“Nobody’s ever gone through what I have,” Trump added. “They got me on all phony stuff.”
Trump found fault with most of his fellow Republican leaders, past and present. Still clearly vexed by the ghost of the late Arizona senator John McCain, Trump without prompting brought up the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, whom he had attacked for years.
“John McCain was a bad guy,” he said of the decorated prisoner of war. “He was a bully and a nasty guy, bad guy. A lot of people disliked him. Last in his class in Annapolis. All that stuff, but he was a bad guy. I say it to you. I don’t care. Does it affect me? I won Arizona, okay? By a lot. Didn’t turn out that way in terms of the vote, but I won Arizona. Everyone knows it. He didn’t affect me. I won the first time. I won it the second time.”
Trump, who in fact lost Arizona to Biden, continued with this fix. “You know, I did three rallies in Arizona,” he said. “I never had an empty seat.” Governor Doug Ducey, who withstood Trump’s pressure to overturn the result, was “not a loyal party member,” according to the former president. “I think Ducey is a terrible Republican,” he said. “Ducey did everything he could to block voter integrity, to block people from making sure the vote was accurate.”
Trump also complained about former House Speaker Paul Ryan, whom he labeled a “super-RINO”—Republican in name only. And he said Mitch McConnell has “no personality” nor a killer political instinct. He faulted McConnell for refusing to eliminate the filibuster to ram through Republican legislation and for not persuading Senator Joe Manchin, the moderate Democrat from West Virginia, to switch parties.
“He’s a stupid person,” Trump said of McConnell. “I don’t think he’s smart enough.”
“I tried to convince Mitch McConnell to get rid of the filibuster, to terminate it, so that we would get everything, and he was a knucklehead and he didn’t do it,” Trump said.
Trump said he wished he had had partners in Congress like Meade Esposito, who was the head of the Democratic Party machine in Brooklyn from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Esposito, who was close to Trump and his late father, Fred Trump, was known for his patronage and commanded respect.
“Nobody would ever talk back to Meade Esposito. Meade Esposito didn’t have a RINO like a Mitt Romney, you know, or as I said, Ben Sasse, who’s a lightweight,” Trump said, invoking two Republican senators who sometimes criticized him. He added, “Mitch McConnell compared to Meade Esposito, it’s like a baby compared to a grownup football player with brains on top of everything else.”
Esposito had run a citywide patronage system that doled out important jobs to loyalists and people providing gifts and favors. The party boss gained a fearsome reputation for his intimidation tactics and connections to organized crime. Amid an investigation of his work, Esposito retired in 1983; he was convicted of offering a gratuity and interstate travel charges in 1987.
Other presidents attend to philanthropic interests, write memoirs, and curate presidential libraries after leaving office. But not Trump. Many of his Palm Beach days have followed the tempo and style he set back in Washington, a reflection of his addiction to the twenty-four-hour news cycle and appetite to maintain political relevance. In the morning hours, he spends time alone in his private quarters watching television and making phone calls to allies and friends. Many days he plays a round of golf at one of his nearby clubs. And in the afternoons, he puts on his suit, applies his makeup, and emerges for meetings with whichever politicians or acolytes have made the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago. By early 2021, Trump had turned his club into a political base camp for his potential comeback.
Trump made no secret of his interest in perhaps running for president in 2024. Would he choose Pence again as his running mate?
“Well, I was disappointed in Mike,” Trump said. “But, you know, I’ll be making a decision at some point. I will say this: Based on the polls, those polls are great, the Republican Party loves Trump. Ninety-seven percent!”
When we pointed out that Pence is said to be interested in running for president, too, Trump seemed to welcome the competition. “It’s a free country, right?” he said. “It’s a free country.”
But Trump all but ruled out running with Chris Christie, who had been runner-up to Pence in his 2016 veepstakes, and Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, who had criticized Trump’s attempts to subvert the vote in repeated interviews with Tim Alberta of Politico.
“Chris has been very disloyal, but that’s okay,” Trump said. “I helped Chris Christie a lot. He knows that more than anybody, but I helped him a lot. But he’s been disloyal.”
As for his former ambassador, Trump said he was rebuffing her outreach. “Nikki Haley wants to come here so badly,” he said. “She did a little nasty couple of statements…She has been killed by the party. When they speak badly about me, the party is not happy about it. It’s pretty amazing. There’s not been anything like this.”
Over the years, Trump rarely has expressed misgivings. But he regrets his response to protests last summer in Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and other cities. “I think if I had it to do again, I would have brought in the military immediately,” he said.
Trump had no such second thoughts about his handling of the pandemic. He said he had been “very tough” in protecting the country by restricting travel, first from China and then from Europe. He said he did so against the wishes of his top medical advisers; in fact, most of them agreed with the restrictions before he made his decision, according to participants in the discussions and their contemporaneous notes. But he correctly said he pushed scientists at the FDA “at a level that they have never been pushed before” to get vaccines approved in record time.
“I think we did a great job on COVID and it hasn’t been recognized,” Trump said, noting that other countries saw spikes in COVID-19 infections in the months after he left office. “The cupboards were bare. We didn’t have gowns. We didn’t have masks. We didn’t have ventilators. We didn’t have anything…We brought in plane loads. We did a great job.”
When we asked Trump why he encouraged people to believe things that weren’t true or to distrust science and the media, he delighted in talking about the scientific smarts in his family’s genes.
“First of all, I’m a big person,” he said. “Do you know this? My uncle, Dr. John Trump, I think he was at [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] longer than any other professor. Totally brilliant man. He had numerous degrees. So that’s in the genes. I always go with that stuff. But it’s a little bit in the genes and Dr. John Trump, he was a great guy. My father’s brother. No, I’m a big believer in science. If I wasn’t, you wouldn’t have a vaccine. It depends. Are you talking about disinformation or are you talking about lies? There is a more beautiful word called disinformation.”
— to www.vanityfair.com