I’d been inside the barge-like Sun-Times building many times, but never in its replacement, the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, a lavish skyscraper that screams “One percent!” Along with Charles Thomas of WLS-TV and Rick Pearson for WGN-TV, I was there Tuesday afternoon to interview Donald Trump. The occasion was the publication Monday of Trump’s Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again.
Running late, the 65-year-old mogul arrived smiling, wearing a dark suit and white shirt, with his strawberry blonde hair sprayed into utter submission and hanging modishly over his back collar. My interview came last—the TV folks went first, of course—but I was able to grab the most time with Trump, asking him about Chicago and local pols here. “No questions on the book?” he complained at the end. I did have one: “Why Regnery [a publisher known for its well-right-of-center authors]?” That wasn’t the question Trump wanted, but he answered anyway: “Because they really wanted to do it badly. It’s a very successful firm.” I asked him if more mainstream publishers wanted it. “Everyone wants to do my book,” he said.
For the record, I did read Time to Get Tough and came away thinking he wrote it himself or dictated it. The Trump voice, in all its bravado, is unmistakable. In person, in the absence of cameras, he was far more understated and likable than I expected. Here, an edited transcript of our chat:
CF: You have just one building in Chicago. Any plans for anything else here?
DT: I’m thinking about it very much.
CF: What? Where?
DT: We’re looking at doing a couple of things right now in Chicago. If I talk about it, you’re going to write it, and I’ll have 25 people looking at what I’m thinking about. There’s a lot of distress in Chicago. Other people had structures all over the place that never got finished, and this building got completed and people love it.
CF: Would you think about building one of your golf courses here?
DT: I would, I would. I’d love to have a great golf course [here].
CF: You were a financial supporter of our new mayor.
DT: Yes, and his brother [Ari, co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and the model for Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold in HBO’s Entourage] is a very good friend of mine… and my agent. And the third brother [Ezekiel] is the head of the big cancer institute in Washington. [I told Trump that Zeke is now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Trump’s alma mater.] I spoke to him a couple of times about getting somebody, the son of a friend of mine, into a [cancer hospital in Washington], and he was very, very nice about doing it.
CF: Did you call Rahm and tell him you’re in Chicago and ask for a meeting?
DT: No, from what I hear Rahm is really working hard and doing a very good job. He’s busy. I didn’t want to waste his time.
CF: But Rahm is a huge Obama booster, and you’re a huge Obama basher.
DT: I have big assets in Chicago, and I like to see somebody doing a good job.
CF: If Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016, would you support her?
DT: I don’t know. Certainly I’m her friend, and I’m friends with her husband, too. They’re members of my club in Westchester. I always like people who are members of my club.
CF: Bill golfs there?
DT: Bill golfs there.
CF: Have you golfed with him?
DT: Yes, I have.
CF: If you were the judge on the Rod Blagojevich case, what would your sentence be?
DT: All I can say, when he was on The Celebrity Apprentice he worked very, very hard. People on the show liked him. He was a nice person, not particularly skilled. He is goofy, but he’s got some people skills. There’s something that people like about him. Until this tragic event, he was a successful politician.
Photograph: Chicago Tribune