We are in one of those rare unharmonic convergences when reality is more absurd than satire.
So I decided to dispense with satire and simply call Donald Trump at Trump Tower last week to hear about his trip to survey the damage from the volcanic eruption of his imminent nomination.
Not since Pompeii have there been so many people caked in muck and frozen in varying poses of horror.
Trump told me that when he came to tour the ruins of the Republican Party here, he and Paul Ryan asked if everyone would clear the room.
They let Reince Priebus stay. “He’s a hard worker and a good guy,” Trump said. And the New York billionaire was clearly in need of new buttling, after his former butler at Mar-a-Lago, Anthony Senecal, got caught last week with past Facebook posts about how President Barack Obama should be dragged from the “white mosque” and hanged.
So, with the soul of the party at stake, the two most powerful – and polar opposite – men in the GOP got down to it.
What were Ryan’s demands?
“We talked about the success I’ve had,” Trump replied. “Paul said to me that he has never seen anything like it because I’m a nonpolitician and I beat very successful politicians. He was really fascinated by how I won. I said, it’s just like I have good ideas and I’ve bonded with the people, and my people are very loyal. They will stay through thick and thin, whereas the people that support Marco and Cruz wouldn’t. If Jeb sneezed, they’d leave.”
So Ryan didn’t ask Trump to stop making remarks that alienate women? “No,” Trump said, “he wants me to be me.” So much for the showdown.
When I asked if he had been chided by any Republicans for his Twitter feud with Elizabeth Warren, he replied, “You mean Pocahontas?” So much for reining it in.
I noted that John Cornyn said he gave Trump some tips on how to discuss illegal immigration more sensitively to woo Hispanic voters. “I love getting advice,” Trump deadpanned. “It’s just what I need, just what I need is more advice. The 17 people I beat are still giving me advice.”
Trump also briefly saw Poppy Bush’s guru, James Baker. “I was more interested in asking him about Ronald and Nancy Reagan and the whole Reagan era than I was in terms of getting advice currently,” Trump said.
As usual in Trumpworld, there was good news. Trump enjoys the status that comes with a Secret Service code name: “Mogul.” Ryan was friendly, if noncommital; Lindsey Graham called to talk ISIS and Syria; nine House committee chairmen endorsed Trump; and a Quinnipiac poll popped up showing Trump effectively tied with Hillary Clinton in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. “It means I’m going to win the election,” Trump said. The man with no pollster mused, “I think I’ve increased the value of polls.”
And, as is usual in Trumpworld, there was swarming craziness and chaos. When ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos quizzed Trump about why he hasn’t released his tax returns yet, pointing out that Richard Nixon released his while under audit, Trump shot back, “It’s none of your business.”
The candidate who’s under fire for his own tone told me he was offended by Stephanopoulos’ tone. Trump said he’s not afraid that people will find out he’s not as rich as he says. “Tax returns don’t show that,” he said. “They would show, do I use Cayman Islands stuff? And the answer is ‘no,’ I can tell you right now. Am I ensconced in some of the crazy countries where you keep money and avoid taxes? The answer is ‘no,’ I don’t do that.”
The Washington Post revived a story, with a new damning audio, about how Trump had masqueraded as his own publicist, named either John Barron or John Miller, to boast about himself back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Trump admitted in court testimony in 1990 that he had used the name John Barron as an alias. Former New York Times editor Joe Sexton told me that he thought he interviewed Trump-as-Barron in 1985 while working as a sports writer with UPI and chasing a story about the New Jersey Generals. The Post audio on “John Miller” contained classic Trumpisms like “That I can tell you.” CNN interviewed a forensic audio specialist who believed that Trump was posing as Miller. But Trump insisted to me that the Post recording was not his voice. “Do you know how many people I have imitating my voice now? It’s like everybody.”
I asked how voters could trust him when he has been shifting positions so much lately, even saying that the temporary Muslim ban was just a “suggestion.” “I didn’t shift on that,” he said. “But we have to talk about problems, and if we don’t talk about the problems, we’re never going to solve the problems, and that is a real problem, in case you haven’t noticed.”
While many Republicans are expressing how scared they are to be handcuffed to someone so erratic, Trump is almost feral in savoring his victory. “They say it was the roughest primary in memory, in history,” he said proudly. Recalling trouncing Jeb Bush, he noted, “Low energy, that term just hit. That thing, that was a one-day kill. Words are beautiful.”
No one marvels more at his success than Trump. “Don’t analyze it,” he said. “Just do it. The other players would come up to Babe Ruth and say, ‘Babe, how do you hit the long ball?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know, man. I just hit it.’ There’s a little bit of truth in that.”
The New York Times