How The Donald discovered that pretending to run for president can be good for business
First, a reminder: If you haven’t yet entered our $184.27 Donald J. Trump Challenge, it’s not too late — we’ll be accepting entries through next week.
In case you missed yesterday’s unveiling, the rules are simple: I’m putting up my entire savings account — a whopping $184.27 — on the proposition that Trump’s presidential aspirations are utterly phony. To win my life savings, just send an essay of no more than 500 words (and much less, if you want) to TrumpChallenge@salon.com explaining why we should take him seriously. We’ll publish the best submission, and if Trump’s name appears on the New Hampshire primary ballot next year (and he’s an active candidate on primary day), then the writer will get all my money.
We’ve received several promising submissions so far, but one email that caught my eye came from someone who didn’t want to enter the contest. Paul Riddell from Texas wrote that he agreed Trump’s “campaign” is a publicity stunt, not just because he did the same thing back in 2000 (as I detailed yesterday) but because he also did it in the 1988 cycle:
Does nobody remember when Trump first showed up in 1987, right about the time the Gary Hart/Donna Rice scandal was starting, and the first thing he was doing was denying he was running for President? A-MAZ-ingly, it was all hype to sell both his horrible book _The Art of the DeaL_ but also the even worse board game of the same title. (With the latter, Trump was savvy enough to make sure that the board game was sold as non-returnable, and I remember quite a few stores in my area that had copies on the shelves for years. I remember one grocery store that ordered five copies, and they were still sitting on the shelves in 1995, marked down to $6 and affixed with “$5 off” coupons.)
This was news to me, but it turns out it’s true: The Trumpster’s first fake presidential campaign actually took place 24 years ago, just after he almost single-handedly blew up the USFL and when he was still on his first wife.
Then 41, Trump was emerging as an icon of the ’80s, celebrated by Newsweek as “the latest of a breed unique to the decade: the businessman who becomes larger than life, like a star athlete or a popular actor.” (This, of course, was before the whole bankruptcy thing Trump dealt with in the early ’90s.) As such, he was handed a deal to write the aforementioned “Trump: The Art of the Deal.” Publication was set for November 1987.
And wouldn’t you know it, a few months before the book’s release, stories began appearing that Trump — seemingly out of nowhere — might jump into the 1988 presidential race as a Republican. The chatter began in the middle of July, when a Republican leader in New Hampshire floated the idea of drafting Trump, who expressed obligatory surprise and humility: “Anyone would be honored to hear this.” Then he swung into action, taking out ads in major newspapers addressing topics ranging from the deficit to nuclear weaponry to Central America. And he scheduled a speech in New Hampshire, to the Rotary Club in Portsmouth — the same venue that GOP candidates Bob Dole, Pat Robertson and Jack Kemp had already spoken before. Here’s how the New York Times wrote up the event:
Mr. Trump’s visit to New Hampshire, which he made in his sleek black French-made military helicopter, also drew widespread interest from the press, with more than 20 newspaper and television reporters covering his speech.
In his emotional talk Mr. Trump castigated Federal officials for not making American allies like Japan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait pay more for military defense. If they paid their fair share, Mr. Trump insisted, the huge Federal budget deficit could be eliminated.
The speculation kicked up. It was late in the game. Vice President George H.W. Bush was the clear Republican favorite, and Iowa and New Hampshire were just months away, but with his money and bluster, Trump was portrayed as a potential wild card. He denied that he was running — always leaving enough wiggle room to keep the media playing along. “The politicians go up and get a moderate audience,” he bragged after his Rotary Club speech. “I go up and they’re scalping tickets. You heard that? They’re scalping tickets. Why? Because people don’t want to be ripped off, and this country is being ripped off. I think if I ran, I’d win.”
There was plenty of awkwardness too. Even though he was a registered Republican, Trump had donated extensively to Democratic politicians and committees — so much that then-Speaker Jim Wright and then-DSCC chairman John Kerry asked him to host the annual Democratic Congressional Dinner even as he was pretending to explore a GOP White House bid. Trump declined.
Not long after the Rotary speech, “The Art of the Deal” hit bookstores. It was a runaway hit. And with that, the trips to New Hampshire and the flirtations with the ’88 race stopped. He’d already accomplished his goal: enhancing the Trump brand. When Iowa and New Hampshire rolled around, he was immersed in the planning for a major boxing match in Atlantic City.
12 years later, with another book to promote, he did it all over again. And now, 12 years after that, he’s back again. I’m feeling more and more confident that my bank account is safe.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
More Related Stories
- There's no substitute for government disaster relief
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
- Murkowski: Palin too disengaged to run for Senate
- In IRS scandal, new GOP tactic is ignorance
- Code Pink activist berates Obama at national security speech
- Cuomo: "Shame on us" if New York City elects Weiner
- Coburn calls questions about tornado aid "typical Washington B.S."
- Conspiracy theorists clash over London attack
- Voting is not a right
- Destroying the planet for record profits
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Pic of the day: Barack Obama at prom
- Anti-Islam backlash in London after machete attack
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Obama’s drone speech will probably be maddening
- Boehner: "Inconceivable" Obama didn't know about IRS targeting
- Obama to announce new effort to close Guantanamo Bay
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11