Earlier this week, The New York Times obtained a timely cache of audio recordings in which Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Michael D’Antonio interviews Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, as well as members of his family, for his 2016 biography The Truth About Trump. The contents of those recordings have been featured on the paper’s “The Run Up” podcast, and they shed a lot of light on what makes Trump tick. It isn’t always flattering.
Times reporter Michael Barbaro has deftly distilled the contents of the audio files in a piece titled “What Drives Donald Trump? Fear of Losing Status, Tapes Show.” You’ll learn that Trump has tremendous difficulty empathizing with or respecting other people, that he is uniquely driven by a personal obsession with seeking out the loving lens of the television camera, and has tremendous insecurities about lapsing into irrelevance.
Resonating most deeply, however, is Trump’s deep-seated fear of losing ― of being publicly shown up. This, of course, takes on new relevance given the fact that he has left it an open question whether he’ll accept the results of the presidential election if they do not go his way. In the tapes, Trump’s former spouse Ivana Trump describes the time she outperformed him on the slopes ― after withholding from her husband that she was a skilled skier ― touching off a “volcanic” snit of anger and embarrassment.
All in all, the tapes paint a troubling picture of a man unsuited for the pressures of the presidency and the routine tension, constant scrutiny and never-ending criticism that comes with the job. You really can’t help thinking that if the Hillary Clinton campaign had gotten a hold of this stuff, they would have really made a lot of hay with it.
Oh wait, what’s that, Michael Barbaro?
Mr. D’Antonio now disapproves of Mr. Trump’s candidacy and gave transcripts of the interviews to Hillary Clinton’s campaign this year. After a brief meeting with a few Clinton aides, he said, he never heard back from Mrs. Clinton’s staff.
Ha, wait, for real? That seems strange!
In the Clinton team’s defense, they’ve already obtained the services of one repentant Trump biographer ― The Art Of The Deal ghostwriter (or, if you prefer, actual author) Tony Schwartz. Schwartz has been advising the Clinton team on a pro bono basis, and has been cited frequently for his services during Clinton’s debate preparation, where he helps give the Democratic nominee insight into Trump’s psychological triggers.
Still, why not corner the market on penance-seeking former Trump biographers? While Schwartz may have had the keener read of Trump, D’Antonio had Trump and various family members speaking on tape, using their own words. Much could have been made of Trump saying things like, “For the most part, you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect.” Or, perhaps his extended conversation in which he admits to a fondness for physical violence. When Trump tells D’Antonio, “I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see,” he’s serving up a pretty good sting line for any number of campaign ads.
You know, maybe Trump has just served up so many insane statements over the past year that this would be overkill. Still, one can’t help but think that the Clinton campaign really did Donald a solid by not using this material.
According to several senior members of The Huffington Post’s D.C. bureau, D’Antonio’s tapes contained much more substantive and newsworthy insights into Trump than the limp opposition research the Clinton camp and its assorted allies occasionally offer up to reporters here. (HuffPost’s own Sam Stein peeled back the curtain on the relationship between reporters and opposition researchers on the July 2, 2014, edition of “Drinking And Talking,” if you want to learn more about our venal business.)
“These tapes are great,” said HuffPost D.C. bureau chief Ryan Grim, who added, “Most of the stuff the Clinton camp shops around is terrible, not that we’re first in line. But this would have been a lot better than most of it.”
Oh well! I guess the Clinton camp can take solace in the fact that this all got out there eventually. But they probably should have gotten back to D’Antonio after he offered to gift-wrap this for them.
A side note: Should I be super bummed out that D’Antonio did not simply give this stuff to us? I am trying to not be super bummed out about that!
“I’m definitely bummed,” said Grim.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.