Donald Trump’s first tentative run for the presidency (1999–2000) ended almost as fast as it began. Video clips of interviews at the time reveal a progressive corporate executive, unlike the caricature Trump has devolved into. In excerpts from a February 24, 2000, interview with NBC News’s Matt Lauer, and an October 24, 1999 interview with “Meet the Press” Moderator Tim Russert, Trump comes off as a cautious center-left candidate who had hoped the Reform Party could gain a foothold. Lauer, questioning Trump as he was leaving the race, asked if it wasn’t all a publicity stunt.
Tim Russert: Do you think gays ought to be allowed to marry?
Trump: I haven’t given it a lot of thought. I live in New York, there’s a tremendous movement going on to have and allow gay marriage, it’s just something that is too premature for me to comment on.
Russert: How about gays serving in the military?
Trump: It would not disturb me. Again, I’d want to talk to lots of experts within the military. I mean, hey, I lived in New York City, in Manhattan all my life, so my views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa, perhaps. But it’s not something that would disturb me.
Russert: . . . Would President Trump ban partial-birth abortion?
Trump: Well look, I’m very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything that it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still—I just believe in choice. And again, it may be a little bit of a New York background, because there was some different attitude in different parts of the country, and I was raised in New York. And grew up and work and everything else in New York City. But I am strongly for choice, and I hate the concept of abortion.
Russert: But you would not ban it? Or ban partial-birth abortion?
Trump: No, I am totally pro-choice in every respect, and as far as it goes, but I just hate it.
Trump: I’m not going to be running. The [Reform] party is as you know self-destructing. Jesse [Ventura] has left the party.
Matt Lauer: What do you see as the biggest problem with the Reform Party right now?
Trump: Well, you’ve got David Duke just joined, a bigot, a racist, a problem. I mean, these are not exactly the people you want in your party. [Pat] Buchanan is a disaster, as we’ve covered . . . I’ve always said, Matt, I would run if I knew I could win.
Lauer: Not only the nomination but the presidency?
Trump: The whole thing. I don’t want to get 20 percent of the vote, and I know I could. And I know I could get the nomination. I mean, New York wants me, Texas wants me. . . . Many of the states want me. . . . I’ve always said, and I said to you, if I could win the whole thing, you could only win the whole thing with a totally unified party.
Lauer: You’re sure this isn’t, and your critics are going to say, this is a great excuse for Donald Trump to back out now, they’re going to say, because first of all you’re thrown off the ballot here in New York . . . It’s undeniable that you’ve achieved an enormous amount of attention and publicity out of this. Again, your critics are going to say, “that’s what this was all about.”
Trump: That’s wrong. I mean, it’s wrong. It’s totally wrong. Most people that are into this thing and really into it and know me know that I’m totally serious about it. I have enjoyed it. I have a had a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of fun.