Mar 1, 1990
Playboy sat down with a young Donald Trump in 1990 where he teased a future in politics
What is marriage to you? Is it monogamous?
I don’t have to answer that. I never speak about my wife—which is one of the advantages of not being a politician. My marriage is and should be a personal thing.
I don’t want to be President. I’m one hundred percent sure. I’d change my mind only if I saw this country continue to go down the tubes.
But you do enjoy flirtations?
I think any man enjoys flirtations, and if he said he didn’t, he’d be lying or he’d be a politician trying to get the extra four votes. I think everybody likes knowing he’s well responded to. Especially as you get into certain strata where there is an ego involved and a high level of success, it’s important. People really like the idea that other people respond well to them.
You and your wife are often a subject of very biting satire for magazines such as Spy, which calls you a “short-fingered vulgarian” and recently published a horrendous close-up photograph of your wife on its cover. How do you feel about that?
Ten years ago, bad publicity was much harder for me to take than it is now. It is almost irrelevant.
That’s all you can say about Spy?
It’s a piece of garbage.
We assume you take Forbes magazine more seriously; it claims you’re worth one point five billion dollars. But you say three point seven billion dollars. What’s the right figure?
I don’t say anything. Business Week and Fortune have numbers much higher than Forbes’s. I know many people on the Forbes list who shouldn’t be there. It’s a very inaccurate survey. Malcolm Forbes seems to keep me low. Business Week and Fortune don’t have boats and they couldn’t care less.
Speaking of Malcolm Forbes, why didn’t you accept his invitation to the Morocco bash?
I wish I could have gone, but I couldn’t because of a schedule conflict.
Would you spend three million dollars on a party for yourself?
It was a great investment for Malcolm. He got fifty million dollars’ worth of free publicity. I think he should do it every day of his life. That’s like people who can’t understand why I’m building an even more spectacular boat than the Trump Princess. It’s going to be world class, beyond belief.
Let’s talk about your main interest—buildings. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger of The New York Times hasn’t been kind to Trump buildings, panning them as garish and egotistical.
Paul Goldberger has extraordinarily bad taste. He reviews buildings that are failures and loves them. Paul suffers from one malady that I don’t believe is curable. As an architecture critic, you can’t afford the luxury of having bad taste. The fact that he works for the Times, unfortunately, makes his taste important. And that’s why you see some monster buildings going up. If Paul left the Times or the Times left him, you would find that his opinion meant nothing.
But it’s not just the architecture critics who criticize you for stamping your name on everything you own. Are you going to continue doing that forever?
No. I own the Grand Hyatt Hotel; I don’t call it the Trump Hotel. I own the Plaza Hotel, not the Trump Plaza. But I will say that from a marketing point of view, putting my name on buildings is a plus. I’m now building Trump Palace and if I called it something else, I would get hundreds of dollars less per square foot. On the Trump Shuttle, I’ve owned it for six months and we are already taking over fifty percent of the market in Washington, Boston and New York. If I called it anything but the Trump Shuttle, it wouldn’t be nearly so successful. The Tour de Trump was actually going to be called the Tour de Jersey. We had four hundred and seventy-three reporters at a news conference for a damn bicycle race; how many would have been there for the Tour de Jersey? We would have gotten nowhere.
You’re involved in so many activities, deals, promotions—in the deep of the night, after the reporters all leave your conferences, are you ever satisfied with what you’ve accomplished?
I’m too superstitious to be satisfied. I don’t dwell on the past. People who do that go right down the tubes. I’m never self-satisfied. Life is what you do while you’re waiting to die. You know, it is all a rather sad situation.
Life? Or death?
Both. We’re here and we live our sixty, seventy or eighty years and we’re gone. You win, you win, and in the end, it doesn’t mean a hell of a lot. But it is something to do—to keep you interested.
Do you agree with the T-shirt that says, WHOEVER HAS THE MOST TOYS WINS?
Depends on your definition of winning. Some of my friends are unbelievably successful and miserable people. I truly believe that someone successful is never really happy, because dissatisfaction is what drives him. I’ve never met a successful person who wasn’t neurotic. It’s not a terrible thing … it’s controlled neuroses.
What do you mean?
Controlled neuroses means having a tremendous energy level, an abundance of discontent that often isn’t visible. It’s also not oversleeping. I don’t sleep more than four hours a night. I have friends who need twelve hours a night and I tell them they’re at a major disadvantage in terms of playing the game.
And when you’re up at night, you’re totally alone?
Yeah, yeah, because it’s a little tough to find anyone up at four in the morning.
You mentioned that you have to be born with “it.” Do you suppose your children inherited “it” from you?
Statistically, my children have a very bad shot. Children of successful people are generally very, very troubled, not successful. They don’t have the right shtick. You never know until they’re tested. But I do well with my children.
Do you think they will have to make it?
