Who is the Real Donald Trump?

by Heather Robinson

I dislike Donald Trump’s sexist remarks about women. But I also dislike the last ditch, orchestrated pile on against him by the media, some of whose members seem to be going to absurd lengths to smear him coming down the campaign’s home stretch with this week’s release of an 11-year-old tape of Trump speaking when he did not know his words were being recorded for public consumption.

Undeniably, Trump has said insensitive things on the campaign trail. But with all that media have taken out of proportion and out of context, it is difficult to know how much of the offense is his, how much of it is theirs.

I am fascinated by Trump, by his contradictions of character. He can be insensitive and disrespectful toward women, yet he is the father of two confident, poised, successful daughters who love him, both of whom insist he cherishes them and greatly supports their ambitions. He is thin-skinned to the point of whininess about being asked a tough question, yet at 70, has the remarkable vigor and stamina to persevere on the bruising campaign trail in a race that would exhaust many people half his age.

He has turned his relentless quest for greater success and fame into a brand, yet even as he celebrates the acquisition of extreme wealth, he has connected with the struggling working class, who perceive him as a leader who does not condescend to them. Born into money, he is a man of the people – or at least projects that quality enough to rally many struggling working class supporters.

He is an insider – went to all the best schools, and hobnobbed with the elite for most of his adult life – yet he has broken in, as a kind of outsider, to a political system that is generally dominated by special interests, and lifetime politicians with party allegiances.

Earlier in the year, when I struggled to comprehend how so many Americans – who I believe in my bones are indeed the greatest people on earth – could follow a man I perceived as a bully (and I still think that at his worst, he can be), I remembered my direct experiences with The Donald through the years. As a New Yorker who has been reporting news for various outlets and socializing for the better part of the last two decades, I came into contact with him three times: once at a party, another time at a boxing match, and once –the first time – at a UJA-Federation event.

It’s the first interaction I want to recall here, because it shows a side of him that jibes with his daughters’ accounts. Because, quite frankly, I like many women have been appalled by his sexist remarks through these months, I have hesitated to recall this day because it does not jibe with the perception of him as loudmouthed, insensitive, and sexist. But I believe in being fair, and I believe he is a complicated man, and it is worth sharing.

The year was 1997. It was a lunch, billed as an opportunity for young leaders in real estate to meet and listen to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump showed up with a lovely date that day – not on his arm, but in his arms. Golden haired and dressed all in white, it was his three-year-old daughter Tiffany Trump, his child with Marla Maples. I recall that he carried her in to the event, and referenced her several times as he spoke. I don’t recall the full content of his speech, but he made a point of saying something like, “I know you all paid to hear me, and you are getting two for the price of one today because I brought Tiffany.”

He also said something about Tiffany’s name that reveals his own vulnerability and the prickly hypersensitivity we have seen in recent months.

“Yes, some people think it is funny that we named her Tiffany because of Tiffany Jewelers but I don’t care, I think her name is cute.”

He said something about how Tiffany’s mother Marla was sick that day, so he was bringing Tiffany to work with him.

I also distinctly remember Donald Trump passing through the crowd with Tiffany, holding her by the hand, and noticing as they passed close to me how much she resembled him. (She still does).

Overall, my memory of him that day was as very tender and loving and attentive to his child, adept at balancing his attention to his little girl with his commitment to giving a speech.

Is the Donald Trump we have seen on the campaign trail – the insensitive, dominating presence that has enchanted his core supporters – really the only one he can project? What about the Donald Trump who brought his little girl Tiffany to work with him? He has retained the spontaneity that allowed him to bring her and ad lib about it – that enables him to be funny and charismatic – but I see none of the sweetness I saw then. Did it evaporate along with his passionate relationship and marriage to the wacky, offbeat new ager, Marla Maples?

I met Trump that day – as a single woman, I felt he connected with me, in a proper way, I mean. I remember being touched that this important man was so attentive and caring and loving to his little daughter – and clearly proud of her.

As we come into the final stretch of the Presidential campaign, I wonder: is Donald Trump missing some opportunities in the remaining month of the campaign to demonstrate some of that warmth, flexibility, and ability to connect?

Is the public Donald Trump we see today with Melania wordlessly beside him as he steamrolls ahead – that bold and uncompromising Trump his supporters love – the only iteration of the man? And is it the steamroller tycoon who undecided and independent women voters – whose votes he desperately needs – would consider coming out for?

Or might we consider turning out for the man who had the give in his soul to take over parenting for the day because his wife was under the weather? The man who had the depth and sensitivity to be extremely proud of an adorable, offbeat-looking little daughter (who resembles him a lot more than his more typically “model attractive” daughter Ivanka?)

Speculation on my part I’ll admit, but I can’t help but wonder, did the warmer, more sensitive, flexible Donald disintegrate with his failed marriage to Marla Maples, who, though a beauty pageant winner, also had a more unique look and, judging from her endeavors, perhaps more of a voice and stronger personality, than his other wives? It seems to me Marla’s comparatively more definitive, individualistic personality would have required more ability on his part to listen and compromise and be a true partner in the give-and-take of real, everyday life in a relationship than it seems his partnership with Melania, which based on their detached body language appears more like a business arrangement.

Is the public Donald we see today with Melania expressionlessly beside him – and occasionally a pace or two behind him — the one whom women who are not diehard Republicans would bother waiting in line to vote for? (Granted, I don’t know anything for a fact about their relationship, but in video and photos of Donald with Melania on the campaign trail this past year, the visuals suggest someone who is steamrolling forward and in effect saying ‘get on board’ to his partner, if he says anything to her at all, whereas photos of him with Marla Maples from the 1990’s seem to show a very different man: engaged, with his arm around her, often smiling – interested in trying to engage and connect).

No doubt the rigors of surviving and thriving in New York’s business world, and the relentless push to get and stay ahead, will not bring out the softer qualities in anyone. Nor will the often dirty business of politics. And it is, in many ways, Trump’s toughness and even ruthlessness that have brought him this far.

But ironically, might it be Trump’s softer, more decent side – the family man I saw that day with his daughter Tiffany – that saves him in the final stretch?

His followers may applaud the steamroller. But might remembering the more youthful version of himself, channeling that man who walked hand in hand with Tiffany, able to be flexible in taking over for his wife for the day, allow him to show a more vulnerable side and connect with voters, especially women?

We’ll see. If he apologizes – sincerely – tomorrow night it might be a start.

More to come.

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