Real-estate tycoon and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump sat down recently with Business Insider in his midtown Manhattan office in Trump Tower.
The interview was conducted as part of Business Insider’s special report on the Trump campaign, “Trump Nation: On the trail with the GOP front-runner.”
It was conducted on Thursday, November 12, two days after the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee.
Below is a full transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity at points:
HENRY BLODGET, CEO AND EDITOR IN CHIEF OF BUSINESS INSIDER: You have an incredible work ethic, which is clearly part of your success. You’re tweeting at 3 o’clock in the morning, you’re up all night.
DONALD TRUMP: It’s part of my campaign. [Conservative radio host] Mark Levin said to me last night, I had a dinner-show at 8:30. He says, “I saw you on “Morning Joe” at 7, I saw you in the debate. “Where do you get the energy?” He said. I said Mark, you know what, I got one hour of sleep last night. Because I flew from Milwaukee at 2:30 in the morning. You know, by the time you’re finished up with all the stuff and the interviews. It was a successful debate, so I stayed around.
I then flew, I went to New Hampshire. I went to a hotel, I stayed for one hour, because I got there at 5. And by the time I got there, I had to get up to get out at 6:30 something. So I slept for one hour over there.
He said, “Where do you get the energy?”
HB: So where do you get it? Where does it come from?
DT: Genetically. My father was very energetic, my mother was very energetic. He lived to a very old age and so did my mother. I believe that I just have it from my father, from my parents. They had wonderful energy.
HB: If you’re elected president, and you certainly don’t look it — but you actually will be one of the older presidents.
DT: I know. I’m 69 now.
HB: I know, and you want to work next 10 years in the hardest job ever.
DT: Well Reagan was 70, I’m 69 now. Hillary I guess is 69 too, isn’t she? I think. [Editor’s note: Hillary Clinton is 68 years old.]
There seemed to be something about that. But Reagan was 70.
I certainly don’t feel age but my father died at 94, and he worked right up until the end. He was in great shape. And my mother was 90, and would have been older — she had an accident, actually. I mean, she would have been older.
All of her sisters — you know, this was a long time ago. She was born in Scotland. Her brothers and sisters, she had seven. And they were all in their mid-90s, late 90s. So it’s crazy.
HB: So why do you want to run for president now? Because in every every cycle, everyone says Donald Trump…
DT: They always say that.
HB: But why now?
DT: Last time I thought about it seriously with Romney, and he didn’t do the job. He failed, badly. He should have won. That was a race that he should have won.
I think I can do a great job. I’ve been doing this all my life. I’ve been making deals all my life. I have jobs all over the world now.
You see how big, you saw my filing. And I think beyond my filing, I have 23 boxes of 50 million or more, in other words, assets.
And I have guys adding ’em up — 50-50-50.
I have one building that’s worth $US1.9 billion. I have $US50 million or more, so you check the box. It wasn’t meant for me, it was meant for politicians. You know, basically, it’s a two-page form. You know, I’ve had a great career, I’ve built an amazing company, and low-debt, or almost no debt, I think I have 2.5% debt. And the banks will say, “You should borrow money.”
Those are the only ones that are lending. They’re only lending to guys like me. They don’t lend to some guy that needs money to build a company, you understand?
But, my theme is “Make America Great Again.” Which has really resonated. I go to crowds, I was so honored that you were in the crowd. I just don’t know why you didn’t come back and see me!
HB: I should have!
DT: By the way, that was a big crowd. It was a record. Elton John – I broke it. He had a record, 8,700 people. And we had 10,000. And you know that was 10,000. You just had to look at that.
In fact, I think it was much more than that, I don’t know about the fire code situation. They had people standing in the aisles. And it’s not a big community. It is the home of Lincoln, right? But it’s not a big community.
And we have that all over. Mark Cuban called, and he said, “Would you like to use my arena in Dallas?” Three days, 22,000 people. We filled that up in three days. And in Mobile, Alabama, we had 35,000. […] I could have spoken for another hour. Nobody leaves. Actually Mark, from Bloomberg, Mark Halperin (who’s a good guy), he said, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, I’ve never seen anything like it.” So, you know, there’s a level.
Karl Rove and trade deals
HB: Another thing people love about you is that you’re tough, and you make a persuasive argument on the trail that our leaders are weak, they’re not being tough enough You instinctively attack anybody who criticises you.
DT: Well today I’m going through a thing with the Wall Street Journal. They did an editorial, on the debate, did you see that?
In the debate, I talked about the trade pact [Trans-Pacific Partnership]. I know more about the trade pact than anybody, considering it’s 6,000 pages, and you know, I’m totally against it. I talk about it all the time.
