Nine minutes with Donald Trump

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So when the message popped into my inbox Wednesday night, I thought it was a joke.

“1-on-1 with Mr. Trump,” the subject line claimed.

“Dorman, Please give me a call as soon as possible so we can confirm your request for a 1-on-1 with Mr. Trump tomorrow evening.”

Oddly enough, I hadn’t requested an interview. But I jumped to call the number. A friendly staffer told me to be at the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex, site of Trump’s Thursday night rally, by 6:30 p.m.

Is Alan Funt hiding in the bushes? Never mind kids, you’ll have to Google it.

Dorman, the one who once compared the Republican nominee to his unruly dog? Dorman, who recently referred to the candidate as “an erratic, billion-kilowatt orange meteor” aimed at American democracy?

Turns out another Gazette reporter put in a request, and somehow, the campaign picked me. Ah, a mistake. But when the dust settled, reporter Erin Jordan and I were given a chance to tag-team Trump. Five minutes. Maybe 10.

Exciting, right? Sort of.

These local press interviews are a mixed bag. On the one hand, you get access. On the other hand, that access is brief, too brief for the sort of give-and-take and follow up questions that make for a good interview. It’s more like bull riding than journalism, eight seconds and the clowns are helping you to the door. And this wasn’t my first rodeo.

Or, the candidate runs late and they cancel.

That’s what it looked like Thursday. Trump was running behind. His staff said he had time only for a quick “gaggle,” with questions from a group of local reporters. No one-on-ones. Sorry.

So we were led behind a black curtain outside the Taft B meeting room near the Convention Complex ballroom, which was jammed with thousands of Trump backers. We waited for a pair of big wooden doors to open.

When they did, Bruce Rastetter, president of the Board of Regents and Republican big money guy, walked out with some other serious looking guys in suits. A private meeting, but about what? How about University of Northern Iowa President Donald Trump? Nah.

It turned out Trump did have time for interviews. Two TV stations went before us. As we waited, Gov. Terry Branstad was on stage yelling loudly about making America great again. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst spoke as the crowd chanted “USA!” and then “Lock her up!” in reference to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Soon, the door opened again, and we were in.

The first thing that caught my eye, God as my witness, was his hair. It grabbed my glance like a torch as he stood beneath lights taking photos with the TV crew.

“Wanna picture? Come on. Come on,” Trump said to them.

Soon, he was striding toward us, offering a hand.

“Hi folks, how are you?” Trump said, in a quiet, friendly tone. We introduced ourselves and identified our paper.

“Good paper. Always was fair. It’s always nice to get treated fairly,” Trump said as he took a swig from a Diet Coke and put the bottle out of photo range.

“We don’t have to give ‘em a free ad, right?” Trump joked.

OK. So what to ask first?

I thought back to last week in Cleveland, when Republicans painted a remarkably dire portrait of Clinton. And then this week, when Trump didn’t seem too alarmed by potential Russian cyber-meddling in U.S. electoral politics. He even seemed to encourage it, later pleading sarcasm.

“So do you think Hillary Clinton is a bigger national security threat than Vladimir Putin?” I asked.

“Well, she’s a threat,” Trump said. “Because I don’t think, you know, when you look at what she did with her emails, when you look at 33,000 emails deleted, when you look at the FBI and what they’ve said about her, which is terrible, that she was essentially negligent. All of the problems with the server, she is certainly a threat. There’s no question about it.”

But a bigger threat than ... he interrupts.

“Oh, I don’t know, I don’t want to compare people. But certainly I think she’s a threat,” Trump said.

Erin Jordan asked if Trump has business interests in Russia.

“No, I don’t. I don’t. I have no investments in Russia. Nothing whatsoever,” he said.

Speaking of dire portraits, I asked about President Barack Obama’s clear implication that Trump is a “homegrown demagogue” who will fail.

“Well he’s had a failed administration. I mean when you look at the real numbers and you look at what’s going on, and you look at the joblessness we have in our country, and the companies that are moving out, when you look at the borders where they’re not only unsafe but people are pouring into our country,” Trump said.

“You look at what’s happening with Syria, where we’re taking a tremendous number of Syrian migrants into the country. And then you see what’s happening in France and in Germany and in other countries in Europe and here, with San Bernardino, etc., and Orlando, and World Trade Center and just about any other place you can think of,” he said.

World Trade Center? Obama?

Don’t stop him, he’s rolling.

He took issue with assertions his campaign is too pessimistic in a nation where voters prefer optimism. He contends only his critics, “the haters,” said his acceptance speech was too “dark.”

“Most people thought it was actually an optimistic speech. It was meant to be optimistic. It’s basically we’ll fix those problems, and that’s optimism,” Trump said.

There were a few factual issues. Asked about trade, Trump railed on our “$500 billion” trade deficit with China, which is actually more like $360 billion. The $500 billion is closer to our trade deficit with all nations, a number that’s fallen 34 percent since its peak in 2006. And never mind that trade deficits are hardly the whole story when it comes to trade.

But, apparently, it’s not that complicated.

“When I make that really good and strong and solid, it’s going to be much better. I am absolutely a free trader, and trade will go on at a much bigger level than it’s going on right now,” Trump said. Asked about his plans for stopping domestic terror, Trump said Americans who fail to report suspicious activity should be punished. He cited the terror attack in San Bernardino.

“Numerous people saw in San Bernardino there were bombs all over the apartment floor, of the two people who did the killing. And nobody did anything about it,” Trump said.

Trouble is, fact-checkers have found there’s no evidence any neighbors saw “bombs” and failed to report it.

And after roughly nine whole minutes, it was all over. A few more handshakes, some polite thank yous, and we were led to the door. But no souvenir photos for us.

So much for my holiday card plans. A real pity, since Trump told his Cedar Rapids crowd we’ll all be saying “merry Christmas” again if he gets elected. That is, if we don’t want to get reported.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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