Maggie Haberman’s new book ‘Confidence Man’ details Trump’s rise to prominence

Maggie Haberman, a White House correspondent for The New York Times, has been covering Donald Trump since the 1990s. Her new book, "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America," chronicles where he came from and how his experiences in New York City impact our nation's politics today. Haberman joined Judy Woodruff to discuss the book.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A number of news reporters have tried and are still trying to understand former President Donald Trump and his influence on our nation's politics today.

    The one who has undoubtedly spent more time covering him than any other is New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, who has been covering Mr. Trump since the 1990s.

    She's out with a new book. And I spoke with her about it this afternoon. It's titled "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America."

    Maggie Haberman, thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations on the book.

    I know a lot of people have been waiting to see this. You are considered the reporter who goes back longer with Donald Trump than anyone else and who understands him better than any other reporter.

    And I want to start with, I think, the question — a question that is all about what keeps him in the news, and that is his denial of the result of the 2020 election, insisting that he actually won. Is this something he believes to be true, or what?

    I mean, we know it is not true. How do you explain it?

    Maggie Haberman, Author, "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America": It's a really good question, Judy.

    And thank you for having me to talk about the book.

    He clearly, in my reporting — and I describe this — in the first few days after the November 2020 election, he seemed aware that he had lost in his conversations with a number of aides. And then, by the second week, something had just switched, and he was insisting that he had won. He was telling people he wasn't going to leave.

    And it's very hard to know now whether he really believes this or whether it is just something he is saying. But he is — one of the things he said to me in one of our interviews was the he uses repetition in interviews to beat something into — and I quote — "my beautiful brain."

    He is very aware that, if you repeat something over and over again, it can turn it into something real. And it's just hard to know how much is that vs. he's convinced himself of this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we know that he — I mean, and you have written this. He views the truth as something that's transactional.

    How does he see the truth? I mean, how does he take in facts? I mean, does he just create a different factual universe? I mean, what — what — how does he do this?

  • Maggie Haberman:

    I don't know if you're familiar with the children's book "Harold and the Purple Crayon," but it's about a child named Harold who literally has a purple crayon, and he draws a whole world at night one night. He draws buildings. He draws roads.

    I used that metaphor to describe him in 2017. It's obviously not benign. There's a malevolence around how he does this a lot of the time, but he treats facts as if they are things that can be either discarded or invented or created or augmented, but facts are an ongoing, fluid thing with him.

    And this is one of the things that makes establishing a baseline of discernible truth around him so incredibly hard.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think he knows what's real and what isn't?

  • Maggie Haberman:

    I think, sometimes, he does. And I think, sometimes, he seems less clear.

    I also think he's extremely suggestible and I think he's extremely paranoid. And so it is easy for people to convince him that something is true, when it is not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And somewhat in connection with that, there's a long list of people he's belittled, people who've been loyal to him, like Lindsey Graham, Senator Graham, Kevin McCarthy. He's called him a weakling. And, again, I could name many others.

    We know he does this. Is there anyone in political life he truly admires?

  • Maggie Haberman:

    Honestly, the first name that came to mind as you were asking that question was Richard Nixon, with whom — who is obviously not alive anymore, with whom he had a huge fascination. He mentioned Nixon unprompted in one of our interviews.

    But, no, I think that, of political — of U.S. political leaders who are alive right now, I'm very hard-pressed to point to a single person who he really admires, unless they're fighting for him. He admires autocrats in other countries. And he makes that very clear.

    President Xi Jinping of China, he has been praising repeatedly since he left office. He was constantly looking for a relationship with him in the past and kept it going out of office still, this admiration. I can't think of anyone whose behavior in typical U.S. political fashion he admires right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sensitive subject, but we know there are a number of incidents that happened during his presidency that led people to say he is racist.

    Most recently, just in the last few days, he put out a statement about Elaine Chao, the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell. She's former transportation secretary.

    Do you think, at his core, that he is racist?

  • Maggie Haberman:

    I think he has a long pattern of racist behavior going back to when he was in New York City. And we clearly saw it continue in the White House, be it attacking Elijah Cummings in Baltimore, a city that is part of the United States, and Trump was supposed to be the president for all of the United States, whether he was attacking congresswomen of color, whether he was getting into various condemnations, or lack thereof, I should say, of white supremacists, whether he was flirting with the QAnon conspiracy theory.

    His behavior is really what matters on this front. So, what exactly is in his heart, I think, becomes irrelevant. He is behaving in a racist way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He has called you, essentially, like his psychiatrist, whether you agree with that term or not. But that's what he said.

    I'm quoting now Mary Trump, his niece, who, among other things, said that she thinks he is — he has what she calls narcissistic personality disorder. She goes on to talk about a fragile ego that has to be constantly fed and so on.

    But my question to you is, what do you think he cares about the most or whom? What is he — at his core, what does he care about?

  • Maggie Haberman:

    I just want to go back to the psychiatrist line.

    He said that to me in one of our interviews. And, as I write, it was meant to flatter and it's a meaningless lie. He treats everyone like they're his psychiatrist, because he's working everything out in real time.

    What he needs his attention. I think his niece is right. And she clearly knows the family dynamic and knows him and all of these family stories very, very well, better than anyone. But I do think that he needs whatever he doesn't have, and whatever that might be in any given moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Maggie Haberman, you have said that he may have backed himself into a corner when it comes to whether he's going to run for president again, and, for that reason, he may do it.

    But, if he does, what do you think a second Donald Trump presidency term would look like?

  • Maggie Haberman:

    I think, to quote someone who knew him years ago who said this to me a couple of months back, a second Trump presidency would be very heavily driven by spite.

    It would look like him. I don't believe that he learned how to be president more astutely. I don't think he figured the office out. But I do think he figured out personnel, which is often what he's focused on. And I think that the people who he would put into key jobs would be very alarming to a number of people across Washington. I think that's what a second President Trump presidency would look like.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Maggie Haberman, thank you, the reporter who has known Donald Trump longer than any other.

    The book is "Confidence Man."

    Thank you.

  • Maggie Haberman:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment