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Discusses His Possible Presidential Bid (Interview)

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Location: Today Show

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MATT LAUER, co-host: On CLOSE UP this morning, Donald Trump. The real estate tycoon says he's thinking about running for
president next year, so I sat down with him as his apartment—at his apartment on Wednesday to ask just how seriously we should take him.

Mr. DONALD TRUMP: I am serious. I've seen what's happened—I've seen polls come out that say that I'd win and that would, you know, obviously before I did it I'd have to make sure I'd win. I really—in fact, the National Enquirer, of all folks, did a poll recently and they said I'd win the election. So I don't know if that's true, I don't know if that's not true. But, you know, you have the Democrats that are too far left, you have the Republicans that are too far right, and I think I'm somewhere right down the middle. And I—I just think it's something that we need, we need spirit in this country, and we don't have it.

LAUER: Yeah, you say this, there is no spirit in America; why can Donald Trump give spirit to America?

Mr. TRUMP: I've just given spirit to everything I've done. Whether it's my business, whether it's whatever. And, you know, we go through good times and bad times, and I had rough times in the early '90s, and a lot of people went out of business in the real estate business, they went bankrupt and never to be heard from again—my company is now bigger and stronger than it's ever been before.

LAUER: But in doing your business dealings along the way, you know, you have—I don't want to use the expression, but there's a word for it, but you've aggravated a lot of people, you haven't done it without making enemies.

Mr. TRUMP: Yeah, but sometimes I enjoy that and sometimes I do...

LAUER: But in politics you can't do that.

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I think you can do that. I think we can aggravate some people, and I think that certain things have to be—when—when you look at our trade deficits, when you look at how Japan and France and Saudi Arabia and Germany and other com—countries are ripping off this nation is—is just really terrible. And I think somebody's got to get in there and fight for us a little bit.

LAUER: So when—when people say the one thing about Donald Trump is that he's a wonderful self promoter and they're starting to get suspicious that this talk about running for the presidency is just the latest and greatest self promotion you've ever come up, you say?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I say this, I say that I'm doing a book and they're saying that's all self promotion, I'm building the biggest buildings in the city right now, as you know, and they say that's self promotion, it's building. I don't think I'm a good promoter at all, I think I'm a great builder, and I think that what happens is I do something, it works out well, and then everybody—every time they say, oh, gee, isn't he a great promoter?

LAUER: There's more to becoming president than—than adding spirit to the country. Tell me what else you'd bring to the job in terms of experience. You've never been a politician.

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I've been on the fringes of politics all my life. I mean, I think I'm probably the largest campaign contributor in the country, or certainly one of them. I mean, every year they have a max and every year I'm at the max and I give tremendous...

LAUER: It's one thing, though, to be behind a candidate and it's another thing to be a candidate.

Mr. TRUMP: No, it's true, it's true, it's true. But I know the candidates and I know every one of the people literally running for office and some—to some degree. I mean, I—I have a big interest—I think I'm the largest employer in the state of New Jersey and I know Bill Bradley and I understand that whole thing and I—I just sort of know most of these folks that are running and I know most of the folks that are senators.

LAUER: Do you expect people to take you seriously? I mean, you know, so much has been written about you, so much has been said about you, sometimes by you yourself. Do you think that people are going to stop and say, 'wait a minute now, Donald Trump for president, I could vote for this guy'?

Mr. TRUMP: I think what's happened is the polls and the reason that everyone's sort of talking, and Newsweek puts it on the cover, is that polls came out recently, and a lot of polls came out and they said that I'd do very well.

And one of the reasons Jesse called, Jesse Ventura called, is because they did a poll and the poll says that Trump does better than anybody else, so...

LAUER: Newsweek magazine, though, you mention that, all right, they asked people, they said, would you be very likely to vote for Donald Trump, 2 percent said yes. Would you be very likely not to vote for him, 73 percent said yes.

Mr. TRUMP: So how am I doing so far?

LAUER: Not so well in that poll.

Mr. TRUMP: Huh? I would say that doesn't sound too good. I haven't seen that one. I think I was on the cover and I haven't read the story. But I don't know if that's in the same issue. But I will say this, National Enquirer and about four or five other polls say that I'd win an election if I wanted to.

LAUER: But listen to what you're saying there, National Enquirer vs. Newsweek.

Mr. TRUMP: Yeah, but that's the people, that's six million people.

LAUER: But that's interesting, though, because Newsweek you think is something that's a little bit more politically sensitive and in tune.

Mr. TRUMP: If I have 2 percent, how come they put me on their cover?

LAUER: In the Reform Party, which candidate would make the most impact running for president? Do you know where you finished in this one?

Mr. TRUMP: I have no idea.

LAUER: Last. You finished behind 'I don't know' and 'I don't care.'

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I mean, Matt, I'm just sitting here doing—listen, I'm just sitting here doing and interview and I really don't und—I don't really know. I mean, I just know that the polls that have come out, the ones that I've seen and the ones that you've seen, have put me very high up in the poll, and that's why people are asking—you know, it's interesting because you mention Newsweek and Newsweek came out with a poll that was asked in a certain way, I can do a poll and come out with 100 percent or nothing...

LAUER: Polls say what you want them to say.

Mr. TRUMP: Absolutely. And Newsweek puts me on their cover and then you open it and they have a poll that sort of doesn't look so great. So I say why do you put me on the cover if you're doing a poll like that? It doesn't make sense.

LAUER: Because you sell magazines.

Mr. TRUMP: Well, it sells magazines and maybe it sells votes, too, I don't know.

LAUER: You're a registered Republican, but all the talk right now is that you might join the Reform Party. What do you think of that party in the two years they've been around?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I think right now it's looking not so great. I think they're having a bad moment. It's got a shot to be very important. I think it's got...

LAUER: Bad moment why?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, there's so much controversy, I mean Pat Buchanan coming out with 'I love Hitler,' other people making statements that are, you know, just not so great. Lowell Weicker, who does not do well in polls, you know, being perhaps a favorite son of the party.

LAUER: He said perhaps...

Mr. TRUMP: I think Jesse is going to be fine.

LAUER: What do you think of his comments?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I'm not sure that they were—you know, any time you do a Playboy interview, and I've done them also, you always get yourself into a little difficulty because you think you're catering to a certain audience and you get a little bit verbose, you get a little bit...

LAUER: Carried away.

Mr. TRUMP: ...carried away. And all of a sudden they start releasing it as though it's mainstream New York Times stuff. And I think what he said—I'm not sure what he said and I'm not sure he even said it, and I haven't read the interview, but I know him very well and—and he's a believer, believe me, he is truly a believer. What he said about Tailhook and about this and that, I don't know, he says guys go out and they're flying planes at 2000 miles an hour, dropping bombs, and then they come back and they act a little bit wild and aren't we supposed to expect that? I don't know, is that so bad?

LAUER: Organized religion?

Mr. TRUMP: Coming back as a 38DD, he's having fun with that.

LAUER: Organized religion a sham and a crutch for the weak-minded?

Mr. TRUMP: Organized religion is tougher. If he said it—well, I don't know if he said it. I mean, I'm just not sure. And I disagree with him on that.

LAUER: I don't think he's apologized and said he has—that he didn't say it.

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I'm going to see him in a couple of days and—and I'm sure that he did not mean what the press is sort of trying to make him...

LAUER: If he did mean it—are you a religious person?

Mr. TRUMP: I'm a religious person.

LAUER: How would you feel about the comment if Jesse Ventura looks at you and says, 'you know what, Donald, that's what I said'?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I think there's a difference between believing in God and organized religion, number one. I think that God and the belief in God is more important than organized religion. But I think organized religion's important in that it keeps people in the straight and narrow. So I would disagree with Jesse on it. But he's got his views. I'm not sure that he didn't say it in a joking manner. You know, I'd have to see the way it was said.

LAUER: It's a tough joke, though.

Mr. TRUMP: I'd have to see the way it was said, Matt, to be honest.

LAUER: Do you think, though, that, at least temporarily, he has suffered some credibility damage?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I think he's probably suffered a little bit. If you look at the polls, he's down a little bit on the polls. But I really think he's a very unique guy, and people want a straight-talker, and he's certainly a straight-talker, and people want that.

LAUER: You probably fit in that mold?

Mr. TRUMP: I think I probably do. I mean, I think I—I very much do.

LAUER: Let's talk about some of the other people who are toying with the idea of running for the presidency.

