CBS News’ John Dickerson asked New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who has become the chief chronicler of the Donald Trump era, “how long is Donald Trump in your mind or you in his?”
“At least 11 years for this level of intensity,” he replied.
“And what’s it like to have Donald Trump in your head or be part of his thinking for 11 years?”
“I had one of his old friends say to me, ‘He doesn’t wear well with the weather.’ And I think that the collective has experienced it in various places”.
Haberman has been covering Trump since the late 1990s as a subway reporter for the New York tabloids. In 2016 alone he had 599 bylines or co-bylines in The Times – more than one a day – and that pace has slowed little in recent years.
Now, he’s written a book about him: “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America” (published Tuesday by Penguin Press).
Dickerson asked: “I want to read from something you wrote: ‘To fully evaluate Donald Trump, his presidency and his political future, people need to know where he’s coming from.’ What do you mean, where does he come from;“
“New York in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s was a very, very unique setting,” Haberman said, “because of this combination of dysfunctional and sometimes corrupt forces that touched the media, that touched City Hall , the political party system in the various boroughs, that touched on the way real estate projects were done and that touched on racial tribalism, John, and that’s a big part of what he took from his life in New York.”
The current incarnation of this racial chauvinism appears at some of Haberman’s balls for the Trump presidential years. Like other Trump-era books, “Confidence Man” has drawn attention for new revelations: Trump considered firing his son-in-law and indulged in occasional transphobia. But Haberman’s larger goal is to saddle the book and the Times coverage, in an archaeological context, to carve out a 50-year-old, stable, unchanging DNA.
He said, “Donald Trump is generally the same, depending on the context. And he tended to treat the White House like he was still in a real estate office and dealing with local county leaders like it was still 1980.”
“What are the elements of Donald Trump’s playbook that he has had all his life?” Dickerson asked.
“He’s got a handful of moves that he’s used forever. And people tend to put a ton of strategy into what he does. But actually, those moves are there. And it’s the quick lie, it’s the one-assist-against-the-helper scrimmage. It’s putting the blame on someone else. It’s all, again, about creating a sense of drama, a sense of chaos and often, John, to keep the blame off himself.”
Haberman’s reporting has angered and embarrassed Trump. However, he agreed to sit with her three times last summer.
Dickerson asked, “Are you surprised that he told you about your book?”
“No; talk to everybody about their books,” she replied. “It’s almost a reflexive need to sell himself.”
“He once said to someone else, but with you in his presence, [that] were you like his psychiatrist?’
“He treats everybody like he’s his psychiatrist. That’s not something specific to me. That’s what he does. He does everything in real time with everybody.”
Haberman offers new details about Trump’s refusal to accept defeat in 2020, citing sources who heard Trump say, “We’re never going away.”
Dickerson asked, “Donald Trump’s reluctance to leave office, was that part of that playbook that was developed all those years ago, or is that something new?”
“It was both,” he said. “It was part of the thing that he thought everything always went well with him, because it always did. Whether it was his father helping him navigate the systems or helping him financially, or elected officials lining up for him, I always believed things would work out. And after November 3, 2020, it became more and more clear with each passing day that this was not it was going to happen, and he didn’t know how to handle it.”
When he left the White House, he was not empty-handed, as FBI agents found in that search of his Florida home.
“When Donald Trump referred to things in the White House as his possessions, there was a long history of him doing that,” Dickerson said. “Then you think that’s why he got those classified documents?”
“Actually, I do. I think it’s also possible he got them for another reason, and we don’t know what that is. He sees everything in terms of leverage, if he can get an advantage over someone else. He sure likes trophies.”
Trump faces legal risk in several jurisdictions: New York scam message; charges of election interference in Georgia; The January 6 Riots Investigation; and after these documents from Mar-a-Lagowhere he mostly hides these days.
Dickerson asked, “You write that when you saw him after he left the White House, he looked shrunken?”
“In one of the interviews, he had very visibly lost weight, so he was definitely physically shrunk, but he just looked diminished,” Haberman said. “And one of the things that I’ve found as I’ve been talking to people over the last year is that he became this Charles Foster Kane-like figure who kind of hung around his club and was in his own world and had as a reminder of when he was the holidays, someone completely outside the rhythms of normal everyday life”.
“What’s your take on whether he’ll run again?”
“With the caveat that I don’t know and that I could be proven wrong, I think he’s backed himself into a corner where he has to run,” Haberman said. “I think he needs the protection that running for president would give him (he thinks) to fight what he calls a ‘witch hunt.’ And it’s how he raises funds and makes money. So much of his identity now is being a politician. So, I expect he will be nominated. This does not mean that even if he declares his candidacy, he will stay forever.”
Nominated or not, Trump has left his mark on the GOP, whose national party called the Jan. 6 riots “a legitimate cause” and where a third of the Republican candidates running for election in 2022 have bought into his lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
“Has he effectively transferred the skills of the New York real estate world, however oddly, to a political party?” Dickerson asked.
“He has conveyed how he he sees the New York real estate industry in the Republican Party,” Haberman replied, “and not just the New York real estate industry, but the New York political system. We’ve seen it in ways that are overt with the Republican Party in terms of comments made at rallies, and we’ve seen it in more subtle ways in terms of how candidates deal with reporters or how they deal with basic data.
“Not everyone has reacted with some form of impersonation of Donald Trump, but most of them have.”
Haberman writes that Trump told her how much easier his life would be if he never ran for president. And he looked back not at what he had accomplished, but what the presidency meant to Donald Trump.
Dickerson said: “When Donald Trump asked himself in your presence, ‘If I had to do it all over again,’ what did he say?”
“What he said the answer was is yes,” Haberman replied, “because the way he sees it, he’s got so many rich friends and nobody knows who they are. And it was very clear that he saw the presidency as the ultimate vehicle for fame.”
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Story production by Alan Golds. Editor: Ed Givnish.