Columnist Cal Thomas on Monday sat down for a one-on-one interview with Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president. This is a transcript of that interview:
CT: My grandparents used to play a parlor game. It went like this: Tell me who you are without telling me your name or what you do. We have seen your tough exterior, but who are you at your core and what is your basic philosophy and worldview?
DT: I am a person who grew up with two wonderful parents and a wonderful family and a person who has done well in life. I went to great schools. Wharton School, a lot of great places. Education is very important. I think I understand education. I think I can straighten out our mess in education. And I’m a person who has, to a certain extent, redefined where I should be. I started off in Brooklyn and Queens and I wasn’t supposed to come to Manhattan. My father didn’t want to go to Manhattan for me, and I came to Manhattan and I have done a great job in Manhattan. And then I wrote a best-seller and I wrote numerous best-sellers. I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ and numerous other books. Some were number one best-sellers. I guess ‘The Art of the Deal’ is the best-selling business book of all time. I had a TV show called ‘The Apprentice’ and it’s one of the most successful reality shows in the history of television. And now I’m doing something else.
CT: President Obama has said America is not exceptional. I know you hold another view. A lot of people would like to know why you love America, besides the opportunity it has given you to be successful and make money. What is it about this country that, as president, you would seek to preserve, protect and defend, in the words of the oath of office?
DT: President Obama has been an unbelievable divider of this country, whether it’s rich and poor; white and black. One thing I had hoped Obama would be is a good cheerleader for the country. He’s really brought the opposite in spirit to the country. He’s been a very negative force. I think you see this when you see the tremendous division in the country, when you see Baltimore, when you see Ferguson and St. Louis. As far as the country is concerned, we have tremendous potential, but we’re not using it. I get the biggest rallies by far, much bigger than Bernie (Sanders), much bigger than anybody else. And the people are phenomenal. You know my theme is ‘Make America Great Again’ and I think it can be greater than ever before. But if we have four years of Hillary (Clinton), I don’t know if we can ever come back.
CT: Your critics say some of the language you use is divisive. How do you get beyond that? Will there be a pivot for you from the primaries to the general election campaign, because, even though Trump University (the subject of lawsuits claiming fraud and deception) is important to you and the (Latino) judge in the (two class-action lawsuits) … you say has been unfair, these are not things that resonate with most Americans who are concerned about jobs, the economy and threats against us.
DT: I agree. It’s starting very soon because Tuesday … (was) the last day (for primaries). I will have received more votes for a Republican than anyone in the history of the primaries by millions. More than Ronald Reagan, who was a terrific guy, more than Dwight D. Eisenhower, more than everybody. … That’s a great honor. Honestly, that puts a lot of weight on your shoulders because you’re representing so many great people who want to see so much. And they’re hungry for … I hate to use the word change because Obama used to use that word … but they’re hungry for real change; they’re hungry for making things right. And what I will do is put America first. People don’t like to use that term of America first, but we’re going to make America great again by putting America first. With our trade deals we are always second. You can pick any country and they’re eating our lunch and making us look bad and so we’re going to change that, Cal. We have to make our country rich again before we can make it great again. We’re a poorer country. You’ve seen how we’re stealing airplane parts for our fighter jets. We’re going to do something that will make you very proud.
CT: There are a lot of people who supported one of your opponents during the primaries. Some say they will never vote for you. Others say they are persuadable. How do you plan to persuade the persuadables who are concerned about your temperament?
DT: I’ve had great success in everything I’ve done. When you have the most votes of anybody that tells you where the party is. I think the party got lost to a certain extent. For instance, we talk about trade. I believe in free trade, but I really believe in making great deals for the United States.
CT: You seemed to indicate a moment ago in response to another question that you are going to do a pivot after the primaries. What would that look like?
DT: I think it’s going to be a pivot of spirit for the country, a period of smart deals for the country, a stronger military. Our military has been so badly depleted. Who would think the United States is raiding plane graveyards to pick up parts and equipment? That means they’re being held together by a shoestring. Other countries have brand-new stuff they have bought from us. It’s insane. We’re going to have strong borders. People are going to come into the country, but they’re going to come legally. We’re going to keep our jobs and not let them go to Mexico.
CT: So there will be less talk about Mexicans and other things and more about issues?
DT: Yes, the reason I bring up the (Trump University) lawsuit, because it is a lawsuit I am going to win. … I have thousands of students who loved the school and I’ve been treated very unfairly in that lawsuit. I don’t care if a judge is Mexican or what. What I care about is to be treated fairly. And the only reason I spent time on it is when they ask me a question, instead of saying I have no comment and then winning the case two years from now, I’d rather bring up parts of the case. For instance, you possibly didn’t know I have many thousands of letters saying the course was great. And people have actually been successful after they took the course. It’s worth my while to explain this because people then say, ‘Wow, I never knew that.’
CT: Let’s talk entitlements. The biggest drivers of debt are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. At one point you said you wanted to reform Social Security then seemed to change your mind and said you want to leave it alone. When George W. Bush and (House Speaker) Paul Ryan tried to do it they got demagogued by Democrats. Are you in favor of reforming these entitlement programs?
