get what they need done. I’ve been on both ends of that kind of dispute—and if you think you are right, you have to fight them—the developer. They respect when you fight them, because it either strengthens their position or it shows them the faults of their proposal. Ultimately, they are often grateful even though things do sometimes get violent.   I wouldn’t have done to the guy in Scotland what Trump did when a homeowner refused to move the junk off his property so that an exclusive golf course could be built with all the lush trimmings near it. But I’m not a billionaire like Trump is. One of the elements of the great book on strategy called The Art of War is that you must have the heart to take hearts. And if you are in business, you sometimes have to think like that. There are lots of times where I’ve had to run down nice people because they purposely put themselves in the way of something I need to accomplish. Is that right or wrong—well, the Pope might not like it, but capitalism says it’s morally correct. Jesus might turn the other cheek, but that’s not necessarily the right thing to do. Being successful is about more than money, it’s about having the heart to take hearts when such a thing is needed. The result of conquest often results in victory for all—because everyone gets better due to the competition.

Donald Trump represents a different kind of politician. I would vote for him just because he managed to build the Trump Tower in Manhattan where it overshadows Macy’s. The politics involved in that deal would have been enormously difficult. For Trump to purchase the air rights next to his proposed tower design was extremely creative. Without question Trump made decisions on where to purchase concrete from, what anchor stores would be inside the tower and how it would fit into New York politics based on his strategic intentions. He really is a master strategist, which is showing in the presidential race.

As a president, you really can’t afford to paint out half the country the way Obama has. Republicans have been happy to limit themselves to those limits much to their own detriment. Trump is uniquely positioned to recruit voters who might otherwise vote for Democrats as he has knowledge of the entertainment industry that is very unique for a presidential candidate. He may have shown various sides of himself over the years, but at his core, he is the person who appeared on Oprah in 1988 and knows how to get things done. He telegraphed it way back then, he said he’d run for president if he felt the country was too screwed up for anyone else to solve the problems. Well, that’s where we are, and he’s positioned to do the job—best positioned. The world is a mess and internal politics is a disaster. Nobody else has what it takes to get the job done. So why not? If Jesus Christ were running for president, I wouldn’t vote for him. We don’t need someone who will sacrifice themselves to the cross and turn the other cheek declaring love for all. We need someone who knows how to win, any way possible. And that’s what Trump is an expert at doing. That might sound harsh to people who don’t think about life in competitive terms, but for people who are used to winning, they understand what it takes, and how important victors are—even when others don’t see the value as quickly as they can.  Those people just enjoy the benefits of someone like Trump and his towers along with the wealth they build for the American economy.

Rich Hoffman


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