Our manbaby-in-chief put his big boy pants on and spoke with The Economist and, well, if you’ve read these recaps at Paste before, you know it didn’t go well. I mean, any time he opens his mouth, it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book. Here are the 15 craziest excerpts from Trump’s interview.
Note: The Economist’s questions are in bold italics.
Donald Trump: So that’s the story. It very much has to do with trade. We have so many bad trade deals. To a point where I’m not sure that we have any good trade deals. I don’t know who the people are that would put us into a NAFTA, which was so one-sided.
Now at the same time I have a very good relationship with Justin [Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister] and a very good relationship with the president of Mexico. And I was going to terminate NAFTA last week, I was all set, meaning the six-month termination. I was going to send them a letter, then after six months, it’s gone. But the word got out, they called and they said, we would really love to…they called separately but it was an amazing thing. They called separately ten minutes apart. I just put down the phone with the president of Mexico when the prime minister of Canada called. And they both asked almost identical questions. “We would like to know if it would be possible to negotiate as opposed to a termination.” And I said, “Yes, it is. Absolutely.” So, so we did that and we’ll start.
Trump makes it sound as if he forced Mexico and Canada to come groveling to us, when in reality, his own staff, including Jared Kushner, frantically called at least Justin Trudeau to tell them to talk Trump out of the idiocy he was lining up.
President Trump: And the clock starts ticking. But here you have two people calling saying, “Can we negotiate?” I say yes and I have to wait for a hundred days. I don’t know what a hundred days is going to be like. What’s it going to be like? So NAFTA’s a horrible one-sided deal that’s cost us millions and millions of jobs and cost us tens of billions of dollars.
It sounds like you’re imagining a pretty big renegotiation of NAFTA. What would a fair NAFTA look like?
Big isn’t a good enough word. Massive.
It’s got to be. It’s got to be.
What would it look like? What would a fair NAFTA look like?
No, it’s gotta be. Otherwise we’re terminating NAFTA.
What would a fair NAFTA look like?
I was all set to terminate, you know? And this wasn’t like…this wasn’t a game I was playing. I’m not playing…you know, I wasn’t playing chess or poker or anything else. This was, I was, I’d never even thought about…it’s always the best when you really feel this way. But I was…I had no thought of anything else, and these two guys will tell you, I had no thought of anything else but termination. But because of my relationship with both of them, I said, I would like to give that a try too, that’s fine. I mean, out of respect for them. It would’ve been very disrespectful to Mexico and Canada had I said, “I will not.”
But Mr President, what has to change for you not to withdraw?
We have to be able to make fair deals. Right now the United States has a 70—almost a $70bn trade deficit with Mexico. And it has about a $15bn dollar trade deficit with Canada. The timber coming in from Canada, they’ve been negotiating for 35 years. And it’s been…it’s been terrible for the United States. You know, it’s just, it’s just been terrible. They’ve never been able to make it.
I’ll bet anyone $100 that Barron Trump has a firmer grasp on economic policy than Donald does.
Some people think this is a negotiating tactic—that you say very dramatic things but actually you would settle for some very small changes. Is that right?
No, it’s not, really not a negotiation. It’s really not. No, will I settle for less than I go in with? Yes, I mean who wouldn’t? Nobody, you know, I always use the word flexibility, I have flexibility. [Goes off the record.]
[Our] relationship with China is long. Of course by China standards, it’s very short [laughter], you know when I’m with [Xi Jinping], because he’s great, when I’m with him, he’s a great guy. He was telling me, you know they go back 8,000 years, we have 1776 is like modern history. They consider 1776 like yesterday and they, you know, go back a long time. They talk about the different wars, it was very interesting.
But they said to me that on the currency manipulation, “Donald Trump has failed to call China a currency manipulator”. Now I have to understand something. I’m dealing with a man, I think I like him a lot. I think he likes me a lot. We were supposed to meet for ten minutes and they go to 40-person meetings, OK, in Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach. And the ten minutes turned out to be three hours, alone, the two of us. The next day it was supposed to be ten minutes and then we go to our 40-person meeting. That, too, he was, no…because you guys were waiting for a long time. That ten minute meeting turned out to be three hours. Dinner turned out to be three hours. I mean, he’s a great guy.
Now, with that in mind, he’s representing China and he wants what’s best for China. But so far, you know, he’s been, he’s been very good. But, so they talk about why haven’t you called him a currency manipulator? Now think of this. I say, “Jinping. Please help us, let’s make a deal. Help us with North Korea, and by the way we’re announcing tomorrow that you’re a currency manipulator, OK?” They never say that, you know the fake media, they never put them together, they always say, he didn’t call him a currency [manipulator], number one. Number two, they’re actually not a currency [manipulator]. You know, since I’ve been talking about currency manipulation with respect to them and other countries, they stopped.
Mr Mnuchin: Right, as soon as the president got elected they went the other way.
President Trump: That all goes into tax reduction. Tremendous savings.
But beyond that it’s OK if the tax plan increases the deficit?
