PALM BEACH, FL – It was Presidents Day and Donald Trump looked particularly relaxed. Dressed in a white golf shirt stamped with the presidential seal and a bright red MAGA hat with “45” on both sides, he was talkative without being combative.
As the late afternoon light began to fade over Mar-a-Lago, we spent 90 minutes in the ornate drawing room discussing his presidency, the state of the nation and his future. Naturally, Trump’s successor took a rhetorical beating, but even harsh barbs were uttered in neutral tones.
A softball opener – did he think Joe Biden’s presidency would be as bad as it is? — was met with a pause, then this: “If you took the five worst presidencies together, it wouldn’t equal what happens to this country.”
After ticking off a litany of America’s woes, from open borders to inflation to rising energy prices, Trump added, “I never would have thought something like this could happen to us.”
He remains particularly troubled by the deadly and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, asking, “Can you imagine pulling out the army first? And give up this big and beautiful air base of Bagram which is only one hour from China? »
“It was the biggest embarrassment in our history,” he insisted.
Does he think Biden will complete the term? “I don’t know, he said, but we are systematically destroyed. We are no longer feared, respected or even loved.
As we spoke and news of Vladimir Putin’s declaration of independence for two Ukrainian provinces fell, Trump was flabbergasted at the audacity but not surprised. “I got on very well with Putin,” he said. “I like him, I respect him. He does his thing, but our people don’t do theirs.
Keen to draw a contrast to Biden, he tells two stories relevant to the current crisis. Both involve his fight with NATO members who were not paying their agreed share of common defence, especially Germany.
“I sent him a white flag,” he says of former Chancellor Angela Merkel. “She said, ‘What is this?’ I said it was a surrender flag so you don’t have to go out and buy a new one.
He also recounted an exchange at a meeting in Brussels of the 28 NATO member countries where he was pushing for more payments, leading the Austrian leader to ask if the United States would still defend those countries against a Russian attack s they weren’t paying.
“No,” Trump replied. “We will not defend you.”
His response prompted a public outcry that Trump was reverting to the alliance’s Article 5 provision, where an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. In what amounted to a deal, Trump later insisted he wasn’t coming back, and NATO countries raked in more money that now stands in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Yet, given his experience and the current obliviousness against Russia, he declared that “NATO is a paper tiger”.
There are also other stories circulating, and they are even more provocative. One claims that Trump, noting that Putin seized land from Georgia when George W. Bush was president and seized the Crimean peninsula when Barack Obama was president, threatened Putin against grabbing land under his monitoring.
“If you oppose Ukraine while I’m president,” Trump reportedly told the Russian leader, “I’ll hit Moscow.”
Putin reportedly scoffed at “no way”, leading Trump to say, “All those beautiful golden turrets are going to blow up”.
A similar story concerns Chinese President Xi Jinping. It was during his visit to Mar-a-Lago in 2017 that Trump interrupted their chocolate cake dessert to declare that he had just ordered the US military to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at an airbase. Syria after the Syrian government used chemical weapons against the rebels. and civilians.
During that same visit, Trump reportedly told Xi that any military action against Taiwan would be met with an attack on Beijing. Xi, like Putin, would have been stunned, although it’s possible neither man believed Trump was serious. While it’s also possible that both accounts are exaggerated, it is a fact that neither man made the moves that Trump would have warned against.
“I got along better with the toughest”, is how he sums up his relations with foreign leaders.
But his tone is harsher and carries a sense of grievance when it comes to national political leaders, especially other Republicans whom he calls RINOS, or Republicans in name only. Mitch McConnell tops the list and when I ask if their relationship can be saved, he quickly says, “I think it’s over.”
Despite their remarkable success in nominating and confirming conservative federal justices, including placing three on the Supreme Court, Trump is accusing the Senate leader of treason. He believes a commercial he cut for McConnell lifted him to victory after an almost certain loss to Democrat Amy McGrath in Kentucky in 2020, but McConnell on Dec. 15 congratulated Biden on his victory while that Trump disputed the results as rigged.
McConnell also condemned the Jan. 6 Capitol riot as a “failed insurrection” and said he was done with Trump. The former president returns the favor, saying McConnell is “a bad guy.”
The Capitol riot, along with Trump’s own efforts to overturn the election results, are major black spots on his tenure and a serious obstacle if, as is likely, he runs again in 2024.
I raised the issue by telling him about the comments of a New Yorker I met in Florida. The man, well known in business and philanthropy circles, said that although he did not vote for Trump in both elections, he had always loved him and they had been friends for years .
But he could not forgive the president’s post-election conduct.
“I’m afraid that if he runs and wins, it will be our last election,” the man told me.
When I told Trump the story, he sighed and, seemingly discouraged, asked for the man’s name. When I refused to reveal it, he said he doubted his accuser was a real friend.
But he quickly shifted gears and said the prosecution reminded him of the Democrat and media scare campaigns that welcomed his candidacy in 2016.
“If Trump comes in, he will start World War III,” he said, mocking the claims. “But it was I who ended the wars that others started.”
He also cited the historic Abraham Accords forged under his leadership, which saw Israel normalize relations with four Muslim nations. Any other president would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for this breakthrough.
All of Trump’s flaws and accomplishments will likely be replayed in the next presidential election. With rallies, fundraisers and endorsements, he is laying the groundwork for another race for the White House.
Has he made a final decision? “In my mind, I did it,” he said. “After the mid-terms, I will announce something.”
New York Post