Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride

Down the homestretch with the impossible nominee.


Have you seen the latest polls? I’m beating Hillary.”

Donald Trump was on the phone with a man he had never met, a Republican delegate in Pennsylvania. It was May 2, one day before the Indiana primary election, and the private plane bearing his last name in gigantic letters was taxiing along a runway at Indianapolis International Airport. Trump proceeded to quote the numbers to the man in Pennsylvania: ahead of Clinton by 2 points in that day’s Rasmussen poll, 3 points behind her in the previous week’s George Washington University poll. These were the only two national polls at the moment that did not show him lagging behind the Democrat by a wide margin in the general election, but Trump was a businessman who preferred to negotiate using numbers that were in his favor.

“I’d love your support, Phil,” the candidate said as he squinted at his own handwriting, a scrawl in black marker on a piece of paper. “You know, you’re the only delegate I’ve talked to. But I saw you on television, and you appreciate what I do — I won your county by a massive amount, and you’re respectful of that, and I just appreciate what you’ve said: ‘Having a moral obligation to support the winner’ — I hadn’t heard a delegate say that before.”
Trump thanked the delegate and hung up just as the Boeing 757 took off, en route to a final campaign stop in South Bend. He settled into his plush leather seat, beside a large cardboard box containing various documents relating to the Trump Organization’s sundry enterprises. “It’s hard negotiating elevator rates while you’re running for president,” he said. On the table before him were some notes for a speech on law and order prepared by his senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, who sat behind the candidate around a table with a few other aides, including Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. On the more conventional presidential campaigns I have covered — George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney — the candidate’s mobile inner sanctum was a hive of activity, the advisers hovering constantly over their boss, rattling off the latest polling data or words of unsolicited advice from a big donor. On Trump’s plane, the aides spoke when spoken to and otherwise kept to their labors on their laptops.
Trump’s attention was on the large flat-screen TV on which various Fox News pundits were forecasting his probable victory in Indiana’s Republican primary the following day and the bleak implications for his opponent Ted Cruz. The Republican contest, they all seemed to agree, was pretty much over. The 69-year-old billionaire now appeared destined to be Clinton’s opponent in the general election. The Fox commentators, even the ones who favored Trump, seemed to struggle for the words to convey this eventuality.
The candidate took in the good news with an oddly inert expression. “Maybe I’ll get beat tomorrow,” he said, for at least the third time that day. Not a single poll had given him cause for worry. But for all his swagger, Trump had an awareness of unseen, deal-breaking contingencies that held his triumphalism in check. He was compulsively superstitious; twice on other plane trips I had seen him toss a few granules of salt over his left shoulder after eating. And here he was, on the day before he would effectively clinch his nomination, calling a single obscure delegate in a state he had already won in a landslide — an implicit nod to the forces aligned against him before resuming the affect of indomitability.
Corey Lewandowski, campaign manager. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times       

On the TV, Fox had moved on from the election to footage of the smoky aftermath of a bombing in Baghdad. Trump rose from his seat and walked over to the screen for a closer look.

“Boy, this ISIS,” he murmured.
I asked Trump if he had ever been to Iraq. “Never!” he said, sounding horrified by the thought.

“What’s the most dangerous place in the world you’ve been to?”
He contemplated this for a second. “Brooklyn,” he said, laughing. “No,” he went on, “there are places in America that are among the most dangerous in the world. You go to places like Oakland. Or Ferguson. The crime numbers are worse. Seriously.”
It was a stark reminder of what set Trump apart from every other politician in recent memory who had occupied his current position: how little of the world he had seen beyond the archipelago of boardrooms, golf courses and high-rise hotels he inhabited, how utterances that by now would have torpedoed a more normal campaign continued to roll off his tongue with impunity.
That Trump would emerge as the last candidate standing from a field that once included 17 seemed at times unimaginable over the five spasmodic weeks I had spent intermittently in the company of the Trump campaign. More than during any other stretch over the past year, everyone — at times even Trump and his loyal advisers — seemed hellbent on denying him victory. Now it was clear that there would be no technicalities, as some had long suspected, to keep the victory from him; no self-administered fatal error, as so many had assumed. No, this was it: the final stage of a process by which Americans accepted that this man, wholly unlike any politician they had ever seen, was going to definitely, not maybe, become the standard-bearer of one of the two political parties of the most powerful nation on earth.