It is OK, because it won’t increase it for long. You may have two years where you’ll…you understand the expression “prime the pump”?
We have to prime the pump.
It’s very Keynesian.
We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Have you heard that expression before, for this particular type of an event?
Priming the pump?
Yeah, have you heard it?
Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just…I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.
So I mean, I have, it has, I haven’t been given massive credit for it yet, but I have been given some because I just see polls out in Michigan and different places, that really are affected by this, have been unbelievable, you know, much bigger than election day. But that’s not a tax increase, that’s no tax. In other words, all you have to do is don’t leave and you won’t have a…but we’re bringing our taxes down so low that you won’t even need the barrier because the taxes are so low, that people are going to stay.
9. He literally went full “SQUIRREL!” in the middle of this answer.
Can I ask you a question about the politics of tax?
It should be like one page.
The politics of this? Do you need to get Democratic support to get this tax plan passed?
Um. Little bit.
And to get Democratic support, they prefer…
Depending. It depends on which plan, you know, which concept we’ve got to…but it could be. But I think the Democrats are going to like it. We may align it with infrastructure, which they like. They like it as much as the Republicans like it. We need infrastructure in our country. This country has wasted $6trn in the Middle East. Wasted. Like taking it and throwing it right out that window. Right in to the Rose Garden. See that beautiful Rose Garden? Look at those very nicely dressed people. It’s religious liberty out there. [NB. Immediately after this interview, President Trump was due to sign an executive order promoting religious liberty.]
Mr President, can I just try you on a deal-making question? If you do need Democratic support for your tax plan, your ideal tax plan, and the price of that the Democrats say is for you to release your tax returns, would you do that?
I don’t know. That’s a very interesting question. I doubt it. I doubt it. Because they’re not going to…nobody cares about my tax return except for the reporters. Oh, at some point I’ll release them. Maybe I’ll release them after I’m finished because I’m very proud of them actually. I did a good job.
I honestly expected the next sentence to be “Ivanka even told me that she’ll hang my returns on the fridge if I eat all my vegetables!”
Will you keep interest deduction in the corporate tax? Will corporate interest payments…
Do you want to answer?
Mr Mnuchin: We’re contemplating it. We’re contemplating it.
Contemplating getting rid of it?
Mr Mnuchin: No, we’re contemplating keeping it. That’s our preference. But we’ll look at everything.
So what would your preference be Mr President? You know about that very well.
No, I would say probably…I think we’re contemplating is the word. And it hasn’t been determined yet, but we’re contemplating.
We’re contemplating various…I have to say, we’re contemplating various things, but one of the things that’s very important is simplicity. We want to keep it as simple as possible. Because even if you do, it’s complicated. I mean even if you keep it simple with taxes it gets complicated.
But as you said Mr President, a border-adjustment tax has some similarities to that. Are you still considering a border-adjustment tax?
We are dealing with Congress…because it’s not really what I’m considering. I mean look, on health care, I think we have a great bill and there’s still a little bit further to go because we’re also dealing with the Senate, but the Senate I believe really wants to get something done because Obamacare is dead, just so we understand. Obamacare is absolutely dead. The insurance companies are leaving. Yesterday Aetna just announced they’re pulling out. You have states that aren’t going to have any insurance companies. You know when people say, “Oh, Obamacare is so wonderful,” there is no Obamacare, it’s dead. Plus we’re subsidising it and we don’t have to subsidise it. You know if I ever stop wanting to pay the subsidies, which I will.
If the bill doesn’t pass would you cut the subsidies?
If the bill doesn’t pass, I’d be in a different position. Because, if the bill didn’t pass the Republicans would have let me down. And then I’d have to decide what I want to do because I want people to have health care. Our health care is much better than Obamacare. It’s going to be much less expensive. We’re going to have competition, we’re getting rid of the state lines, etc etc. The premiums are going to be low, the deductibles are going to be low. If it didn’t pass…it’s a great question, I don’t want to think about that but the answer is…I would do something to make sure the people have health care, as bad as Obamacare is.
Mr President, in business you keep score of your profits. How do you keep score in Trumponomics and in politics?
Well I think the score is going to be the end of the game. To me the score is going to have to be at the end of the game.
I’ve had people tell me that the cutting of those regulations is more important to them than bringing it down from 35% to 15%. And if you would have told me that, if I had a guess one before I knew the answer, I would’ve said, nobody would’ve taken the regulations. 90% of the people would rather have the regulations cut. So when you talk about the tax cut, the regulation cut, Dodd-Frank, you’ll be doing a story on that fairly soon because we’re doing a very massive overhaul on Dodd-Frank. We’re doing things that are going to keep people real happy.
And then ultimately, when I leave office, on the assumption [Mike Pence] doesn’t follow me, but he will. But when I leave office what happens is slowly they’ll nip away at it, nip away, nip away and then in 40, 50 years somebody else will come along and bring it back. But we’re bringing back entrepreneurship. We’re bringing back enthusiasm. And if you look at the people that read your magazine, that are in this country, the enthusiasm levels, and you know this because you see it, are the highest they’ve even been.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.