When Trump nearly ran for President in 1987

President Trump 1987

It’s a terrifying thought but in 1987, a 41-year-old Donald Trump considered running for President as Ronald Reagan completed his second term in office. Reagan, a former Hollywood actor and governor of California, had been a charismatic if divisive figure. Even in the 1980s, Trump was regarded as a grasping narcissist by his enemies. But he had a fanbase as the newspaper letters columns in 1987 evidence.

Trump mulls a run for President in 1987

In September of that year, he ran a full-page advertisement with a manifesto of sorts in several newspapers including The New York Times. His spokesperson said Trump was not considering a run for mayor, governor, or senator but tantalisingly refused to mention “president”. Mike Dunbar, Republican governor of New Hampshire, devised a draft campaign for a Trump candidacy.

This was and remains classic Trump behaviour. Teasing his supporters with the prospect of entering the fray but not deciding until the last minute. Milking the resulting tension for media publicity and aggrandising himself. The cartoonist Garry Trudeau mocked Trump in his regular Doonesbury strip. This provoked the ire of Trump fans who put pen to paper in defence of their idol.

Ralph Gillum from Ocean City wrote: “…this country needs a man with his financial genius to get our financial house in order”. Alice Botbye from Tuckerton agreed with Trump’s view that the US government should spend less time on foreign policy and more effort on domestic issues. Even then, Trump displayed isolationist tendencies. Many liked the idea of a businessman in the White House. Surely he would get the yawning Reaganite budget deficit under control?

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Back in 1987, Trump was already portraying himself as an action man who could cut through red tape and get things done. For example, re-opening the ice skating rink in New York’s Central Park after years of wrangling. Trump had once referred to the city’s mayor, Ed Koch, as a “jerk” and a “loser”. He contrasted Koch’s style of civic leadership with his own buccaneering spirit.

One correspondent in the newspaper Newsday wondered what the White House would look like by 1989 if Trump was elected in the 1988 US Presidential election. He sarcastically suggested that the mobster John Gotti would be Secretary of Defense while the notorious New York property developer Leona Helmsley – known as the Queen of Mean on account of her behaviour – would be Secretary of the Interior.

The President would lope around in a dark blue bathrobe with a foot-high “T” embroidered on it in gold thread. While Camp David, the White House retreat, would be renamed Trump Village II. Strange to say in retrospect that yet again, satire can so often turn into grim reality.

The future President Trump on the Middle East in 1987

Interviewed by the veteran TV journalist Barbara Walters, Trump outlined his policies on ABC television’s 20/20 news program. He informed viewers that the next time Iran attacked US interests, “this country should go in and grab their oil”. The logistics of such a move were not discussed.

However, in the end, Trump did not run for President in the 1988 election. With characteristic modesty (and the lack thereof) he told Newsweek that his name would not be put forward: “I’m not running for President. But if I did…I’d win. There, I said it. I didn’t think I would but I did.”

Having allowed rumours to fester through 1987, his name never appeared on the ballot. Instead, the Republican party leadership picked the very obvious candidate: Vice President H. W. Bush. He romped to victory against a less than inspiring Democrat challenger, Michael Dukakis.

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