As a Los Angeles-based gossip columnist in the late-1980s and early-'90s, my knowledge of Donald Trump was initially based almost solely on what I read in the New York gossip columns. While the items often described him as a real estate developer, the reasoning behind him becoming a boldface name had more to do with his behavior than his business prowess. Of course, if the behavior had been good behavior, Trump would have most likely disappeared from public consciousness years ago. But that's not how it played out. In particular, when the gossip columns got wind that he had brought his wife on a skiing holiday in Aspen, along with arranging for his mistress to be there at the same time, and that the two women would wind up having a serious public spat on the slopes, the result of which was his first divorce, Trump's celebrity status was cemented. He was being rewarded with notoriety specifically for his bad behavior.
More than anything, the New York gossip pages made Donald Trump. Not the real estate pages, or the business pages, or as bafflingly inconceivable it might have seemed at the time, the political pages.
In 1992, I moved back to New York, my hometown, where I would continue working as a gossip columnist. I remember saying to myself, Donald Trump is a celebrity, not a star, and since I'm coming from Hollywood where boldface names usually have a body of work, I'm not going to write about him.
I did try for a while to ignore Trump, but ultimately it proved impossible. He was everywhere -- at film screenings, opening nights on Broadway, parties, Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, art galleries, Elaine's, you name it. And always he saw his name in the papers the next day. I came to believe that Donald Trump would go to the opening of an envelope if he thought it would create more press coverage for him.
In fact, he made it easier for gossip columnists by taking our calls. Trump was smart enough to know that access is the magic word in the media. Talk to us and you may get us to buy your spin. Don't talk to us and we'll have you for lunch.
So now all these years and two marriages later Trump has parlayed his celebrity into a run for the White House. And there's not a thing about him that's any different from the man he was back then. He's still available for any interview at any time, and will talk to anyone with a camera, tape recorder or Twitter account, even while constantly biting the media hand that feeds him. He's the accident we can't turn away from, the "short-fingered vulgarian," as Spy magazine described him in 1988, who will say anything to keep the attention on himself. He's an addict, not for money or power, but for fame. People in the media spotlight know what that's like. Fame is an aphrodisiac, the one drug that knows no 12-step program. And the worst thing that can happen to a famous person is when media suddenly drops you like a sack of trash to go cast its collective light upon someone else.
That may one day happen to Trump, but as we can all attest, it hasn't happened yet. He's the same guy, ever hungry for attention, who still lies like crazy when it suits his needs. Here's just one of the more recent ones: On February 27, at a rally in Alabama, Trump once again called out former Mexican President Vicente Fox for saying that Mexico "will not pay for that f------ wall." Trump, as he has said ever since Fox used the word on radio, called it "disgusting," adding that he has never used that kind of language in public.
Trump may or may not have known, and with him it probably doesn't matter, but just 24 hours prior to that Alabama rally, Bill Maher played a string of video clips on his HBO show of Trump at various podiums over the years repeatedly using that particular word, plus others equally as X-rated. And still he continues to be rewarded for his bad behavior.
The Republican establishment now plans to spend millions in attack ads hoping it will bring him down. Mitt Romney is even making robocalls for Marco Rubio and John Kasich. Good luck with that. The media and other candidates will continue to call for Trump to release his tax returns, and that won't happen either. Attack him and he only gets stronger. Try to catch him in a lie about his net worth, and he's been lying about that for as long as I know him, and he'll just come up with another bold statement befitting his boldface name.
In my opinion, the only way to bring him down is with gossip. Surely there must be someone in the Marla Maples camp who remembers the former Georgia beauty queen saying that her ex used to break out in hives when he had an orgasm. Isn't there a former Trump hair colorist out there who will say he was fired for suggesting that the boss' moptop was beginning to look like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth? And if John Oliver was right when he said on his HBO show that Trump's ancestral name was Drumph, how come no one is asking to see his birth certificate? And where is that tabloid paparazzi shot of Trump nude sunbathing at Mar-a-Lago? I mean, come on, doesn't the world owe Rosie O'Donnell a fair shot at calling him a fat slob?
It is a safe bet that when Donald Trump declared his candidacy last June he didn't feel he had much of a chance to actually win. He knew NBC had grown weary of his act on "The Apprentice," so what better way to continue stoking his Q-rating than a run for President? And then, when the ratings for last summer's first Republican Presidential debate on Fox went through the roof, it was all the proof Trump needed to know he was now on the ride of his life.
Where does that ride end? I know, it's a scary thought. And while I certainly don't feel he's the second coming of Hitler, I do wish some people would start throwing tomatoes every time he tries to quash dissent at one of his rallies. The conflict in this country over the Second Amendment will seem minor if the dialogue suddenly settles over the First Amendment, as it did Friday night in Chicago.
Ultimately, I wouldn't mind seeing Trump get the nomination, if for no other reason than to be a witness to the Trump-Hillary debates. The ratings for that might even rival the Super Bowl. But here's where the ride needs to end, say around mid-October, when a few well-placed gossip items start Trump's serious drop in the polls. Gossip created him. Only gossip can take him down. Let's go, TMZ, Gawker and Page Six, start your engines.
And then all that will be left to wonder is what Trump will possibly do for an encore. Another reality show? Get a grip. Here's one idea: How about a run for the Presidency of Slovenia, his third wife's homeland? I hear President Borut Pahor may be vulnerable.
Mitchell Fink is a former gossip columnist at the New York Daily News and People magazine.