It was Carter who first revealed one of the president's best-known insecurities. Carter is (indirectly) the reason Trump felt compelled to tell the world during a Republican primary debate that there is “no problem” with the size of a certain appendage.
You see, Carter is the one who — more than three decades ago — started this whole thing about Trump having tiny hands. Without Carter, Marco Rubio might never have said this while campaigning against Trump in February 2016: “You know what they say about guys with small hands — you can't trust 'em!”
Trump couldn't resist the urge to respond to Rubio's wisecrack at a debate three days later: “He referred to my hands. If they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem.”
In the May 1984 issue of GQ, Carter profiled Trump and offered the following physical description of his subject:
Meet Donald Trump. Age 38. Eyebrows by Henry Luce. The sandy hair — longish on the sides in a Chamber of Commerce sort of way and brushed flat over the ears — by George Steinbrenner. The 6-foot-2-inch frame is trim but well-nourished. The hands small and neatly groomed. The suit is blue and stylish — maybe a little too flared in the leg for someone who lives east of the Hudson. About the only thing that gives away this striver from an outer borough are his cuff links: huge mollusks of gold and stone the size of half-dollars.
Trump hates having his height listed as 6-foot-2. He and his doctor insist he is 6-foot-3 (though his driver's license may beg to differ). But Carter's observation that “the hands [are] small” really began to bother Trump when Carter escalated his trolling four years later.
In April 1988, Spy magazine — which Carter co-founded — mockingly referred to Trump as a “short-fingered vulgarian” in a satirical advertisement for the real estate mogul's recently-published book, “The Art of the Deal.”
It was a deliberate attempt to get under Trump's skin. And it worked. Carter recalled the episode in 2015 in Vanity Fair, which he has led for the past 25 years.
Just to drive him a little bit crazy, I took to referring to him as a “short-fingered vulgarian” in the pages of Spy magazine. That was more than a quarter of a century ago. To this day, I receive the occasional envelope from Trump. There is always a photo of him — generally a tear sheet from a magazine. On all of them he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers. I almost feel sorry for the poor fellow because, to me, the fingers still look abnormally stubby.
Carter hasn't stopped teasing Trump. Atop the cover of Vanity Fair's 2016 holiday issue, Carter's byline appeared next to a provocative headline: “Trump: The year of living short-fingeredly.”
In December, Vanity Fair published a stinging review of Trump Tower's Trump Grill, saying it “could be the worst restaurant in America.”
A short time later, Trump tweeted a stinging review of the magazine — and Carter.
Last week, Vanity Fair reported in a profile of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner that the president's daughter and son-in-law, both of whom serve as advisers, might not stick around Washington to defend him for much longer.
Here's a bit from Sarah Ellison's piece:
Increasingly you hear chatter in Washington that Jared and Ivanka won’t last, not because they are at risk of being pushed out, but because they will save themselves from a damaged White House. One well-connected strategist in New York told me that the two were eyeing a move at the end of the school year in 2018. A person close to the couple said they weren’t planning that far ahead. “When they decide it’s more important to protect their own and their children’s reputations than it is to defend their indefensible father’s, that’s a sign the end is near,” one influential Republican donor told me.
President Trump followed up with a cryptic tweet about “dying magazines” that Vanity Fair interpreted as a response to its article.
We'll have to wait to see whether Carter's “third act,” as he is calling his next endeavor, involves further needling of the president. In the meantime, Trump can enjoy a little break.
This post, originally published in January, has been updated with news of Carter's departure from Vanity Fair.