Donald Trump is pretty proud of the “Make America Great Again” slogan that helped deliver him to the White House — and rightfully so. David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Obama, calls the president-elect “a marketing genius.”
“In terms of galvanizing the market that he was talking to,” Axelrod told The Washington Post, “he did it single-mindedly and ingeniously.”
That quote is from a new story by The Post's Karen Tumulty that features Trump speaking about the MAGA slogan and introducing his 2020 slogan — “Keep America Great!” The interview is so remarkable and such a window into the thinking of soon-to-be-President Trump that we wanted to provide it at length.
Below, we highlight six exchanges during the interview that struck us, along with our annotations. To see an annotation, click on the yellow highlighted text.
EXCHANGE NO. 1
TUMULTY: But what was it about those four words — “Make America Great Again” -- that you thought —
TRUMP: I never saw a slogan before. People pay millions. Like I know that the Clinton campaign paid a lot of money to a Madison Avenue firm to do, what was it, “Stronger Together.” Which is called “Let's Fall Asleep Stronger Together” with an arrow. I'm trying to say: What does the arrow mean? Where is it pointing? Nobody even — nobody knew. It was actually pointing backward, I thought. But “Stronger Together” was not a good slogan. You know, time has proven that one to be right. In fact, they actually changed it because the original slogan I put in my speeches, remember? I was — what was that original slogan she had? Remember, it was about her. It's all about, “I'm With Her.” It’s “I'm With Her.” So I used to say, that's right, it's all about her. And the people would go crazy, and [Clinton's campaign] changed the slogan, which nobody ever gave me credit for. But these are minor details.
TUMULTY: But why — why did you see something? What did you see in the American electorate at that time that nobody else was seeing and that you could sort of compress down to those four words?
TRUMP: You know I understand marketing, although nobody truly understands the pure form of marketing. But I think I'm somebody that understands marketing. I felt that the country was badly hurting in many ways. It's very divided. There are 96 million people right now that would like to have jobs that don't. You know, the unemployment numbers are pure fiction. I call that fake news, too. A lot of fake news out there. But unemployment numbers are fake news at 5 percent. You look at the — you know, you look throughout the country — 96 million people, they look for a job. After they give up, they consider them employed. And I felt — I sat down. It was — it was, you know, a loss that the Republican Party had.
EXCHANGE NO. 2
TRUMP: I was sitting at my desk, where I am right now, and I said, “Make America Great Again.” It's turned out to be — now it was not Ronald Reagan. You know, everyone said, “Oh it was Ronald Reagan's [slogan]." And then they found out they were wrong. His was — and I didn't know this at the time, I found it out a year ago. I found it out a year after I — his was, “Let's Make America Great.”
TRUMP: But he didn't trademark it.
TUMULTY: First of all, if I can back you up just a bit. Can you sort of pinpoint or come as close as you can to exactly when you're sitting at your desk and that suddenly pops into your head?
TRUMP: It was right — probably the day after the loss. Again, I felt — so if you remember, if you look at “Meet the Press,” they had ratings. I was — I was under a lot of — they were really coming at me to renew for “The Apprentice.” And the show has done well every time I've been on it. It bombed with Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and with Martha [Stewart]. But it did great with me, as you know. Even after 14 seasons, it did great. And they were really coming at me to, you know, to renew. I remember Steve Burke from Comcast, he's the head of Comcast, came up with the heads of NBC to try and get me to renew my contract. And I was sitting there, and I was — if you look at “Meet The Press” or if you look at some of the shows right around the time I left, I don't have that exact date — but the time I left I was looking at doing the 2012 race. It's the only race that I really looked at doing. You know, people said I've been looking at it for years. Not really. I really looked at doing the race that Mitt Romney ran in. And I thought I was going to maybe do it, but I had a lot going on in terms of construction and, you know, entertainment show business with “The Apprentice.”
What happened, Karen, I sat down and after the loss by the Republican Party I said — oh, let me just say first: So if you look at “Meet the Press,” you'll see that I was leading in the polls, and I didn't even do anything. Everybody else was out campaigning and I was leading or very close. In other words, I was — in some polls I was leading, in some polls — but I was right there and I hadn't done anything, whereas everyone else is campaigning like crazy. I don't know if you remember that, but do you remember I was doing great? That's where I got to know Chuck Todd, and I didn't like the way he treated me. I called him sleepy eyes. And you know et cetera, et cetera. So what happened is I thought, I could see I was doing well, and I didn't do anything. All I was doing was thinking about it. And I wasn't in that many polls because a lot of people said, “Oh, he's not going to do it, he's not going to do it.” And in the end, I decided I wasn't going to run then. That was the only time I really strongly considered it, was last time. Meaning 2012.
TUMULTY: So when you filed for [MAGA], how do you think you were going to use it, and also why trademark it?