DT: What I want to do with entitlements is to stop the fraud, waste and abuse. I want to make the programs very strong. I want to bring wealth back to our country so we can afford them. We’re losing all our jobs. Look at Indiana. One of the reasons I won Indiana is because Carrier just announced they are leaving for Mexico. We’re losing our companies; we’re losing jobs; they devalue us out of business – China and these other countries. We should be a rich country again, and if we do that, we can leave Social Security. Now, there’s tremendous waste, fraud and abuse beyond what anyone would understand, and while this is not the reason I do it, the Democrats are going to leave it the way it is.
Manufacturing is down 55 percent. Factories that were thriving 25 years ago are now all empty. We’re going to bring jobs back to this country. I think that is one of the reasons I’m going to do well with the African-Americans and Hispanics.
CT: One of the things that most affects African-Americans is education. So many children are trapped in failing public schools and liberal politicians won’t let them escape. Do you favor school choice?
DT: I am totally in favor of choice. It’s necessary and it’s competitive.
CT: You have spoken about doing away with the Department of Education. Reagan tried that and failed because Congress wouldn’t let him.
DT: I like the concept of local education. I want to get rid of Common Core. I think Common Core is a disaster. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a little tentacle left of the Department of Education, like 5 percent, just in terms of local coordination, perhaps. Look where we stand in the world on education. We’re at the bottom of the list. So it’s obviously not working.
CT: There are two views of the Constitution. There are those who believe in a living Constitution that should align the document to the spirit of the age and opinion polls and there are others like the late Justice Antonin Scalia who believed it was settled law and should be a guide for how the country is run. Which side are you on?
DT: I’m on Scalia’s side 100 percent. His death was a tremendous loss.
CT: Hillary Clinton said last Thursday you can’t be trusted with the nuclear codes and that your thin skin might touch off a war, if you felt a foreign leader insulted you.
DT: She’s the one who raised her hand for the war in Iraq and I’m the one who has been fighting it. I’ve been against it from the beginning, because I said it was going to destabilize the Middle East, which it has, and on top of everything, Iran is taking over Iraq. Lots of bad things are happening. I’m the one who didn’t want to go into Iraq. (Clinton) is the one who has a terrible temperament. Number one, she’s weak. Number two, she has a hair trigger and it’s just the opposite with me. I have a strong temperament, but our country needs a strong temperament. You have people chopping off heads of Christians and others. Not since medieval times has anyone seen anything like this. I couldn’t have built the great companies I’ve built if I didn’t have a strong temperament. And she’s got a weak temperament. She’s a weak person. I think she would make a horrible president.
CT: The Rev. Billy Graham once told me that he kept people around him who would say, ‘You’re not as great as people think you are.’ They helped keep him centered. Do you have people like that, and would you in the White House? Who would tell you what they think, even if it goes against what you think?
DT: I do have that, including members of my family. I believe in that.
Ct: Talk to me about power. You have power over your employees, but the presidency is something quite different. How would you handle that kind of power?
DT: While there are differences, there are similarities in terms of cost-cutting and many other things, but you also have to be talking about heart. You need heart. You can’t do the same things in government that you do in a company. Every decision in government is so important, especially when it comes to the military where thousands of people can lose their lives. I would need to display great restraint, but we’ve got to have toughness. Other people have to understand where we are coming from, including our allies. Our allies have taken advantage of us.
CT: As president, what would be your first executive orders?
DT: My first would be to get rid of a lot of the executive orders, especially on the border where President Obama wants people to pour through like we’re Swiss cheese. I would countermand those orders. Our country must have borders. Second, I would immediately start working on the military. We have to build up our depleted military. And I would start working on repealing and replacing Obamacare.
CT: In Michelle Obama’s commencement address at the City College of New York, there was a veiled criticism of you and your supporters. She said, ‘They seem to believe diversity is a threat to be contained rather than a resource to be tapped. They tell us to be afraid of those who are different and suspicious of those with whom we disagree. They act as if name-calling is an acceptable substitute for debate, as if anger and intolerance should be our default state, rather than the optimism and openness that have always been the engine of our progress.’
DT: I think I have more optimism than they do and I think I have a better vision for the country than they do and I think it’s a nasty statement. In actuality, it doesn’t pertain to me.
CT: Every president has called upon God at some point. Lincoln spoke of not being able to hold the office of the presidency without spending time on his knees. You have confessed that you are a Christian …
DT: And I have also won much evangelical support.
CT: Yes, I know that. You have said you never felt the need to ask for God’s forgiveness, and yet repentance for one’s sins is a precondition to salvation. I ask you the question Jesus asked of Peter: Who do you say He is?
DT: I will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won’t have to be asking for much forgiveness. As you know, I am Presbyterian and Protestant. I’ve had great relationships and developed even greater relationships with ministers. We have tremendous support from the clergy. I think I will be doing very well during the election with evangelicals and with Christians. In the Middle East – and this is prior to the migration – you had almost no chance of coming into the United States. Christians from Syria, of which there were many, many of their heads … chopped off. If you were a Muslim from Syria, it was one of the easiest places to come in (to the U.S.). I thought that was deplorable. I’m going to treat my religion, which is Christian, with great respect and care.
CT: Who do you say Jesus is?
DT: Jesus to me is somebody I can think about for security and confidence. Somebody I can revere in terms of bravery and in terms of courage and, because I consider the Christian religion so important, somebody I can totally rely on in my own mind.
Contact Mr. Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.