GWEN IFILL: Tonight, we continue our series exploring Donald Trump’s life, his transformation from businessman to reality TV star, to presidential nominee.
In this final installment, we look at Trump’s political transformation to billionaire populist.
In retrospect, this scene seemed inevitable, Donald Trump, surrounded by the trappings of wealth and celebrity, staking his claim to the world’s most powerful office.
DONALD TRUMP, (R) Presidential Candidate: I am officially running for president of the United States, and we are going to make our country great again.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
GWEN IFILL: His candidacy was initially dismissed as a prank, a long shot. But, in fact, it was 28 years in the making.
Gwenda Blair is a Trump biographer.
GWENDA BLAIR, Author, “The Trumps”: It’s not the first time, second, third, fourth, or even fifth. It’s the sixth time that he has talked about being president.
GWEN IFILL: Trump’s earliest interest in the intersection of politics and business was fueled by his developer father, Fred, but also by a shadier figure, Roy Cohn, the tough-talking power attorney who rose to prominence as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s fixer during the communist scares of the 1950s.
Author Timothy O’Brien:
TIMOTHY O’BRIEN, Author, “TrumpNation”: The Donald Trump who will sue anyone’s pants off at a drop of a hat learned that from Roy Cohn. The Donald who learned that the best way for a business campaign, or a political campaign, to be run was in a scorched-earth fashion, he learned that from Roy Cohn.
GWEN IFILL: Running for president, or at least talking about the possibility, became something of a hobby for Trump.
TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: Donald Trump, the political operator, is very much the same person as Donald Trump, the marketer and self-promoter. And he’s brought those same self-promotional and marketing skills to bear on the political race.
GWEN IFILL: Indeed, his first foray into presidential politics was a sales pitch, literally, to promote his new book.
Here’s writer Michael D’Antonio.
MICHAEL D’ANTONIO, Trump Biographer: In 1987, he had a book, “The Art of the Deal,” that he wanted to promote. Instead of buying ad space, he pretended to run for president. He went to New Hampshire, gave a couple of speeches. He made some pronouncements about the Reagan administration’s failures, and got a lot of attention. He was one of the first people actually to use running for president as a business tactic.
GWEN IFILL: Trump played coy about his political ambitions, and even about his political leanings.
LARRY KING, CNN: Are you a Republican, Donald?
DONALD TRUMP: I’m a Republican, yes.
LARRY KING: So, if there were politics, it would be as a Republican?
DONALD TRUMP: It would be, I guess, as a Republican. But I don’t see that there will be politics.
GWEN IFILL: He flirted with a Reform Party bid in 2000, floating Oprah Winfrey as a possible V.P. pick.
DONALD TRUMP: Oprah. I love Oprah. Oprah would always be my first choice.
LARRY KING: Oprah?
DONALD TRUMP: Oprah. Your competitor, right?
GWEN IFILL: And he made noise again in 2004.
DONALD TRUMP: Well, you would be shocked if I said that, in many cases, I probably identify more as a Democrat.
GWEN IFILL: The hints came again in 2008 and 2012.
TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: He’s found these different flash points that he’s used to get himself attention, but he’s never, ever developed a mature, deeply informed political platform.
GWEN IFILL: During that time, critics charge, some of his positions have been as inconsistent as his party affiliation, on issues like abortion.
DONALD TRUMP: Well, look, I’m very pro-choice.
And I am very, very proud to say that I am pro-life.
GWEN IFILL: His view has also clearly shifted on the woman who is now his likely general election opponent.
DONALD TRUMP: Hillary Clinton, I think is a terrific woman. I mean, I’m a little biased, because I have known her for years.
Most people know she’s a world-class liar.
GWEN IFILL: By 2011, he was questioning President Barack Obama’s citizenship, promoting the already discredited notion that the president wasn’t qualified to serve.
DONALD TRUMP: People have birth certificates. He doesn’t have a birth certificate. Now, he may have one, but there’s something on that. There’s maybe religion. Maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know.
GWENDA BLAIR: It really was, I think, seeing whether the latent hostility toward a black president, how deep it was. And he immediately got a very, very strong feedback that it was quite deep, quite widespread. He got a lot of attention for that. And I think that that was really the launching for 2012. But it turned into 2016.
GWEN IFILL: Which brings us back to this moment:
DONALD TRUMP: I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.
GWENDA BLAIR: He’s a sharp guy. He’s very shrewd at reading what people want to hear. And they want to hear that they’re right, that they have a reason to be angry.
GWEN IFILL: Blasting through a field of 16 other primary contenders, Donald Trump has now emerged as the GOP nominee.
MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: Lo and behold, by the time he is campaigning, it is almost enough to run as a celebrity candidate. So I think what we have seen is sort of the confluence of the Donald Trump celebrity strategy, the Donald Trump self-promotion strategy, and a changing political environment that allowed him to leverage both of these things to become the presumptive nominee.
DONALD TRUMP: Thank you all. Thank you very much.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
DONALD TRUMP: Thank you.