Warren Beatty. Is he presidential material?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I—I don't know him. I watched his speech the other day, his speech was a little bit different than speeches that I've normally seen, you know, he didn't look very comfortable speaking, and I don't think he's comfortable—I've seen him in interviews—I don't think he's comfortable doing an interview, but I think he's a nice guy. I mean, I've met him once at a place called Mumba at 2:00 in the morning, and he shouldn't have been there and I shouldn't have been there, and he was great.

LAUER: Anything—you want to tell me a little more about that story?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I could really make this a much more interesting interview.

LAUER: Go ahead. What were you both doing in Mumba?

Mr. TRUMP: Next. Yeah, next.

LAUER: Bill Bradley.

Mr. TRUMP: Well, Bill Bradley is somebody that I do know because of my New Jersey whole thing, and Bill Bradley was going to lose the election in New Jersey badly, and he dropped out. And, you know, he's—he's a decent guy, but he was going to get killed in the election in New Jersey. So he dropped out and—and then he started saying 'I'm tired of the Senate,' I'm this—he wasn't tired of the Senate, he wasn't going to win.

LAUER: He's just broken, he said.

Mr. TRUMP: He was not going to win. And so he used all sorts of excuses. And he did a smart thing in dropping out. Now he's the only alternative to the, you know, Clinton whatever it may be.

LAUER: He's gaining momentum, why do you think?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, he's gaining momentum because he's the only one. Now, if Gore was doing his job, he'd get one of his senator friends to run also, because you'd split up the vote—the Bradley vote. And—and, you know, your next question's going to be Gore, and to that I'd say very, very underrated. However, if he keeps going the way he's going, he's not going to be underrated at all, he's just—I mean it's really terrible the job he's done as vice president.

LAUER: Senator Moynihan said that he's a good guy, talking about Al Gore, but he can't be elected president.

Mr. TRUMP: Well, that might be so. I will say this, if Buchanan gets the Reform Party nomination I think Gore possibly wins and possibly beats Bush. And I think the same can be said for Bradley. I think whoever becomes the Democrat—I think if Buchanan gets it he'll take the votes away almost exclusively from the Republicans. And I've seen polls that show that Bush loses the election if Buchanan becomes the Reform Party candidate.

LAUER: Now, if Buchanan becomes the Reform Party candidate, doesn't sound like you're talking to me as a guy who's thinking he's going to get that.

Mr. TRUMP: No, I'm just saying if Buchanan gets in I think he would take votes away from the Republicans.

LAUER: If you get in...

Mr. TRUMP: Much more so than I would. I think I'd take more votes away actually from the Democrats, to be honest, for whatever reason, but I would take the votes away from the Democrats.

LAUER: Let's go back to Pat Buchanan. You feel pretty strongly that he may have shot himself in the foot with the comments he made about Hitler in his book.

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I've been on his show, I think he's a great guy, I think he's a nice guy, and, unless he was just trying to sell a book, I don't understand why he did this, because I think those statements were terrible.

LAUER: Do you think, as some critics have charged, that he is an anti-Semite? Based on what you've heard?

Mr. TRUMP: Well, there are some people, and I have some Jewish friends that have called me that are very high up in the world, and they say he's absolutely anti-Semite. I don't know that he's an anti-Semite. He certainly seems to respect and admire Adolf Hitler, which is, you know, not a very in thing to do, especially when you say I'm running—you know, the guy comes out with a book, says all sorts of wonderful things, I mean the guy's having a love affair with this guy, and now he comes out and he says I'm going to run for president. The timing doesn't seem to be great. So he must have an ulterior motive because he's not a stupid guy.

LAUER: Registered...

Mr. TRUMP: And maybe that's the book, maybe he wants to sell books more than he wants to become president.

LAUER: And he might look at you at this situation and say maybe the shoe's on the other foot.

Mr. TRUMP: Yeah, the difference is—the difference is I don't need to sell books.

LAUER: And tomorrow, Donald Trump will talk about his position on specific issues, as well as George W. Bush and who he thinks would be a good running mate for him. Seven-nineteen. Here's Katie:

KATIE COURIC, co-host:

Thanks, Matt.

Copyright 1999 National Broadcasting Co. Inc. NBC News Transcripts.
Copyright© 1999, LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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