Campaign headquarters on May 4, as John Kasich withdrew from the presidential race and made Trump the de facto nominee. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

On the TV, the Fox News pundits were speaking consolingly of the soon-to-be-vanquished Cruz’s political future. Standing in front of the oversize screen, Trump scoffed: “I don’t think he has much of a future.” He returned to his seat and proceeded to scratch out a few notes for what would be his final speech as a Republican competing for the nomination.
“This is probably the most successful club anywhere in the world,” Trump informed me. “I have the best building and the best location.” It was early on the evening of March 23 at the wood-paneled bar of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private resort in Palm Beach, Fla.: an estate that was envisioned after the death of its original owner, the cereal magnate Marjorie Merriweather Post, as a winter presidential retreat and that could conceivably be, by next January, a Trump-trademarked Camp David. Trump strolled in wearing a navy blazer and white dress shirt — no tie — and appearing slightly tanner than usual. We were supposed to have met late that morning, to begin my several weeks of following the campaign. But his communications director, Hope Hicks, emailed shortly before the scheduled get-together: “Something has come up, and the boss is going to be occupied for a few hours.” I deduced — correctly, as it turned out — that Trump had ditched me for a golf game. It was the first sunny day all week, and the previous evening the candidate had crushed Cruz in Arizona, which occasioned some celebration. Now Trump apologized for having kept me waiting. “Are you going to have dinner with us tonight?” he asked.
Trump sat down across the table from me and next to Hicks and Lewandowski, who were poring over their smartphones. Opposite them loomed a painting of a much younger Trump in tennis whites. A waiter materialized and poured him a Coke. (Trump says that he has never touched alcohol.)
The month of March had been Trump’s best thus far as a presidential candidate. Although he had, early on, privately rated his chances of winning the Republican nomination as one in 10, he now seemed poised to do just that. On March 1, he clobbered Cruz across the South, winning five of the seven primaries in the region that day — victories that wiped out hope, among the many Republicans who viewed Trump as an apocalyptic threat to their party, that Cruz’s support among evangelicals would form a bulwark against the interloper. Two weeks later, Trump decisively won Illinois and North Carolina, and seemed to have squeaked by in Missouri, though the narrow margin there meant that the result wasn’t yet oficial.
More astounding, he won Florida, beating its native son, Senator Marco Rubio, by nearly 19 points and forcing him out of the race. Less than two months earlier, the first-term senator was the Republican Party’s favorite son: precocious and upbeat but exquisitely calibrated, never in danger of wandering off-message — in short, the antithesis of Donald Trump. By early March, Trump had baited him into the tar pit, where he was reduced to questioning the penis size of the man who called him “Liddle Marco.”

Hope Hicks, communications director. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

“He was branded beautifully,” Trump said, slouching contentedly in his chair. He turned to Lewandowski. “Did they ever announce the results of Missouri?”
“Sir, they’re still certifying the counts of the delegates,” Lewandowski said.
“Am I leading? Have they taken anything away from me?”
“So far you’ve lost a net of three votes.”
“So when will we know?”
“They’re trying to certify this by Friday. They’ve allocated 25 delegates to you, 15 to Cruz — there’s still 12 out there.”
Trump’s brow wrinkled. “So are they saying I won Missouri by doing that?” he asked.
“Not yet,” Lewandowski patiently explained. “You’ve won a series of congressional districts. You won five of them, which is 25 delegates. Cruz won three — so 15 for him.”
Distaste clouded Trump’s face. Like most Americans, he had until recently been almost completely ignorant of the obscure mechanics by which a candidate became the party nominee.

To win the nomination, he needed the support of 1,237 delegates. Achieving this was not as straightforward as simply winning the most votes in primaries. In each state, lifelong party officials largely controlled the delegate-selection process. This was the Republican establishment’s last front in its war against Trump — and Trump feared, not without cause, that his rivals would resort to whatever connivances were necessary to deny him a 1,237 majority and throw the Republican convention into a melee of multiple balloting and back-room deal-making.
Donald Trump Jr. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

“What I don’t like,” Trump said, “is Cruz has a guy working for him” — his campaign manager, Jeff Roe — “that’s one of the most powerful guys in Missouri. So when I hear there’s a revote” — there wasn’t, actually — “I know too much about politics, so I get it. And I don’t like it.”
Cruz was, perhaps, the only candidate as little-liked among Republican Party hands as Trump was, but Trump plainly saw the Cruz campaign’s machinations as a reflection of the party establishment’s ferocious determination to stop him. It was no secret that many Republicans viewed Trump as an explosive device poised to obliterate in a single blast the party’s economic orthodoxy and its ability to project an image of tolerance. Trump himself had vowed to blow up the party’s “rigged system.”
And yet he remained somewhat puzzled as to why the party was so opposed to him. In his view, he had arrived on the scene as something of a gift to the G.O.P. He had attracted to the polls hordes of Americans who had previously given up on the party, or on politics as a whole.

