GWEN IFILL: From reality TV to the top of the GOP, Donald Trump has been in the spotlight for decades. What do we know about his past that gives hints to where he wants to lead the country in the future?
Tonight, we begin our series on the likely Republican nominee with a look at Trump’s early years.
Donald Trump was and is a child of New York, born and raised in the borough of Queens to a life of hard-earned privilege. He was the fourth of five children born to a Scottish immigrant mother, Mary, and a housing developer father, Fred, who left an important mark on his son.
DONALD TRUMP (R), Presumptive Presidential Nominee: My father was great. Good salesman. Good builder. He loved to build houses. He was a good builder. I learned so much from him. And he was a great guy, a lovely guy. I loved my father.
GWEN IFILL: Fred Trump, a shrewd and political businessman, made a fortune building low-income housing in Brooklyn and Queens beginning in the late 1920s.
GWENDA BLAIR, Author, “The Trumps”: The family lived in a 23-room house. They had a chauffeur, a maid. The kids got taken by the chauffeur to their private school every morning.
GWEN IFILL: The children were all raised to be high achievers, but Donald, in particular, patterned himself after his father.
Author Gwenda Blair.
GWENDA BLAIR: Dad worked 24/7. If it was Sunday, you wouldn’t take that day off. You would put the kids in the car and go over to a construction site. You would look for unused nails, because why would you waste a nail? He was a very tough and demanding guy, said to have told his boys, be killers, win, very competitive. And that competitive streak came out double in Donald.
GWEN IFILL: But that same pressure didn’t sit well with Trump’s oldest brother, Freddy.
Here’s author Timothy O’Brien.
TIMOTHY O’BRIEN, Author, “TrumpNation”: Fred Jr. really couldn’t stand the pressure. He ended up not going into his father’s real estate business, wanted to become a pilot. He ended up an alcoholic, and he died of alcoholism.
GWEN IFILL: Trump cites Freddy’s experience as why he doesn’t drink.
DONALD TRUMP: I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you today if — if we didn’t — if I didn’t have my brother Fred, because he kept me off alcohol. Now, maybe, with my kind of a personality, I would be a serious alcoholic. I just don’t know. But I have never had a glass of alcohol in my life.
GWEN IFILL: Biographer Michael D’Antonio says young Donald’s thirst for attention often landed him in trouble at school.
MICHAEL D’ANTONIO, Author, “The Truth About Trump”: He said to me that he was wise guy. He’s the fellow who threw an eraser and gave the teacher a black eye, and would throw cake around a birthday party. So, I can imagine him as being a little terror.
GWEN IFILL: It proved even too much for Fred Trump to handle. So, at age 13, Donald’s parents shipped him upstate to the New York Military Academy.
GWENDA BLAIR: Many kids, of course, are desperately homesick, can’t wait to go home. He apparently loved military school. He liked the — the kind of out-front, I think, competitiveness of it. There were so many different ways that you could excel and get medals and ribbons, cleanest room, shiniest shoes, all that kind of stuff.
GWEN IFILL: Donald Trump thrived, rising in rank, and he was socially popular with men and women. He also gravitated toward sports, or, rather, winning in sports, in soccer, wrestling, football, and baseball.
TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: He excelled at baseball, to the point where I think his coaches felt that he could become a professional baseball player. I think military school at least wrung some of his adolescent excesses out of him for a brief period of time.
But the thing to remember about Donald Trump is that his wealth sort of created a bubble around him, and he’s been able to pursue his appetites and really do whatever he wanted to do for most of his life with very few restraints.
GWEN IFILL: After graduation, he lived at home while commuting to Fordham University in the Bronx.
GWENDA BLAIR: His sister told me that the reason he went to Fordham — I asked, and she said, it’s where he got in.
GWEN IFILL: Two years later, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance and Commerce.
MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: You won’t find people at Penn who will say, well, I was Donald’s really good friend, I was in a fraternity with him, or we socialized.
He didn’t do any of those things. He studied. And then, come Friday, as soon as he could, he’d jump in his car and go back to Queens, where he worked with his dad. So, from the very start with Donald, it was about getting control of the family business, building it, growing it, and becoming the rich and famous and powerful person that he eventually became.
GWEN IFILL: Trump graduated from Penn in 1968 to start what quickly became a celebrity real estate career.