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How Will it All End?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016 11:32
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(Before It's News)

Maureen Dowd writes at the New York Times,

We are in the final days of the first presidential contest between two New Yorkers in 72 years, since Thomas Dewey ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt: The 42-year-old Republican governor of New York used a Trump-style attack on the 62-year-old Democratic president, calling him “a tired old man.” On election night, the party and the wake will both be held in Manhattan. Hillary will hold hers at the Javits Convention Center, with its literal glass ceiling and, as The Times’s campaign reporter Maggie Haberman noted, an air of trolling: Back in the late 1970s, Trump wanted to build the center and slap the Trump name on it, but the city refused.

In this historically dreadful and mesmerizing election, which could lead to the death of the Republican Party and the ideological makeover of the Democratic Party, the New York aspect has been largely overshadowed. Only Lin-Manuel Miranda made a point of highlighting it, on “Saturday Night Live,” urging people to take their minds off the crazy election by coming to “Hamilton”: “It’s about two famous New York politicians locked in a dirty, ugly, mudslinging political campaign. Escapism!”

…Trump realized that golf was his entree if he wanted to pal around with Bill Clinton, whom he considered a kindred spirit in some ways — a great man who attracted jealous haters. “Bill is kind of Trump with a dictionary,” one author who has written about New York real estate says. Trump had been obsequious in trying to lure Ronald and Nancy Reagan to his business empire, and tried just as hard with the Clintons. He happened to have his own country club with a golf course in Westchester, which he bought out of foreclosure in the late 1990s. He closed the club in 1999 to redevelop it from top to bottom and reopened it as Trump National Golf Club in 2002. It was six miles from the Clintons’ house, and Trump could play with him, ingratiating himself further by hanging photos of Bill on the wall. As of June, Bill still had a locker at Trump’s golf club.

Trump once told me that he rebuilt the club, in part, because he knew Bill Clinton would need a place to play. As Don Van Natta Jr., an ESPN senior writer, wrote in his book about presidents and golf, “First Off the Tee,” Trump enjoyed playing with the ex-president. “He’s got a lot of golf talent, but he really likes those mulligans,” Trump told Van Natta. “If he misses a shot, he wants to take another crack at it. It’s like life.”

Trump greased the wheels of his relationship with the ex-president and the senator, giving the Clinton Foundation a $100,000 gift from his own foundation. According to “Trump Revealed,” by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher, Trump donated to Hillary’s Senate war chest six times between 2002 and 2009, for a total of $4,700, and between 1999 and 2012, he switched his registration among the Republican, Democratic and Independence parties seven times.

The friendship, on both sides, was a transaction. Not personal, as they say in the “The Godfather” — just business. Trump’s life in New York was all about promoting the brand and making money for the family business. It was the same for the Clintons. A former Clinton White House official puts it more bluntly: “This was a classic Clinton go-where-the-money-is move.”

“They all played the same game in the same town with the same thing in mind,” says Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, who was invited to Trump’s third wedding and served prison time for tax fraud and other felony charges. “Better your relationships and build the business. It’s all about money and getting ahead and hedging your bets and playing the angles.”

Trump wasn’t on the dinner-party circuit. He lived in a narrow alternate universe called Trumpworld, and his favorite way to spend the evening was ordering a steak or cheeseburger (well done) from Fresco by Scotto, eating quickly and watching a sporting event on TV. “Trumpworld is a world he weaves for his own needs and desires, depending on what they are and when they are,” says Louise Sunshine, a former Trump Organization vice president, noting that Clintonworld is much broader and more global.

Though the Clintons might show up at some events and galas and friends’ birthday parties, they were never really around enough to become part of the society dinner-party circuit, either. When I asked Trump last summer to describe his relationship with the Clintons, he was neutral: “As a businessman, you have to get along with all politicians,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was a close relationship.”

Hillary presents the trip to Trump’s wedding as a lark. “The dates worked,” a friend says. But some of her aides expressed surprise that she was going to such a gaudy affair; they believed Hillary rearranged her schedule because she thought Trump was a more important donor than he was.

The senator and former president beamed in pictures, mingling with the starry crowd, which included Heidi Klum, Barbara Walters, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sean Combs, Usher, Steve Wynn, Derek Jeter, Don King, Simon Cowell, Gayle King, Matt Lauer and Katie Couric, who got in trouble for her enterprising move of bringing a purse-cam. Paul Anka, Billy Joel, Elton John and Tony Bennett all performed.