And I say China is going to come in later on, come in through the back door, so they said that I said that China was in, that I didn’t know — they do a big editorial. Then I have Karl Rove, who’s a total moron — you can print that if you want. But the guy’s a total moron, he followed their lead, and he writes over here.
But in every online poll I won the debate, did you see that? Every single one of them. You know, you have thousands, Drudge, Time [magazine].
So Rove writes, look at this. [With physical copy of The Wall Street Journal in hand.] He doesn’t like me because I knock him all the time. But more importantly, look at, but turn to the other page.
So now, I’m demanding a retraction because I know China isn’t in. You had a little of this s—, you know, when somebody’s really successful they go after you. […]
HB: Here’s the question on your attacks. As president, you’re going to control the strongest military in the world. Nuclear weapons, everything else. People insult America all the time. How would you approach decisions, like ISIS for example?
DT: Well, Henry, there’s gotta be more unpredictability in this country. In terms of leadership. Obama goes out and he just says last week, “we’re sending 50 people into Syria.” That’s a disaster to say that. He shouldn’t say that.
Because, you say that, now ISIS and all these others are looking for these 50 men.
HB: But you talk about, one of the things you’ve done so well in your business career, is you find the best people, you give them the mission, and they do it and you watch over them. So in this case, you say to generals, “ISIS is a problem, give me a plan?”
DT: What I would do, look. I’ve had a plan. Now it’s being copied, Carson copied it this morning.
ISIS is making a fortune with fuel, with oil. They took over some of the oil wells in Iraq and Syria. They’re making a million dollars a day, a million dollars every four or five hours. I’d knock the s— out of it.
I wouldn’t wait, I’d just knock it. Now, they’re not making money. And people say, “you can’t do that” because you wouldn’t want to rebuild the infrastructure. Well you and I know about Exxon. They will build that f—— thing so fast your head will spin, OK?
Knock ’em out. You knock ’em out. And they will go in there, and they will [Exxon] rebuild that in two months. You know what I’m talking about. I’ve seen these guys, the way they can build refineries, and they way they can build oil depots.
So, I said “knock out the oil.” And people said “Oh, that’s terrible,” but I was 100% right. Now everyone is saying knock out the oil. I actually said “keep the oil” which is better than knocking it out. I was opposed, strongly opposed to going in to Iraq in 2003.
I was the only one in the whole group that’s running, that had the vision not to go in. And in fact, because I get so much publicity, I get so much publicity, but because I get so much publicity, look — these are the covers I was just on in the last month — every cover! Cover of even the Forbes 400.
HB: Don’t you get bored of keeping pictures of yourself around you?
DT: I’ll be honest — half of them, I haven’t even read [laughs]. I didn’t read Rolling Stone, I don’t have time. Look, National Review, I haven’t even read half of these. I mean, I’m the only guy, most people would immediately lock themselves in a room. I have not read half of these covers. Look at that. Every magazine. Hollywood Reporter, which was great because they said when I go on television. You’ll see it with this article. I hope its going to be a fair article, but what’s not to be fair, have I done badly?
Look at People Magazine. But this is all in the last 4 weeks. And I did “60 Minutes,” and I hosted “Saturday Night Live.” Other than that I haven’t been very busy [laughs]. And I’ve run a good company, which is good.
Congress and immigration
HB: Another thing people love about you is the can-do message. In this case, Congress doesn’t work for you, you can’t fire them. So how do you get things done?
DT: I’ve been dealing with politicians all my life. All my life. And I’ve always gotten them to do what I need them to do. Whether it’s, you know, you can take a look at anything. Zoning. The West Side Rail Yards, 6,000 units on the West Side. Everyone said, “You gotta be kidding me. You’ll never get it.” And, you know, I got it.
People said, “s—.” In fact, it’s now being finished up right along the West Side from 72nd Street to 59th Street. People said “you’re never going to get that zoned” I got the land cheap. Because then I sold it to Chinese, I got back carry-free interest, and now I own the Bank of America building because of it. Which is one of the largest office buildings in New York. It was a very complicated swap over something everybody gave me no chance with.
HB: So is it a give-and-take?
DT: It’s give and take. But it’s gotta be mostly take. Because you can’t give. You gotta mostly take. You make deals, and you get ’em to do what you have to do. I’ve come out with a very strong policy on immigration now. People are starting to say, “You know, he’s probably right.”
In fact, Ted Cruz just came out this morning and backed it, you saw that. And others will also. In other words, you either have a country, or you don’t. You have illegal immigrants, who have to go out, they can come back in. They can come back in legally.
We’ll build a wall, and I know how to build. […] And by the way, the wall, the wall can absolutely be built. But not a wall people skip over, I mean a wall that’s 35 to 40 feet high. Nobody’s going over the wall. The wall works. And it will look good and it will be great.
