WHEN: Today, Thursday, October 1
Donald J. Trump. Long a flamboyant figure in American life — as a real-estate developer and reality show host — Trump, 69, entered the race in June in unorthodox fashion. At a moment when Republican leaders hoped to repair relations with Latino voters, he seized on the issue of illegal immigration, accused those crossing the border from Mexico of "bringing drugs ... bringing crime. They're rapists." That hot-button issue with conservative voters grew hotter within weeks when an illegal immigrant was charged with the killing of a young San Franciscan named Kate Steinle. Three months later, Trump leads all rivals for the Republican nomination nationally and in key early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He has pledged to spend as much as $100 million of his multibillion dollar fortune on his campaign, freeing him of the need to solicit campaign donations. This week he laid out a bold — critics say budget-busting — plan to cut the top personal income tax rate to 25 percent and business tax rate to 15 percent. But now his campaign faces stiffer challenges from two sources — the rise of fellow political outsiders Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, and more serious scrutiny from Republican primary voters as the choice of the party's eventual nominee draws closer. Trump sat down to discuss his campaign with me in Trump Grill, the restaurant in the lower level of Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan.
A partial transcript from Speakeasy with John Harwood featuring Donald Trump follows. All references must be sourced to CNBC.com:
JOHN HARWOOD: Your answer to policy questions is, "I'm Trump. I'm good. I'm the best. I will get it done."
DONALD TRUMP: Well there is a little truth to that.
HARWOOD: Well, you've been very successful –
TRUMP: In fact, I think there is actually a lot of truth to that.
HARWOOD: But we don't have Superman presidents.
TRUMP: No, but we will if you have Trump. You watch.
HARWOOD: Let's assume you get elected. And you get in and you discover that all of these problems you are talking about are much more difficult. What do you say to those people who vote for you who say, "hey wait a minute, I thought you were the Wizard of Oz."
TRUMP: I'm a problem solver. I will not disappoint those people. I will not find that. I know how to solve problems.
HARWOOD: You made the argument that the reason that average people in America are feeling economic strain is because their leaders are stupid.
TRUMP: Well, their leaders are incompetent. In some cases, stupid. What is happening now where we allow China to devalue their currency constantly, where we allow Japan to devalue. You know, they just did a big devaluation. Where we allow Mexico to really take so many of our companies. What they are doing is very smart, but very bad for our country.
HARWOOD: When you started in the campaign, some of the things that you were talking about were not real. Obama, where was he born. That's not real. We know where he was born.
TRUMP: You tell me. Go ahead, tell me. Where was he born?
HARWOOD: I believe he was born in Hawaii.
TRUMP: I don't discuss the birther thing anymore. And you know the reason I don't discuss it? Because when I discuss it, you don't want to get onto jobs and the other things. So, I just don't discuss it anymore. People find the subject so interesting that we would spend a whole half hour talking about that. So, I never discuss it.
HARWOOD: On immigration, rates of illegal immigration have been declining, not going up.
TRUMP: They go up and they go down. A lot of people are better off staying, frankly John, in Mexico and various other countries than coming here because we're doing very poorly as a country.
HARWOOD: You know that we are not going to deport 11 million people.
TRUMP: Well, we will see what happens. Last week, a woman was brutally murdered – a veteran, 66-year-old veteran murdered, raped, sodomized –
HARWOOD: Is that the evidence that you are talking about?
TRUMP: No, no, no. But there is many cases like that. It has become a tremendous crime wave.
HARWOOD: Have you seen "The Jinx"?
TRUMP: I know the family, yes.
HARWOOD: Great. That is not evidence that real estate developers are –
TRUMP: No, it's not.
HARWOOD: In a crime wave.
TRUMP: And by the way, and I don't say everybody, or even a big percentage, but it is a substantial percentage and it is tremendous crime.
HARWOOD: What would you say to someone who said that the core idea of your campaign is appealing to fearful, anxious, white Americans and encouraging the belief that their problems are because of people who look different than them and have different features than them?
TRUMP: No, I don't think so. You know, my audiences are very – many, many blacks. I had a poll come out the other day where I was 25% approval rating from the blacks as a Republican, which is the highest they have ever recorded. Usually, it's about 7%. In fact, they said if the election were held and you got 25% of the black vote, like in this poll, the election is over. You win.
HARWOOD: You don't think racial tension is the jet fuel of your campaign?
TRUMP: I don't think so. I don't want it to be and I don't think it is.
HARWOOD: If you face the prospect of losing primaries, would you decide that – and you are not winning anymore – would you decide to step away at that point?
TRUMP: Well, I'm not a masochist, ok? Right now I'm leading every poll and in most cases big. And I'm leading Iowa, I'm leading New Hampshire, I'm leading South Carolina, I'm leading everything. That's good. If that changed, if I was like some of these people at 1% and 2%, there's no reason to continue forward. Now if I tank, you know, sure. I go back to the business. Why wouldn't I?
HARWOOD: Thanks so much for doing this. Appreciate it.
TRUMP: Thank you. Great honor. Thank you.
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