Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner for the presidential nomination, met with The Washington Post’s editorial board Monday to answer questions ranging from his views on NATO and the American criminal justice system to the violence that has been plaguing his rallies. We hoped that we would get to peel back some of the layers of Trump. In our meeting, when asked whether he thought there were racial disparities in how laws are enforced, Trump said he had “no opinion.” As time was running out, I wanted to press him a little more on if he plans to run on and/or govern on a message of racial inclusion.
TRUMP: Well, first of all, if you look at some polls that have come out, I’m doing very well with African Americans. I’m doing, actually if you look at the polls, a lot of the polls that came out, in the, um, what do they call it? Exit polls, like from Nevada and other places, I’m doing very well with Hispanics.
ATTIAH: I think the some of the polls are saying you’re doing [in the] negatives.
TRUMP: We do, if it’s illegals, in other words, if it’s everybody, but people that are legally living here, I’m doing very well. In other words, people that are here, like Hispanics that are in the country, I’m doing very well. People that vote. Like people leaving voting booths and all, I’m doing very well with them. I want to be inclusive, but at the same time, people should come here legally, they should be here legally. And I think the reason I’m doing, that I will do well, especially once I get started, don’t forget I haven’t even focused on Hillary yet. And, and as you know, you know I’ve had polls that are against me, but I’ve had many polls that say I’d beat Hillary, but they’re not that, that, they don’t mean anything now because it’s too early. Because I haven’t hit her. I’ve only hit her once, and that was eight weeks ago, but, I haven’t started on Hillary yet, and when I do I think I’ll be able to make my points. I mean, you know, but, but I think that just to try and answer your question: Uh, I am the least racist person that you will ever meet. Okay. That I can tell you.
ATTIAH: But do you feel that your messages, your rhetoric, are dangerous and divisive for this country? How do you feel they’re . . .
TRUMP: I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so. With the Muslim thing I think it’s a serious problem. I’ve had Muslims call and tell me you’re right with the Muslim thing, I think it’s a serious problem. And it’s a problem that has to be addressed. I mean, there’s tremendous hatred. Even the, even the guy they caught in Paris. He was being hid out by other Muslims, and everybody is after him, and he’s living right next to where he grew up. There’s a serious, serious problem with the Muslims and it’s got to be addressed. It’s temporary, and it’s got to be addressed. And you know you may think of it as negative, many people think it’s very positive.
As the meeting ended and we were walking out of the room, I thanked Trump for taking my question. He turned to me and said, “I really hope I answered your question,” and added casually with a smile, “Beautiful.” I was stunned. I didn’t say thank you, and I don’t think I smiled. He then walked out to meet with my Post colleagues briefly before heading to the elevator. I stayed in the conference room for a few minutes as it sunk in that the potential GOP nominee for president thought it was okay to comment on my appearance. Did he just say that?
Planning out how to question Trump in a way that was illuminating was like planning for asymmetrical warfare against an opponent who doesn’t follow the same rules as you do. Who doesn’t believe in rules. Who thinks that rules won’t help make America great again. In Trump’s world, commenting on a woman’s appearance in a professional setting is fair game, as is predicting riots if he doesn’t get the nomination, threatening the speaker of the House, vowing to “open up” libel laws to go after “unfair” media, and helping to stoke the flames of violence at his rallies.
Perhaps he thought that calling me beautiful would make me ignore the fact that he brazenly lied about his polling numbers among Hispanic voters. Or make me believe that he wasn’t really a racist. Who knows? At least now I know, firsthand, that the sexism that Trump puts on display against Megyn Kelly under the lights of national TV is not that much different from how he is in real life toward female journalists.