TRUMP: So just to end it — so I thought — so I saw polls that were very good. And I said, “Wow.” You know, I said, “I'll bet I'm the only one in the history of politics that dropped out when I was number one.” But I just wasn't — I was too busy with all [my] business. I had so many deals going on, it was incredible. And I said, “I'm going to slow down on the deals. I'm going to finish off deals. I'm going to finish up things that I was working on.” Like as an example we were, you know, under construction at the Old Post Office. I wanted to get that finished before — you know, it's all finished now, opened and doing well. And we had — but I had many things that were happening in business and very positive things. But I want to finish them. You know, it's wonderful to be doing nicely, but you've got to get it finished. So I decided not to run in 2012.
But as soon as the loss took place, I said, but I looked at all these great polls. As soon as the loss took place, I said, “I'll tell you what: Assuming I'm in a good position, assuming all of the things that you have to assume, which are many, I'm going to run next time,” I said to myself. And I sat back, and I said what would be a good expression, because I knew what was going to happen with respect — because as you know President Obama was not doing very well at that time. And I said what would be — and I just sat back, and I said, “Let's do this.” I said, “We'll make America great.” And I had started off, “We Will Make America Great.” That was my first idea. But I didn't like it. And then all of a sudden it was going to be “Make America Great.” But that didn't work because that was a slight to America because that means that it was never great before. And it has been great before. So I said, “Make America Great Again.” I said, “That is so good.” I wrote it down. I went to my lawyers. I have a lot of lawyers in-house; we have many lawyers, and I have guys that handle this stuff. I said, “See if you can have this registered and trademarked.”
EXCHANGE NO. 3
TRUMP: And I am willing to give you my expression. My, my slogan for four years.
TUMULTY: Let's hear it.
TRUMP: Are you ready?
TUMULTY: I'm ready.
TRUMP: “Keep America Great,” exclamation point.
TUMULTY: With an exclamation point.
TRUMP: “Keep America Great!”
TUMULTY: And have you filed for it yet, or when do you file for it?
TRUMP: You just reminded me, that's what — get me my lawyer. Karen, you saved my ass, Karen. You don't know what a great reporter you are.
TUMULTY: Let me ask —
TRUMP: I never thought I'd be giving my expression for four years [from now].
EXCHANGE NO. 4
TUMULTY: Well, can I ask you, though, there were a couple of criticisms people made of “Make America Great Again.” Those two criticisms being, one, that it was backward-looking, and elections ought to be about the future. And the other one was that you're saying America isn't great. Did you hear those criticisms? Did they bother you?
TRUMP: No, usually they were said by my opponents because they were losing by so much.
TUMULTY: Right. And Hope [Hicks, transition team spokeswoman] also —
TRUMP: Wait, my lawyer just came in.
TRUMP: Will you trademark and register, if you would. ... If you like it, I think I like that, right? Do this, “Keep America Great.” With an exclamation point. Exclamation. With and without an exclamation. “Keep America Great.”
TRUMP LAWYER: Got it. With and without a —
TRUMP: With or without an exclamation. Let me just see. You know people do pay millions for this. If you look at Hillary Clinton, “Stronger Together.”
TUMULTY: By the way, I notice that you paid $325 for it.
TRUMP: I paid — yeah, it's called a registration.
TUMULTY: I assume that's like one of the better investments you've ever made.
TRUMP: They paid a fortune for “I'm With Her.” And after about two rallies that I had she had to change it because I'm saying she's all about herself.
TUMULTY: But that must be one of your better investments ever -- $325.
TRUMP: “I'm With Her.” That's right. Remember the line? I have crowds like 25,000 people. I said, “She says, ‘I'm With Her,’ and my expression is, ‘I'm With You.’ ”
EXCHANGE NO. 5
TRUMP: You'd see people going to the fanciest balls at the Waldorf Astoria wearing red hats. Now the hat — how many did we sell? Does anyone know? Millions.
TUMULTY: And Mr. Trump, did you —
TRUMP: And it was copied, unfortunately. It was knocked off by 10 to 1, it was knocked off by others. But it was a slogan, and every time somebody buys one, that's an advertisement.
TUMULTY: And were you the person who thought of putting it on a hat? Who thought of that?
TRUMP: I did. But I have a team that's a great team. Hope [Hicks] was involved. We have a great team.
EXCHANGE NO. 6
TUMULTY: How are people going to know that America is great again? It's a subjective thing —
TRUMP: Because I'm going to tell them.
TUMULTY: You're going to tell them, but don't they have to sort of —
TRUMP: Jobs. Jobs. You're going to see it: jobs, military, strength, strong borders, good health care ... right now we have — we're so far behind the eight ball.
TUMULTY: And how important is it for you as the communicator that you are to sort of keep reminding people day in and day out of progress, of how things are changing? How are you going to make sure that you're on top of the message and the — again, making sure that people feel it, that they see it, that it's —
TRUMP: Well, you know, being a great president, in my opinion — and people have different styles and different ways and, you know, FDR was a great promoter, but nobody would know that because he was very solemn and, you know, very regal. But he was a great, you know, great cheerleader. And we've had some great cheer — I thought Ronald Reagan was a great cheerleader, but nobody thinks of him as a cheerleader. Being a great president has to do with a lot of things, but one of them is being a cheerleader for the country. And we're going to show the people as we build up our military, we're going to display our military. We're going to display it. That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we're going to be showing our military.