President Donald Trump has made it very clear he’s coming to Washington to change the rules.
“He wants to lead Washington, but he also wants to blow up the way business is done down in Washington,” said Michael Kranish, an investigative journalist with the Washington Post who co-authored the biography, “Trump Revealed.”
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Kranish says to understand how Trump will govern, go back to his roots.
“When he was very young he liked to play catcher in Little League. And he liked to be behind the plate and chide the opposing batters,” Kranish told CBS News political director John Dickerson. “He’d beat people up, he’s proudly talking about punching his music teacher.”
To gain the advantage, Donald Trump likes to unsettle things. It was evident in his campaign.
“Certainly he’s a provocateur, there’s no question about that,” said Kranish.
Trump’s goal is one that has been with him from an early age: winning.
“Why is winning so important to Donald Trump? Where did that come from?” Dickerson asked Kranish.
“I think that comes in part from his father Fred Trump,” he replied.
Fred Trump was a self-made millionaire land developer who helped his fourth of five children sharpen his competitive drive in the rough world of New York real estate.
“And what did it mean to you when you were a young teenager and you heard the word Trump?” Dickerson asked real estate tycoon Richard LeFrak.
“Competition for LeFrak?” he replied.
LeFrak has known Donald Trump for more than 40 years.
“Both of our dads were building middle-income apartments,” he said. “And I would say they were friendly competitors.”
Fred Trump is also the key to understanding why son Donald connects with the working class.
“We often would laugh -- you know, ‘What did you do with your father on Saturday?’ …’Go to the construction site,’” LeFrak recalled. “And who was there working on the construction site? You know? Harvard professors? Right? No. Well, you know, they were working men and women.”
If Trump got his drive from his father, he modeled his combative style after the late attorney Roy Cohn. Cohn served as chief counsel for Communist hunter Joseph McCarthy during the senator’s crusades of the 1950s. Cohn defended Fred and Donald Trump against the U.S. Justice Department when it sued them for racial bias in 1973.
“The Justice Department said that Donald Trump and his father had discriminated against blacks by basically having their employees note who was a black applicant for housing,” Kranish explained. “Roy Cohn had basically said to Donald Trump, ‘Fight the government, fight like hell. Don’t give up. When they hit you, hit back 100 times harder.’ And in fact, Cohn then countersued the government for $100 million.”
The Trumps eventually settled without an admission of guilt, but the episode was a bitter one.
“I think there’s a straight line between Donald Trump’s experience in 1973,” Kranish noted, “and Trump’s animus towards some parts of the federal government today.”
Though his career started in partnership with his father, Trump was determined to make a name for himself.
“I think he wanted to top his father, you know? Donald wanted to do everything bigger, better. And he did,” said LeFrak.
That meant going beyond his father’s deals in Brooklyn and Queens and into Manhattan. Trump took advantage of New York City’s financial crisis. In the 1980s, he bought up properties -- extracting a huge tax break along with way -- and transformed the city skyline with Trump Tower.
“I just have a certain amount of confidence that if I want to do something I can do it,” Trump told CBS News in 1985.
Bravado was part of his style, but so was the flexibility to negotiate.
“He uses his charisma, he uses the force of his personality, his celebrity to get what he wants,” said LeFrak.
Trump also bought three Atlantic City casinos, an airline, and the Mar-a-Lago estate. But along the way, he figured out that his greatest asset was his name, as he told 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace in a 1985 interview:
Wallace: What about the name of Trump City, Trump Tower we’re sitting in, Trump Plaza, Trump Castle?
Trump: It sells Mike.
Wallace: That’s all it is?
Trump: It has nothing to do with the ego. All I know is it sells.
Luxury branding was Trump’s real innovation says LeFrak.
“Was that a big innovation? Small innovation?” Dickerson asked.
“Huge! It was huge. It was a big innovation,” LeFrak replied.
By the 1990s, Trump’s tower of acquisitions collapsed. He had two highly-publicized divorces and his casinos were failing.
He was not winning.The period would ultimately show just how far Trump would go to keep himself -- and only himself -- in the game.
“In the end, all three casinos had to file corporate bankruptcy and Donald Trump had to pull every lever possible so he didn’t go into personal bankruptcy,” Kranish explained. “He then created a public company -- which paid him millions of dollars-- had a share price of $35, but it went down to $0.17. And shareholders say, ‘Look, you’re just usin’ this company to enrich yourself.’ But Donald Trump said at the time, you know, ‘I was looking out for me. I was looking out for Donald Trump.’”
Donald Trump survived and over the next decade, worked to repair his brand. Then, in 2004, came “The Apprentice.”
Trump says the 14 seasons of the show earned him more than $200 million.
“You could see that the camera loved him and he loved the camera,” said LeFrak.
But his time on television also taught him how to reach the audience that would elect him.
“Without ‘The Apprentice,’ I don’t think we’d be sitting here talking about a President Trump,” Kranish said. “…for most Americans seeing him in that big chair, running things he sorta looked like a chairman or a president.”
Now he will sit at the desk chair in the Oval Office in the White House, his biggest real estate acquisition yet, pulled off by breaking nearly every convention of politics.
Donald Trump is promising to be a standards-breaking president -- whether through his manic use of Twitter or his gentle attitude toward Russia.
Asked if Trump is thick-skinned, LeFrak told Dickerson, “I’ll let you be the judge of that.”
And the one constant of a Trump presidency may be the man himself ... and his staying true to his own ambitious, confrontational, and unpredictable brand.
“And you know, if it feels like he can accomplish something by doing an end run he’ll do it,” said LeFrak.