Trump Meets Reform Party Leaders
Dec. 07, 1999
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) _ At a raucous question-and-answer session with Reform Party activists, Donald Trump won new supporters with his views on international trade but alienated others with dismissive comments about the party's platform.
Trump, who is contemplating a presidential run, also refused to tell his listeners what many wanted to hear on one of the party's central missions: revamping the campaign-finance system.
``If you want to contribute to a candidate, you should be able to sign the check to the candidate,'' he told about 100 party members, most of them from Southern California.
The subject of political donations dominated the first part of Trump's freewheeling, hour-long meeting, which he convened in a crowded hotel conference room here.
``Don't you think that perpetuates a system of legalized bribery?'' one listener demanded after hearing Trump's support for the current system.
Trump said that compared to publicly financed campaigns, the current system is ``probably the lesser of two evils.''
The billionaire developer won his loudest applause of the night when he said he would terminate pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he called a ``disaster for this country.'' Many Reform members detest the agreement, because it has sent jobs to other countries where labor is cheaper.
But he provoked howls of protests when asked whether he would support the Reform Party platform.
``Nobody knows what the Reform Party platform is,'' Trump said.
Members of his audience shouted that they did, indeed, know its contents; many said they had helped write it, and a few booed.
Trump tried to explain that no one knew what the party stood for, since it encompasses such diverse supporters as Lenora Fulani, a leftist, and Pat Buchanan, a right-wing potential rival to Trump.
Several Reform Party activists said in interviews after the session that Trump's attitude toward the platform had disappointed them.
``I'm just a little concerned about his intellectual abilities,'' said Pam Savitch of Ventura. ``He's a very interesting, colorful man, but he's not a man I'd support for president, and he needs to do some more homework on the platform.''
Trump also drew prickly responses when he questioned Buchanan's prospects for winning and his alliance with Fulani.
Earlier in the day, at the taping of Monday's ``Tonight Show,'' Trump said his potential rival was ``anti-Semitic, anti-black, and has obviously been having a love affair with Adolf Hitler in some form.''
``One of our platforms is not to slander the other candidates, and that's all you've been doing since you said you might run, and I'm tired of it!'' one man shouted from the back of the question-and-answer session.
Several audience members said in the interviews that Trump had won their support.
``I think he's great _ I think he's got some fresh, good new ideas,'' said Marie Buren of Los Angeles, citing as an example Trump's proposal for a one-time tax on wealth for anyone with a net worth over $10 million.
``I like him because he's a businessman, and we've got to run this country like a business,'' said Donald Dombrowski of Playa del Rey.
Trump also faced aggressive questioning from ``Tonight Show'' host Jay Leno, who challenged Trump on his leadership experience, asking: ``Have you ever been elected president of anything? School president? Fifth grade?''
Trump shot back that he had been selected for several leadership positions in his company.
``But that's a dictatorship,'' Leno said.
``That is a total dictatorship,'' Trump replied, laughing.
Leno also questioned whether Trump's one-time tax on the wealthy would send capital out of the United States.
``You'd actually keep it here, Jay, because the economy would be so unbelievable, there'd be nothing like it,'' Trump responded, contending that it would drive down the national debt.