NEW YORK — Inside the auditorium of Trump Tower — past the Trump Bar, the Trump Grill, the Trump Cafe and Trump’s Ice Cream Parlor, beside the glass encasements selling Donald Trump neckwear and holding the basket of Donald Trump books — the man himself strode through the crowd, descended a golden escalator and stood at a lectern in front of eight American flags Tuesday.
He came bearing a message. “I’m really rich,” he said.
And another one.
“Today I am declaring my candidacy for president,” he said. “. . . I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
That declaration came 1,700 words or so into a rambling speech that started with the Islamic State and China and Mexico, dipped into a discussion about how our country is run by “losers,” and included his opposition to the trade deal being pushed by President Obama, before circling around to exactly how much money he has.
For while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) shops at Kohl’s, and while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pushes back against the description of his family fishing vessel as a luxury speedboat, and while former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) tries to give himself some measure of distance from his patrician family, Trump wants the world to know exactly how rich he is.
“I’m not doing that to brag,” he said, after spending five minutes detailing his financials, including claimed assets of $9.2 billion and a net worth of $8.7 billion.
Of course, buyer beware this number. Even the most aggressive auditors have found it challenging to assess Trump’s balance sheet, in part because his assets and liabilities are intricately complex, entwined with public subsidies and opaque private partnerships. Then there’s the source: Trump, who’s wrestled with a reputation as a chronic exaggerator.
“This is beyond anybody’s expectations,” he said to a crowd that he described as “thousands,” though it looked more like hundreds. “There have been no crowds like this.”
In reality, members of team Trump spent the hour before the event out in the streets of midtown Manhattan trying to lure tourists in to fill out the crowd. A man in a pressed suit who would say only that he “worked for Trump” offered passersby free T-shirts and already-made signs, many handwritten, to hold if they would come on in and see the show.
“Only in New York,” he said to a group of tourists. “Come inside and make some memories.”
One older couple decided they would check out the proceedings and started to walk in.
“Price of admission is, you have to wear a shirt,” he said.
Inside, a diverse crowd — old and young, black and white, scantily clad and bespoke — gyrated to a soundtrack that blasted on repeat throughout the enormous auditorium. The songs all seemed depressingly fitting for a quixotic campaign: “Dream On” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” played so often and so loudly that the music could have doubled as a torture technique.
“He’s run so many successful businesses,” said Kenn Dancer, who held a sign that he said “his friend” made for him.
Anastasia Anastasiadis said: “I got an e-mail from Facebook saying I should come. If Mr. Trump could give me a job, that would be good.”
As the crowd waited for Trump’s arrival Tuesday, a murmur started going through the press. Of all the signs that had Trump’s named scrawled upon it, it was hard to find any with the words “For President” or “2016” on them. Was this all a joke? Was Trump just here to announce that there would be a new season of “The Apprentice”?
Then Trump rode down the escalator and headed to the stage, as Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” — a song critical of President George H.W. Bush — blared. At first, it wasn’t just unclear whether he was running for president. It was unclear what he was talking about at all.
“It’s great to be at Trump Tower. It’s great to be in a wonderful city, New York,” he said. “And it’s an honor to have everybody here. This is beyond anybody’s expectations. There’s been no crowd like this. And, I can tell, some of the candidates, they went in. They didn’t know the air-conditioner didn’t work. They sweated like dogs. They didn’t know the room was too big, because they didn’t have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS? I don’t think it’s going to happen. Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time. All the time.”
His more-than-45-minute speech touched on the need to close Wall Street loopholes, the need to build a giant wall on the nation’s southern border, and the need to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. “So, just to sum up, I would do various things very quickly,” Trump said. Somewhere high up in the rafters, one man kept shouting how much the country needed Trump to be president.
“The American Dream is dead,” Trump said at the end of his address. “But if I win, I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before.”
While few people think Trump has a chance of winning the presidential election, he certainly has a chance to make an impact on the race — mostly by making things difficult for the Republican Party as he seeks its nomination. The Democratic National Committee gleefully sent out a statement during his speech in which a spokeswoman sardonically praised the mogul for adding “some much-needed seriousness that has previously been lacking from the GOP field.” She added that “we look forward to hearing more about his ideas for the nation.”
Trump is currently polling in ninth place, according to The Washington Post’s most recent survey average. That means when the first debate is held in Cleveland on Aug. 6, he might find himself on the stage. As of now, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who is expected to declare a candidacy, might not.
Trump has always understood the upside of the spotlight (“From a pure business point of view, the benefits of being written about have far outweighed the drawbacks,” he once wrote), and feinting at White House bids has been a great way to get airtime. But Trump knew that eventually he would have to take the show to a whole new level.
“You can’t con people, at least not for long,” Trump wrote in his 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal,” in a passage that felt like it was written for today. “You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on. “
In fact, anyone confused about why Trump would undertake this long shot bid for the presidency should spend a little time with this book.
What’s the point? “I do it to do it.” The polls say you’re a long shot. “I have learned much more from conducting my own random surveys than I could have ever learned from the greatest consulting firms.” Are you doing this just for the press? “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better.”
For Trump, perhaps the best model for actually winning the White House is an unlikely one for this conservative Republican: President Jimmy Carter.
“I’d never understood how Jimmy Carter became president,” he wrote. “The answer is that as poorly qualified as he was for the job, Jimmy Carter had the nerve, the guts, the balls, to ask for something extraordinary. That ability above all helped him get elected president.”