Republican front runner Donald Trump has been criticized for not being “conservative” in the manner of the Beltway Right, for changing his positions (especially on abortion), and for his past associations with Democratic politicians. Trump-haters frequently claim that The Donald has no fixed views, is merely opportunistically taking advantage of popular anger with political elites, and therefore can’t be trusted to try and follow through on his campaign pledges. But a 1990 Playboy magazine interview indicates that Trump has been an adherent of “America First” positions for a long time.
In that interview, Trump had some choice words for the raw deal he said America was getting in her relationship with Japan, for instance. Japan, said Trump, was transporting Persian Gulf oil home under the protection of American warships, then using that oil to “fuel their factories so that they can knock the hell out of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. Their openly screwing us is a disgrace. Why aren’t they paying us?” Japan was prospering under the protection of the US military, while economically undermining America. The Japanese, according to Trump, “laugh at our stupidity.”
Trump’s sharp, sarcastic, occasionally hilarious put downs of American political elites have become a regular feature of his campaign rallies, but blasting politicos who make bad trade deals didn’t start with his presidential run. Back in 1990, Trump opined that Japanese leaders made their American counterparts look “totally second rate.” And it wasn’t just the Japanese and Europeans who were taking America to the cleaners. Trump said that “the Saudis, the Kuwaitis walk all over us.”
His campaign rhetoric about using hard-nosed business tycoons to re-negotiate trade deals and handle foreign policy is also nothing new. Trump told Playboy that he would like to see “people from the business community—the Carl Icahns, the Ross Perots—negotiating some of our foreign policy, we’d have respect around the world.”
In the Playboy interview, Trump, who has had some recent run-ins with “Black Lives Matter” agitators, also supported the death penalty. When asked why he did, Trump said, “Because I hate seeing this country go to hell. We’re laughed at by the rest of the world. In order to bring law and order back into our cities, we need the death penalty and authority given back to the police.”
Trump said he considered himself to be a conservative—one who apparently thought that what chiefly needed to be conserved was the country itself. While claiming that he supported George H.W. Bush, the Trumpster did not take kindly to his talk of a “kinder, gentler” approach to leadership. Trump thought that “if this country gets any kinder or gentler, it’s literally going to cease to exist.” Trump’s more recent stated definition of conservatism (“I view the word conservative as a derivative . . . of the word conserve. We want to conserve our country. We want to save our country”) is consistent with his earlier public remarks—and seems (to this observer, anyway) to be more than just campaign rhetoric.
Trump’s populist touch isn’t a recent invention, either. Playboy asked about his choice of political parties. Trump said that if he ran for office, “I’d do better as a Democrat than as a Republican . . . and that’s not because I’d be more liberal, because I’m conservative. But the working guy would elect me. He likes me. When I walk down the street, those cabbies start yelling out their windows.” Trump added that he didn’t want to be president, but “I’d change my mind only if I saw this country continue to go down the tubes.”
It has, and the Donald is making his run.