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For years, talking about running for the presidency has been somewhat of a hobby for Donald Trump. The first time was in 1987, when, instead of buying ad space to promote his new book, he gave speeches hinting at the possibility of a run. In 1999, he suggested to Larry King that Oprah Winfrey would be his first choice for a vice president. Gwen Ifill traces his trajectory to the nomination.
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)
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.
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.
Running for president, or at least talking about the possibility, became something of a hobby for Trump.
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.
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.
Trump played coy about his political ambitions, and even about his political leanings.
LARRY KING, CNN:
Are you a Republican, Donald?
I'm a Republican, yes.
So, if there were politics, it would be as a Republican?
It would be, I guess, as a Republican. But I don't see that there will be politics.
He flirted with a Reform Party bid in 2000, floating Oprah Winfrey as a possible V.P. pick.
Oprah. I love Oprah. Oprah would always be my first choice.
Oprah. Your competitor, right?
And he made noise again in 2004.
Well, you would be shocked if I said that, in many cases, I probably identify more as a Democrat.
The hints came again in 2008 and 2012.
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.
During that time, critics charge, some of his positions have been as inconsistent as his party affiliation, on issues like abortion.
Well, look, I'm very pro-choice.
And I am very, very proud to say that I am pro-life.
His view has also clearly shifted on the woman who is now his likely general election opponent.
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.
By 2011, he was questioning President Barack Obama's citizenship, promoting the already discredited notion that the president wasn't qualified to serve.
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.
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.
Which brings us back to this moment:
I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.
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.
Blasting through a field of 16 other primary contenders, Donald Trump has now emerged as the GOP nominee.
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.
Thank you all. Thank you very much.
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