SOMEWHERE ABOVE THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST — It was Saturday night aboard Donald Trump’s gleaming Boeing 757. An hour earlier, he had finished the most high-profile speech of his nearly month-old presidential campaign: a rally attended by thousands in Phoenix where he railed against illegal immigration and countless other targets — Macy's, NBC, NASCAR, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy — for 70 minutes. The billionaire real-estate mogul took off his jacket, clicked the oversized satellite television in his plush, cream-colored cabin over to Fox News and closely watched the channel’s coverage.
As shadowy images of Hispanic immigrants and criminal mug shots were interspersed with his remarks, Trump, 69, turned gleeful. "The only reason they’re talking about this is because of me," he said. "Look at that crowd, fantastic," he added. He sat down in his leather chair. His eponymous crest was woven into the headrest, and his plane was 30,000 feet above the border he had called so porous that illegal immigrants are able to "flow in like water."
In an expletive-laden interview over soft drinks — Trump sips from a small plastic bottle of Coca-Cola — the celebrity contender said he has no plans to change the way he’s running for the Republican nomination, which combines his trademark showmanship, an outsider-populist credo that resists ideological categorization and incendiary comments that have thrilled conservative activists.
Trump was most animated when analyzing the way the news media covered him and dishing with aides about the articles they had printed out. He was less excited discussing the process of presidential politics. When asked about the coming debate, set for Aug. 6 in Cleveland, he shrugged and said, “Whatever.” When asked about calls for him to tone down his fiery pitch, he shrugged again.
Following is a lightly edited transcript:
More of the same, I’ll keep doing my thing. I’ll go around to different places, get great receptivity. I get the biggest crowds. I get the biggest standing ovations. You saw that today, I could have been there for 20 minutes and they would have been cheering. So, you’ll see more of the same, getting the word out.
Will immigration remain your focus?
No. It’s just one of the things. It’s not only immigration. It’s about trade. They go hand in hand. Immigration is one of the things you have to do. I’m also a moralist. You heard what I said today about health care. I said, I’m sorry, folks, but we have to take care people that don’t have money. I know it’s not the conservative thing to say, but I got a standing ovation — and these were very conservative people. We can’t let people down when they can’t get any medical care, when they’re sick and don’t have money to go to a doctor. You help them.
So Trump has a heart?
A big heart, let me tell you. Too big.
When did you decide to seize on immigration and make it the thrust of your campaign?
They gave it to me. It wasn’t a big part of my announcement speech — a small paragraph. The Democrats and the enemies lined up and they criticized me for one line where I said Mexico is sending — I said Mexico is sending. I didn’t say people are coming over and they’re bad people. They would leave off the ‘Mexico is sending’ part, chop it and say I said ‘rapists’ when talking about people.
But when you use a word like rapist . . .
It is a very rough word. It’s okay to use.
[Eyeing the television, Trump gets up to watch another Fox News segment about his Arizona gathering. "Jeanine Pirro, let’s see what she has to say about me," he said as he settled into his couch. When a picture of the Mexican laborer accused of killing a San Francisco woman is put on screen, Trump said: "Look at that guy, look at what he did, killing that beautiful girl. [Expletive] animal." He returned several minutes later to continue the interview.]
Are you looking forward to the debate?
No, not one way or the other. Whatever. I don’t look forward or not look forward. It is what it is.
When are you going to file your financial disclosure with the Federal Election Commission?
This week. Do you think Jeb Bush [the former Florida governor] is going to file his statement? I don’t know what’s going on. I just heard it today that he hasn’t filed. I assume he would have been filed. His should be simple, you know, in comparison to mine. I have so many companies and corporations.
Many Republican officials have asked you to tone down your immigration comments. It doesn’t seem like you’re listening to their advice.
I respect the people in the Republican Party, but this is a very important issue and it can’t be toned down. It’s an issue that wants to be silenced. Remember I told you the story about the guy they were going after, that killer, and when they heard he was he was an illegal immigrant it was like he was protected? If he were a citizen, they’d put him in jail for life.
How did you come up with “the silent majority” as a theme for your Saturday speech?
I was just thinking about it today. When I heard about this overwhelming — I’m telling you, it was 500 people at the start and the hotel called us begging to be released. They said they never had anything like this and we had to move the venue. I said to myself, 'That’s the silent majority.'
You don’t care about the Nixon overtones?
Nah. Nobody remembers that. Oh, is that why people stopped using [the phrase]? Maybe. Nobody thinks of Nixon. I don’t think of Nixon when I think of the silent majority. The silent majority today, they’re going to vote for Trump. Remember, many Republicans didn’t vote for Mitt Romney. He didn’t inspire people. They’re going to vote for me. And I’ll also get the Hispanics, you watch.
What do they see in you?
They see somebody who’s going to turn the country around — somebody who has the ability to turn this country around. They’re tired of the incompetence. When you see my [financial] statement, you’ll be very impressed. That’s why it’s important. Let’s say I was worth $10. People would say, "Who the [expletive] are you?" You understand? They know my statement. Fortune. My book, "The Art of the Deal," based on my fortune. If I didn’t make a fortune, who the [expletive] is going to buy "The Art of the Deal"? That’s why they watched "The Apprentice," because of my great success.
Do you see your bid as similar to Ross Perot’s 1992 maverick presidential campaign?
No. I don’t consider Perot a movement. This is a movement. It’s a different movement than I think you’ve ever seen before. Angry, sad, disappointed, devastated by what’s happened to the country. Mourning. Some of these people who’ve lost their kids to [illegal immigrants], it’s mourning. I spoke to one of the mothers today who came to see me, lost her son five years ago. It was like it was yesterday. Their lives are [expletive] over. She’ll never be happy. This campaign is about making America great again. I copyrighted it.
What the [expletive] else do you have? Are you finished yet?
[Trump turns back to Fox, which is again covering the accused San Francisco killer. "Look at this animal. Now he’s claiming innocence. He’s got the lawyer now," Trump said. He stands up and opens another Coke, not to go on the record again.]