HB: Let’s talk about one piece of the immigration plan.. You’re practical…
DT: I’m very practical.
HB: The deportation plan where you want to round up 11 million people and send them to somewhere else seems very impractical. And you didn’t create the immigration problem. So as an American I ask you the question, why do that? Why not say, yes, it’s unfair, but we can’t just round up 11 million people and ship them out, so we will put them on a path to citizenship?
DT: OK, because it’s not the right thing. Right now you have millions of people that are on line for years trying to come into this country. Millions of people, I don’t know if you know this but millions and millions of people are going through a process to come in legally. These people came in illegally. They’re called illegal immigrants.
They came in illegally. They are here. You have Bush, you have Rubio, you have most of them, that want to give them a free pass. You can’t do that, it’s unfair. We either have a country or we don’t.
It’s called illegal immigrants, OK? Now some people are talking about undocumented, because it sounds softer, I don’t use that word. If you remember the term “anchor baby” from a few months ago, right, when I said “anchor babies.” Everyone said, “Oh, that’s a terrible tone” and then everyone started using it, including Bush, because he was afraid not too.
Remember there was a press conference where I said “anchor babies.” And a reporter from CNN said, “that’s a derogatory term” and I said, OK, “What would you like me to use?” And he said, “the children of undocumented immigrants who emigrated to the country, over the last 10 years.” Every time I say that. Do you remember? It was very famous.
I said, what do you want me to call, the children of undocumented immigrants, who emigrated, you know — you gotta be kidding.
So everyone said anchor babies. Oh, well, you lose on that because you have to do a new amendment, a new constitutional amendment.
I turned out to be right. You know that. In the fourteenth amendment, you have to be legal. You can’t be here illegal, have a baby, and the reason I was right is that it didn’t make sense.
Now, it turns out, all you need is a simple amendment, a simple stipulation from Congress, OK? Because people come in, they have a baby here, and now we take care of the baby for 85 years or whatever. I turned out to be right about that.
On this, they say you have to go through a huge legal process. You don’t. They’re illegal. If somebody walks in, they don’t bring them to court, they send them back.
Well these people came in, and they came in a year ago. No different. If somebody walks from Mexico or wherever they come from, and they come into the country, security guards bring em back. You don’t go through ten years of courts and stuff. Well, this is no different.
HB: Another thing people are excited about with you is that you really do have crossover appeal to independents and Democrats. You say several things that a lot of Republicans completely disagree with. Like, keep Social Security, keep Medicare, rebuild infrastructure.
DT: I’m gonna keep Social Security without change except I’m going to get rid of the waste, fraud, and abuse, same thing with Medicare.
Ben Carson wants to get rid of Medicare. That’s the end of his election. He has no chance. Because it actually works, Medicare.
HB: A lot of your policies will appeal to Democrats. So you could actually win the general election.
DT: A major Democrat said recently, and I fully understood it, nobody else did. If anybody had to win, I hope it’s Donald Trump. Because he’s the most reasonable guy up there.
Now, I fully understood what he was saying. Very few other people did. But he said it, top of the line guy, “If anybody had to win, I hope it’s Donald Trump. Because he’s the most reasonable guy.” And I believe he’s right. I will be able to make more deals, better deals than anybody else.
HB: But this is why I come back to the deportation. Because I think that some Republicans feel strongly about it, but I would say most Democrats and even the moderate Republicans feel like it’s just not practical.
DT: We’ll have to see what happens.
‘Making up’ with the Republican establishment
HB: The Republican establishment still is scared to death of you, wish you would just disappear —
DT: They can’t believe — a guy like Karl Rove, Karl Rove is Republican establishment. He spent last cycle, $US437 million, and lost every single race. [Editor’s note: The Sunlight Foundation has found that 14% of the money spent by the Rove-affiliated super PAC, American Crossroads, went toward supporting winning candidates.]
And I saw the commercials and the things that he was making, they’re the worst I’ve ever seen. I thought they were made by the Democrats. But they have morons like Karl Rove. […]
But Karl Rove, we have too many people like Karl Rove in the party. He’s a very bad force in the party. He spent 437 million dollars, all that money given to him. And he probably took as much as he could for himself, but he spent $US437 million, and he had, he got zero, no victories, not one. Now how’s that possible?
It’s not even possible. Just throwing darts you do better than that. We have guys like Karl Rove who are really incompetent people. And all you have to do is look at records of people, look at his record, it’s a horror-show.
Those are the guys that dread me coming in. Because I’m different. I bring great people with me. Carl Icahn endorsed me, did you know that?
HB: I didn’t.
