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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 10/03/2011

Face-to-face with Trump: Talking Romney, Cain, Christie and the GOP

When Herman Cain arrives at 725 Fifth Ave. today, he’ll walk through the marble homage to 1980s that is the lobby. He’ll then make his way to the elevator bank on the left and announce to the uniformed gentleman, “I’m here to see Mr. Trump.” Assuming Donald Trump isn’t in the lobby to meet him, Cain will go up to the 26th floor. After exiting the elevator, he’ll make a right, go through the smoky glass doors with brass handles and tell the pretty young woman at the reception desk that he is there to see Trump.

Cain might have to wait for a little bit, but the stunning view of midtown Manhattan and Central Park should keep him occupied. Trump’s assistant will come out from another set of glass doors on the right and lead Cain to The Donald’s corner office packed with awards, trophies and pictures of all things Trump. Cain will most likely sit where former governor Mitt Romney sat last Monday — and where I sat the very next day
at noon for an impromptu, hourlong meeting with Trump: the middle of three plush, purple chairs perched on a brass base. Most people go to a show when they vacation in New York. I did the same — to a one-man matinee called Trump.

From behind a massive wood desk covered in books, papers and memorabilia (there’s a huge silver trophy with “Trump” on the right corner facing you), the man who flirted with running for the Republican nomination for president held forth on the party’s congressional leadership (“They’re not good poker players”), President Obama (“He’s handling himself about as well you can considering the economy is horrible”) and the folks hoping for a shot to unseat him. On the current buzz surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: “His suicide statement was the strongest statement I ever heard,” he said. “How do you get away from that statement?”

While Trump has reveled in his status as “a must-do stopping point for all GOP candidates,” the value of a Trump endorsement is questionable. According to a Fox News poll released late last week, “Almost twice as many Republicans say a Trump endorsement would make them less likely to vote for a candidate than say it would encourage their support.” But when you’re running for president, having an audience with someone who can command the attention of the nation’s No. 1 media market, no matter the reason, might be worth the risk. In the end, there’s only one person who comes out on top in all this.

Trump on Romney: “I was impressed.”

“People knew he was coming up and I wanted to keep it very private,” Trump said when I asked him why there wasn’t the customary media scrum for Romney as there was for Sarah Palin and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “And I think it was good for him also. And we had a great meeting. We were together for more than an hour. There was a very good feeling. There was very good chemistry. And, uh, we’ll meet again.”

But why didn’t Romney get the Palin and the Perry treatment, I asked Trump.

DT: Well, he did.

JC: But, c’mon. You know what I mean. The cameras. The pictures.

DT: No, no. There was a difference. Sarah Palin called and she came up and we went from here [his office] to my apartment. Then she said, “I’d love to go out and have pizza.” I said, “You would? Oh. Ok.” So we went to a pizza place. Actually, a place that was on “The Apprentice.”

JC: Right, yes, I saw. La Famiglia.

DT: Nice pizza. Good place.  So we went; the place went crazy. They went more crazy ’cause I used a fork.

JC: Yeah, that was curious [laughing] for New York pizza. If it were Neapolitan pizza I would understand.

DT: I just want to keep the weight down.

JC: But you don’t like pizza from what I’ve read.

DT: I do eat pizza . . .

JC: But you rarely eat it.

DT: Well, I try to keep as slim as possible, right? Pizza is not exactly a slimming food .

JC: No, it’s not.

DT:  But she said, “Could we go to a pizza place?” So I did. Rick Perry said, “Let’s have dinner.” So he came to the building and we went out for dinner. Whereas Mitt Romney didn’t suggest dinner. He just suggested a meeting.

Trump on Cain: “He should be very proud of himself”

It was during his recitation of his problems with the Republican Party that Trump casually dropped the news that Cain would be visiting today. “I think it’s Monday,” he said. “He called. They all call.” As with Perry and Romney, Trump had nice things to say about Cain. But his compliments of the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO were leavened with reality.

“I think it is very tough road for Herman Cain, but I have great respect for him and I think he should be very proud of himself,” Trump said of Cain. “He’s done a very, very nice job of, uh, I think he’s done a really good job. I think it’s a tough road.” When I asked Trump to explain why it was going to be difficult for Cain, he said, “Well, you look at what’s going on with the numbers. . . . The polls are the polls.”

I think it was wonderful how Herman was able to win the straw vote. People put all sorts of negative spin on that. I don’t. I give him credit. A lot of people say that was a protest vote. And I think that’s unfair to Herman Cain. But I think it’s going to be hard for anyone other than the top two to get the nomination, meaning Perry or Romney.

Trump on the Republicans: “[They’re] handling themselves un-believably poorly.”
Trump was once among the top contenders for the nomination, riding an ugly wave of birtherism to get there. And he flirted with the idea of running because he said he didn’t like what the Republicans were doing. Trump’s beef with the GOP boils down to three mistakes he said were made by congressional Republicans: the lame-duck session deal with Obama; Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan and the debt-ceiling deal.

“I hated what they did in the lame duck session in December because they allowed Obama, President Obama, to rise like a phoenix,” Trump said. “They allowed him to come back. He was gone, and they allowed him to come back with some very stupid decisions.” No doubt Trump marveled at the president’s December triumphs in the same manner as Charles Krauthammer did.

“I like Paul Ryan personally, but I didn’t like his, before his seat is even warm, coming out with a plan that was going to hurt Medicare, at best,” Trump said. He called it “a very bad . . . chess move” that cost Republicans the House seat in New York’s 26th District.“I watched a popular Republican woman [Jane Corwin] not only lose but get schlonged by a Democrat [Kathy Hochul] nobody ever heard of for the congressional seat and that was because, simply, because of the Paul Ryan plan,” Trump noted. “That was an attack on Medicare. Now he’s trying to soften it, but whether you like it or not, that was an attack on Medicare.

“The third thing where I think the Republicans are so stupid about — the debt ceiling,” Trump said. “They should never, ever have allowed that decision to come after the election. Had that mess we went through two months ago come up for five weeks before an election? Honestly, you could be George Washington and you couldn’t have won the election. Okay?”As a result, Trump believes the GOP played more bad poker. “You know a lot of people thought the Republicans won [the debt-ceiling fight]. I thought Obama won because he got his wish on the one thing important to him — that this mess comes due after the election.”

Trump thinks Obama stands a very good chance of getting reelected. “We need somebody that’s going to be great,” he said. “[I]f the right person doesn’t run against him he’ll win.”

That’s more than a distinct possibility since the GOP faithful are suffering from the worst case of political wanderlust. They have run from Palin to Trump to Rep. Michele Bachmann to Perry. And now they are pleading with Christie to get into the race. Trump had more to say on Obama and his prospects, which I’ll share in the next post. But on Christie, whom Trump had not spoken to when we met last Tuesday, The Donald said, “I think he’d be a very formidable opponent to everybody. . . . The problem in politics is you’re popular until you decide to do it.”

By  |  08:00 AM ET, 10/03/2011

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