The most revealing thing I got out of this article is that Trump is currently playing character meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator and we all can see it is working.
Hours after terrorists piloted hijacked jets into the World Trade Center’s twin towers, Donald Trump agreed to do a live phone interview on local television in New York. Alan Marcus, who was working that day for WWOR as an on-air analyst, asked the real estate mogul to step into a role that seemed fanciful at the time.
“In the year 2000, Donald,” said Marcus, a former Trump publicist, consultant and friend, “you considered running for president. If you had done that, and if you had been successful, what do you think you’d be doing right now?”
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“Well,” Trump answered, “I’d be taking a very, very tough line. I mean, you know, most people feel they know at least approximately the group of people that did this and where they are. But boy would you have to take a hard line on this. This just can’t be tolerated.”
Compared to the flame-throwing temperament he has demonstrated throughout his current presidential campaign, the most striking revelation of the video from September 11, 2001—plucked exclusively at POLITICO’s request from the WWOR archives—is Trump’s composure and tone. A decade and a half before pledging to “bomb the shit out of” ISIS and proposing a deportation force and a Muslim ban, Trump didn’t talk about retribution or leap to conclusions about who was responsible. In fact, he avoided identifying potential enemies—any terrorist organization or Muslims in general. He spoke cogently and even poignantly about New York’s changed skyline and the need to never forget.
Only parenthetically in the middle of the 10-minute conversation did Trump turn to a favorite topic—size. “40 Wall Street,” he said, referring to his 71-story building blocks away from the now-collapsed twin towers, “actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest—and then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second-tallest. And now it’s the tallest.”
Marcus chalked up the remark to “Donald being Donald. … He is the brand manager of Trump, and he is going to tout that brand, and he does it reflexively,” he said. “Even on that day.”
That day, 15 years ago this Sunday, thrust many people into new roles. While Trump was trying on the mantle of statesman, Hillary Clinton’s visibility was given a sudden boost. Before the end of the day, Clinton, then the junior senator from New York with less than a year on the job and scrupulously deferential to her senior colleagues, would find herself on CNN, being interviewed in primetime by the network’s congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl.
“We have to make it very clear,” she continued, “that we cannot permit any state, any government, any institution or individual to pursue terrorism aims that are directed at the United States or any country with impunity. So I’m hoping that this is the kind of dramatic, terrible catastrophe that unites the entire civilized world.”
As the Trump and Clinton campaigns mark this anniversary by going temporarily dark—a brief respite from a toxic, unsettling campaign—it is possible to see their respective experiences on September 11 as turning points that seem especially resonant now as these two candidates with deep New York connections vie bitterly for the job of leader of the free world.
Clinton was early in her first stint as a politician in her own right, after more than a decade as the wife of a governor and eight years as the wife of the president. One of the most famous women in the world wanted to be seen, she said, as “a workhorse, not a show horse.”
Trump was more than a decade removed from his rise in the late ‘80s and his fall of the early ‘90s, well past his first spate of corporate bankruptcies and his brush with personal financial disaster—but he was still two-plus years from the opening episode of The Apprentice, the reality TV show that elevated his fame to unprecedented heights. At this juncture, though, Trump was a businessman in New York, a debt-saddled owner of casinos in Atlantic City and planning a new building in Chicago. He had divorced his second wife. He was dating the woman who would become his third, the former Melania Knauss. He was a registered Democrat. He had just toyed with running for president, again, this time on the Reform Party ticket, generating headlines and eye rolls. He was known mostly for being known. “He was a nonentity,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien said. “Someone who was trying to regain his status as a player,” longtime New York gossip columnist George Rush added.
In the ensuing years, he would use his TV-charged celebrity to barge more seriously onto the national political scene, currying favor with far-right portions of the population by pushing conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birthplace. And Clinton would work as a senator to secure aid for victims and workers of the 9/11 attacks and then go on to become a key cabinet member to the same president Trump needled, furthering as Secretary of State an international prominence as large as the made-for-TV boss from The Apprentice.
But both of them started that day like everybody else—as witnesses to the unfolding horror.
Trump was in New York, on Fifth Avenue in Trump Tower, where he works and lives, and he watched first on TV and then out his windows, staring four miles south at the black smoke in the blue sky.
“We saw it,” said George Ross, a longtime attorney for Trump and an executive vice president of the Trump Organization. “We saw it out the window. I was sitting in his office.” Ross described the mood in the office as “unbelief.”
“We were listening to the news, like everybody else,” he said.