I would love them to be in business with me, but ninety-five percent of those children fail in a sophisticated big business. It takes confidence, intelligence, shtick. If any one of these traits is missing, you’re not going to make it.
You’ve always said that you earned, not inherited, your empire, that adversity and uphill struggles made you stronger. What kind of adversity can your children experience?
I’m a strong believer in genes, that my kids can be brought up without adversity and respond well if they have the genes. I have a friend who is extraordinarily smart. But he never became successful, because he couldn’t take pressure. He was buying a home and it was literally killing him—a man of forty with an I.Q. of probably a hundred and ninety. He called me one day for the umpteenth time, worrying about his mortgage and I was sitting in my chair, thinking to myself, Here I am, buying the shuttle, the Plaza Hotel, and I don’t lose an ounce of sleep over any of it. That’s lucky genes.
Even with good genes, how can your kids ever feel they’ve lived up to what you’ve accomplished?
I don’t know that they’ll have to. I would be happier if they were able to preserve rather than build. I’m not looking to have a great deal maker as a son, though I’d certainly like everything to run beautifully when I’m not around. I’d be happier if my son became a great manager rather than a great entrepreneur.
My kids are extremely well adjusted. But I wonder what they think when they walk into Mar-a-Lago and see ceilings that rise to heights that nobody’s ever seen before. And when my daughter’s date picks her up at Trump Tower in a few years and sees the living room, how will he feel when he takes her out and tries to impress her with a studio apartment?
Knowing all this, are you taking any precautions?
It’s somewhat late. And I don’t think a paper route would work. But my son works on the boat.
When you think about role models from history, what figures particularly inspired you?
I could say Winston Churchill, but … I’ve always thought that Louis B. Mayer led the ultimate life, that Flo Ziegfeld led the ultimate life, that men like Darryl Zanuck and Harry Cohn did some creative and beautiful things. The ultimate job for me would have been running MGM in the Thirties and Forties—pre-television.
There was incredible glamour and style in those days that’s gone now. And that’s when you could control situations. In those days, when your great actor was an alcoholic, and nobody ever found out—that was having tremendous control over things, which would be impossible today.
You talk about glamour and style being gone—but isn’t that what you tried to bring back to New York?
Yes, but not in show business, in my business. The Plaza Hotel is far more valuable than any movie I could make. If I put together a string of movies that were all hits, I couldn’t have made anywhere near what I made in real estate. I believe I’ve added show business to the real-estate business, and that’s been a positive for my properties and in my life.
So building that second huge yacht isn’t an act of gaudy excess but another act in the show?
Well, it draws people. It will be the eighth wonder of the world and will create an aura that seems to work. It will cost me two hundred million dollars. But I don’t need it! I could be very happy living in a one-bedroom apartment. I used to live that life. In the early Seventies, I lived in a studio apartment overlooking a water tank.
If you were starting over again, in what business would you choose to make your fortune?
Good question…. There’s something about mother earth that’s awfully good, and mother earth is still real estate. With the right financing, you’ve essentially invested no money. Publishing, movies, broadcasting are tougher, and there aren’t too many Rupert Murdochs, Si Newhouses, Robert Maxwells and Punch Sulzbergers. I’ll stick to real estate.
When someone tries to sucker-punch me, when they’re after my ass, I push back a hell of a lot harder than I was pushed in the first place.
What about the stock market?
It’s a crap shoot. Real estate is something solid. It’s brick, mortar.
Do you regret your statements to the press after the October 1987 crash, when you seemed to gloat about getting out in time when others were wiped out?
No. I didn’t gloat. Somebody reported that I was out of the market and I confirmed it. I don’t know if that’s talent or luck or instinct. I then went back into the market after the crash. I think the cash market is the great one right now—cash is king, and that’s one of the beauties of the casino business.
You seem very pleasant and charming during interviews, yet you talk constantly about toughness. Do you put on an act for us?
I think everybody has to have some kind of filtering system. I’m very fair and I have had the same people working for me for years. Rarely does anybody leave me. But when somebody tries to sucker-punch me, when they’re after my ass, I push back a hell of a lot harder than I was pushed in the first place. If somebody tries to push me around, he’s going to pay a price. Those people don’t come back for seconds. I don’t like being pushed around or taken advantage of. And that’s one of the problems with our country today. This country is being pushed around by everyone—
About your own toughness….
Well, as I said, I study people and in every negotiation, I weigh how tough I should appear. I can be a killer and a nice guy. You have to be everything. You have to be strong. You have to be sweet. You have to be ruthless. And I don’t think any of it can be learned. Either you have it or you don’t. And that is why most kids can get straight A’s in school but fail in life.
Is there a master plan to your deal making or is it all improvisational?
It’s much more improvisational than people might think.
As you continue to make more deals, as you accumulate more and more, there’s a central question that arises about Donald Trump: How much is enough?
As long as I enjoy what I’m doing without getting bored or tired … the sky’s the limit.