Leader of the Pack
It’s a long way to the White House. And in an attempt to rebuild the American Dream along the way, Donald Trump may have gambled his entire business empire. George Hopkin reports.
In April this year – two months before he announced he would run for the office of US President – Donald Trump took a 6am flight on his Boeing 757 private jet from New York City to Des Moines International Airport in Iowa.
The 757 is rarely idle and was getting plenty of use as Trump flew around the US and Europe – not only promoting his many global business interests, but also speaking out on Democrat and Republican politics ahead of next year’s presidential election.
On arrival in Des Moines and before he set out on that particular day’s schedule of meet-and-greets, Trump invited the dozen or so journalists covering his arrival onto the jet.
The reporters got a first-hand look at US$100m worth of Trump-style luxury (some would say excess) complete with gold-plated seatbelts, dining room and private cinema.
Trump famously bought N757AF from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2011 to replace his previous 727 and gave the new acquisition a Trump-style makeover.
Some say Trump was keenly aware there was an apparent correlation between successful presidential candidates and the 757s they used on their campaign trails.
Others say he simply got a great deal on a great plane.
On this Wednesday morning in Iowa, gathered in the Boeing’s lounge area, talk inevitably turned to Trump’s thoughts on a presidential campaign, something that had been talked about as a serious option since 1988, but had never become an actual declaration.
“Well, I’m looking at it very, very seriously,” Trump told a reporter from the Des Moines Register, somewhat coyly it would seem with the benefit of hindsight.
“Our country’s in trouble. Politicians are all talk, no action. I’m tired of watching them.”
As the reporters filed out of the plane a camera stand toppled over and struck a coffee table. Trump had been eyeing the media kit crammed into the plane’s interior all along and had warned everyone his day would be ruined if anyone damaged his beloved plane.
“You know that just fell on my coffee table,” Trump asked the guilty party once they’d confessed to being responsible.
“Aw, I’m sorry,” said the journalist.
“You’re sorry?” Trump said. “I’m sorry, too.”
It’s a great example of Trump looking at the biggest of big pictures while still sweating the small stuff. It’s also perhaps the last time for a long time Trump would be able to exchange small talk with reporters.
Just over two months later, on June 16, Trump was once again pressing the flesh and posing for photographs, this time in his Trump Tower headquarters in New York.
But this occasion was very different. This event was to feature the speech in which he would finally declare himself a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election.
And what a speech it was.
In a wide-ranging, 45-minute campaign announcement (critics called it rambling), Trump addressed topics including social security, US trade agreements, education standards, international terrorism and rebuilding the countries’ infrastructure, including airports, something clearly very close to
“You come into La Guardia Airport, it’s like we’re in a third world country. You look at the patches and the 40-year-old floor. And I come in from China and I come in from Qatar and I come in from different places, and they have the most incredible airports in the world.
“You come back to this country and you have LAX; disaster. You have all of these disastrous airports. We have to rebuild our infrastructure.”
But the real bombshell comments – the claims and promises that some observers later described as “professional suicide” – were reserved for the nation’s neighbour and fellow North American Free Trade Agreement signatory, Mexico.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he told the gathered crowds. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
That comment alone had set multi-million dollar wheels in motion. But Trump was not finished.
“I would build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively – I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
Those words were indeed marked.
Award-winning latino actress America Ferrera was one of the numerous high-profile celebrities quick to point out that Trump’s comments may very well have galvanised the US electorate, but not in the way he had intended.
“What you just did with your straight talk was send more Latino voters to the polls than several registration rallies combined,” the Ugly Betty star wrote in a column on HuffingtonPost.com.
“Thank you for that. Here we are pounding the pavement to get American Latinos to the polls, while your tactic proves most effective. Remarks like yours will serve brilliantly to energise Latino voters and increase turnout on election day against you and any other candidate who runs on a platform of hateful rhetoric.”
After his New York speech, US network Univision announced it would not air the Miss USA pageant – a global brand Trump partly owns – due to his remarks. The five-year Miss USA TV contract was reportedly worth US$13 million.
And four days after that, NBC dropped him from realty TV show The Apprentice, which he had headlined since 2004.
Since then other Trump partners have either expressed their objections to the comments or announced a full parting of the ways with the brand. The city of New York, for instance, is reported to be reviewing its dealings with Trump related to a US$230 million golf course in the Bronx.
But the presidential elections are more than a year away and a lot can and will happen in politics and business between now and then.
And should Trump make it all the way to the Oval office, he says there will be one more development that will certainly make the headlines – quite literally.
Back in Iowa again, while attending the Winterset High School for the Madison County Republicans Roundup Dinner, Trump was asked what he’d do differently if he were elected president.
“I would probably comb my hair back,” he told the audience. “Why? Because this thing is too hard to comb. I wouldn’t have time, because if I were in the White House, I’d be working my ass off.”