André Leon Talley attended with Anna Wintour because the bride was going to be featured on the cover of Vogue, where he was then American editor at large. He had flown to Paris to shop with Melania for the dress — she chose a John Galliano for Dior strapless gown worth $230,000 and a Vera Wang cocktail dress to change into later — and he was “on duty” at the wedding and the reception paying attention to the “birthday cake of a dress” when Melania “was walking around or dancing.” He calls Melania “the most silky, well moisturized, meticulously groomed woman” he has ever known, adding that “dehydrated skin is so unattractive.”

Trump was a reality-show star now, starting his third hit season of “The Apprentice” on NBC. Just as his taste in his apartment at Trump Tower was “like Louis XIV dropped acid,” as Timothy O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation,” describes it, so was his third wedding straight-up Versailles. “This was a man building a ballroom for his trophy wife,” Talley said. “It was Baroque, the way he loves it. The marble was flown in from Italy, and the ceiling was like a palace, all gold, painted by artisans flown in from France. He had a full-on live symphony orchestra.”

David Patrick Columbia, the society editor, asserts that the Clintons were another accouterment: “Donald liked the fact that the Clintons were there because it was just another affirmation of who he had become in his life, a successful person. That’s what matters to him.”

Perhaps the collision of Donald Trump and the Clintons on the biggest stage of all was inevitable. But was it orchestrated? At the restaurant in Trump Tower last summer, I asked the mogul about the “Manchurian Candidate” buzz, about that phone call he got from Bill Clinton in May 2015, when the businessman and reality star was making up his mind whether to run. The Washington Post quoted four Trump allies and one Clinton associate as saying that Clinton encouraged Trump’s efforts to play a larger role in the Republican Party.

Roger Stone, author of “The Clintons’ War on Women” and a longtime confidant of Trump’s, claims that Bill urged Trump to get in the race and told him he thought he could get the nomination. “That’s why the people with the tinfoil hats are convinced the whole thing is a setup,” Stone says. “Bill can’t help himself from giving advice. He loves the game. He’s the great kibitzer.” Stone said Trump also asked Bill three years ago if anyone could be elected president as an independent, and Bill told him no.

I tried to get to the bottom of this murky story that day at Trump Tower, but when you’re dealing with Bill and Donald and truth, it’s an elusive goal.

“Did Bill tell you that you should run?” I asked.

“He didn’t say one way or the other,” Trump replied, over a plate of meatballs.

To make the whole conspiracy wackier, when I began fact-checking this story, the Trump Tower version flipped, with Trumpsters saying that the phone call entailed Bill trying to talk Donald out of running because the former president knew that Trump could beat Hillary.

This new version was met with eye-rolling and mockery from Clintonistas. “Bill Clinton is not Frank Underwood,” a former top aide says. “I guarantee you he did not call Trump with an uber-plan, where he was five moves down the chessboard. He has a theory: You’ve got to give a lot to get a lot. But he doesn’t meddle like that, telling people to get in and get out. Trump shouldn’t flatter himself that Bill gave a damn one way or the other. Trump was just another guy on the call list.”

No matter how Trump got into the race, the way he has conducted it has made Bill burn. Trump escalated his attacks after the Billy Bush hot mike incident, dragging Bill’s accusers back onto the stage. No one else would have gone there or said, as Trump did, that Hillary had “one of the great women-abusers of all time sitting in her house, waiting for her to come home for dinner.” As a Clinton ally ruefully notes, “The last 15 years, everyone had forgotten about that, and now it’s back.” Trump also eagerly pounced to lash the Clintons to an astonishing new twist in the F.B.I. email investigation, involving Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Hillary’s closest aide, Huma Abedin, and his sexts to a 15-year-old North Carolina girl.

New York elites have gone from flabbergasted that Trump got this far to debating how the Trump family and one of Trump’s top strategists, Jared Kushner, Ivanka’s husband and the publisher of The New York Observer, will be received if they have to slink back into town. Some people say the attitude toward the Trump children will be more lenient; others think that the Trump brand is irrevocably damaged and that the whole family will be pariahs.

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