Viewers were tuning in to the once-boring Republican debates in ratings-smashing numbers — and this, he argued, was “100 percent Donald Trump.” The party had become too obsessed with ideology. “One thing I’ve seen over the years,” he observed, “is that the Democrats stick together, and the Republicans eat their young. That’s why they lose so many elections. You know, a normal, very nice, very likable Republican would be hard pressed to win.”
Trump did not accept the concern that his more incendiary statements had alienated women and minorities and thereby made him unelectable. “I’m going to be better to women on women’s issues than Hillary Clinton and everybody else combined,” he would later tell me.

Now, sipping his Coke, he cited his moderate-for-a-Republican view that Planned Parenthood was a valuable women’s health care organization, albeit one that should not receive federal funding as long as it performed abortions.
“Frankly, for the general election I think that’s a very good issue for me,” he said.

“Structurally, it’s very hard, almost impossible, for a heavily conservative Republican to win, because of the Electoral College. Whereas I bring in Michigan. Look at what I did in Michigan — I won it in a landslide, it wasn’t even close. So I bring in Michigan. I maybe bring in New York. Republicans don’t even go for the general election to campaign in New York, because there’s no chance.”
“I win Illinois,” Trump said of a state in which, by the latest polling from early March, he was trailing Clinton by 25 points and which a Republican had not won since 1988.
“The reason they did an autopsy of the party,” Hicks said, referring to the Republican National Committee’s internal analysis following the defeat of 2012, “was because the party was dead! People are accusing Mr. Trump of killing the party — well, that’s already been done. He’s bringing the party back to life!”
 The stuffed animal that staffers call Lion Ted on the couch in the campaign headquarters. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times 
Trump said: “By the way, I’m going to do great with the African-American vote. One poll came out saying Donald Trump’s going to get 25 percent of the African-American vote.” Trump was referring to last September’s SurveyUSA poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 10 percentage points. (In 1960 against Kennedy, Nixon received 32 percent of the black vote. Since then, the highest share of the black vote any Republican nominee has received was Reagan’s 14 percent in 1980.) “And I said, Huh — why not more? I’m going to do great with the African-Americans. I’m going to bring back jobs. And I’ve had good relations with them.” And, he said, “I’m going to do far better with Hispanics than anyone thought. I have thousands working for me. When this is over, one of my first pictures is going to be me at the Doral” — his golf resort near Miami — “with a thousand of my people working there, most of whom are Hispanic and all who love Trump.”
As we moved to the patio for dinner, Trump signaled for Lewandowski and Hicks to join us, which seemed to surprise them. We were seated at a table that afforded a view of the beach while also placing the resort’s owner in the center of everyone else’s attention. Trump accepted the greetings, congratulations and selfie requests with rote magnanimity — posing for the camera phones, his forced wince of a smile looked as if someone were grinding a shoe into his toe — before dispatching each well-wisher with an “Enjoy your evening.” He regarded the parade of men in salmon- or lime-colored blazers with a flicker of amusement. “Right out of central casting,” he said.
Melania Trump joined us on the patio; Trump doted on her throughout the meal, often touching her shoulder or leg and calling her “baby.” His eldest son, Donald Jr., sat with his wife at a nearby table, as did Trump’s grandchildren and his youngest son, 10-year-old Barron.
Melania’s soft-spokenness and Lewandowski and Hicks’s deferentiality — both referred to Trump as “sir” and “Mr. Trump” — lent the whole tableau an Old World texture, like a Habsburg patriarch in repose. “This is fun, right?” Trump exclaimed. “Really! We’re having a good time!”
Sometime after 10, he and his wife rose from the table and said good night. Back in his bedroom just before midnight, he checked his Twitter feed, as he often did when, he told me, he felt the passing urge to “knock the crap out of” somebody. Tonight, one of his eight million Twitter followers had tweeted a pair of photographs: a flattering image of Melania alongside one of Cruz’s wife, Heidi, with a sort of prune-faced expression, with the caption “A picture is worth a thousand words” and the hashtag #NEVERCRUZ. Trump retweeted it from his own account — his last public statement of the day.
The next morning, a Thursday, Lewandowski drove Hicks and me from Mar-a-Lago to Trump’s nearby golf resort in one of the candidate’s many cars. “I’m Corey,” Lewandowski, in shorts and loafers, explained to the security guard at the entrance. Then, more emphatically: “With Mr. Trump’s campaign.” The guard eyed him skeptically as we drove past.