DT: OK, he endorsed me three or four days ago. He’s never endorsed anyone in his life. He doesn’t — you know, it’s not him. Carl endorsed me. Because he knows I’m the smartest guy. And I also have the right instinct, the right business instinct.
He heard me make a speech and he heard me talking about corporate inversion, which, by the way no other Democrat, no other person running even heard the term.
HB: Or carried interest.
DT: And carried interest. I talk about carried interest. The carried interest [tax treatment for hedge funds and private equity funds] is gone. It’s unfair.
Then I talk about corporate inversions. I talked about it two weeks, three weeks ago. Not one person even knew what it was. I’m talking about the guys running.
It’s such a problem, you have no idea. Carl Icahn saw me make a speech, he’s a friend of mine, as much as he can be a friend of anybody because Carl is Carl, right. But Carl is watching me, and he’s, “You mentioned corporate inversions. It’s the single biggest problem we have. Because all our companies are going to leave. You know they’re all leaving.”
Pfizer now, they’re all leaving. What they’re doing, they’re leaving for two reasons. Some get lower taxes. Under my plan, they’re not going to leave because I’m down to 15%. But they’re also leaving because they can’t get their money back in.
They have got probably $US5 trillion dollars out there, they say 2.5 but I think it’s much more. But they can’t bring it back into the country, so what they’re doing is leaving to get their money, and get lower tax rates.
And a lot of the people that head these companies, you know when you and I grew up it was always Mr. Smith from, you know, Iowa.
These are people from England, from Asia, these are no longer people that care about our country. They will leave in two seconds if they can save $US2 in taxes. And I talk about corporate inversion, Carl Icahn watched me in the speech — he said, that’s the greatest speech.
So he endorsed me.
HB: So political analysts, which I am not one, said it’s amazing, you’re defying all the predictions. But they also say at some point, you’re going to have to hug and make up with Karl Rove and the establishment.
DT: Maybe. Maybe I will. I can do that too. I can make up with the establishment. Look, the establishment doesn’t want me, because I don’t need the establishment.
Don’t forget, I’m putting up all my own money, which I think is a very important point. Other than the small money that comes in.
Brett LoGiurato, politics editor: One of the things that’s stuck the most in this campaign was the “low-energy” label on Jeb Bush.
DT: Yeah, that’s a once in a decade.
DL: Was there a backstory behind that?
DT: No, no. He just seemed to me, I think he’s a very nice person. He just — well, I did one the other day — I was seeing Rush Limbaugh. He said, “That was the most incredible [thing]” when I said — you watched the debate, I assume, with vigour.
I said, “Let Jeb speak, finally let him speak.” I said that to [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich who was a schlub. I mean, he was hogging the whole thing, it was terrible. I mean, between him and Fiorina. Fiorina, you couldn’t talk. She was cutting everybody out. Did you notice that? It was terrible. I’m raising my hand to speak, and they were very nice, the moderators, I think did a good job.
But I’m raising my hand and they kept saying, “yes, yes” and then all of a sudden Fiorina just … And then I said, “Let Jeb speak. Let him speak!” to Kasich, and the whole room went silent, and then Jeb spoke.
And he goes, “Thank you, Mr. Trump.” I think, he didn’t know if it was good. In other words, was I mocking him, or was. And Rush Limbaugh said, “That was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. The guy didn’t know what happened.”
But I don’t think it’s about Jeb anymore. I really don’t. When I first ran, I hit him really hard, because I thought he was going to be the guy, you know he’s the establishment guy. So I hit him very hard. But during the course of hitting him — I’ve seen him around, I’ve known him a little bit, I’ve raised money for him years ago.
I had a fundraiser for him many years ago when he was first running for governor. Successful fundraiser, nice guy. But he’s a low-energy individual. I said that. That doesn’t happen often. I’ve said things about Rubio that are very tough. Do you read my Twitter feed?
BL: I do. Is it you who tweets?
DT: I do. But if it’s like now, and I come up with something, I’ll call the girl and she tweets it. Anything over like 7 o’clock I do it myself.
BL: Even at 3 in the morning?
DT: Sometimes. I’m not a big sleeper. It’s like Marc Levin said. How is it possible for you to be calling me tonight? I saw you at 7 o’clock, that means you were up at 5. But you were in Wisconsin at the debate, and now you’re talking to me.
I said, I actually got one hour of sleep. It was a funny interview, actually. One hour of sleep. And I was actually going to call and say, Mark, can we make it for another time. But I said, I won’t do that.
BL: What’s your average per night?
DT: 3 or 4. I mean that’s what I need. That’s what I’ve always done.
Compiled by Jeremy Berke and Brett LoGiurato.
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