   Ivanka and Eric Trump. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times                    

Though he was Trump’s top aide, Lewandowski was viewed by some political observers in Washington as a glorified body man — he seldom left the candidate’s side, and he lacked the blue-chip credentials usually characteristic of front-running campaign strategists.
Lewandowski handled the details, not the vision. He was not a guru. Had he been, Trump, who is his own guru, would not have hired him. In his briefcase, Lewandowski carried a bulky black binder. It contained virtually everything of significance in Trump’s political universe: the daily, weekly and monthly master schedules; the full staff list with everyone’s contact information; a similar list of the campaign’s various contractors; daily talking points for staff and surrogates; a running tally of the delegate count; a list of Trump endorsers; a metrics chart of field activities in each state, including the daily number of calls made and doors knocked; position papers on each major issue; various documents requiring the candidate’s signature; and drafts of coming speeches. When he was not taking orders from the candidate, he was on the phone executing them, pacing around with his hand cupped over the receiver like an offensive coordinator furtively calling in plays.
What Lewandowski did have in common with David Axelrod, Karl Rove and other marquee strategists was a romanticized view of his candidate — one that even Trump, for all his self-regard, didn’t seem to share. Lewandowski saw him as a Braveheart-like hell-raiser tilting against a party elite that had not seen fit to embrace either of them. Though Lewandowski had kicked around in the political circles of New Hampshire for much of the past two decades, he had never seen thousands of people turn out to greet a candidate there the way they did his new boss. Nor had he expected the campaigns of more experienced candidates run by better-known consultants to collapse so quickly and spectacularly in the face of Trump’s challenge. Today, 15 months into the job, Lewandowski plainly admitted that he was not this campaign’s “architect.” Instead, he described himself to me as “a jockey on American Pharoah. You hold on and give him a little bit of guidance. But you’ve got to let him run.”
Over coffee in the club’s sunny dining room overlooking the links, Lewandowski and Hicks joked about the “toxic infighting” that some media outlets had claimed was bedeviling the campaign. Its four principals — Lewandowski, Hicks, the deputy campaign manager, Michael Glassner and the social-media director, Dan Scavino — were, Hicks insisted, extremely close.
They had also been made aware of two things by Trump: There was only one star of the campaign, and there was also only one communications director. Unlike most who held her job title, Hicks did not tend to the campaign’s messaging strategy. Nor did Hicks, who is 27, see it as her job to spend evenings sharing off-the-record insights over drinks with the traveling press corps. The rest of the Trump team felt similarly. This, combined with the campaign’s unusually long blacklist of media outlets it deemed unfair or unfriendly, had left reporters with few of the usual means of interpreting the campaign’s inner doings, requiring them to rely instead on more far-flung sources.
Among those was Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone, an inveterate mischief-maker in the dark seams of American politics who lived by the credo that, as he put it, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Depending on whom you believed, Stone had either been dismissed by Trump last August or had quit. Trump had also parted company with Stone’s former protégé, Sam Nunberg, who worked for Trump from 2011 until last August, when it was disclosed that he had previously posted racist messages about Obama and the Rev. Al Sharpton on his Facebook page. Nunberg no longer spoke to the candidate; Stone remained on good terms with Trump but communicated with him infrequently, usually when Trump called to compliment him on a TV appearance. Both harbored an intense dislike for Lewandowski, who they believed had tried to wall off their access to the candidate — Stone, whose formative years were spent working for the re-election campaign of President Richard Nixon, described Lewandowski to me as having “all of Bob Haldeman’s negative traits and none of his good ones” — and merrily disseminated tales of his imminent professional demise.
Outside Trump World, these whispers dovetailed with a sense in the media and the political class that a campaign that began as an odd novelty was evolving into something darker. Trump’s rhetoric had been inflammatory since his announcement speech in June, in which he castigated Mexico for sending “rapists” to the United States; in December, after a husband-and-wife team of Islamic State sympathizers shot 35 people in San Bernardino, Calif., he issued a statement calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Now reports and videos were surfacing of Trump supporters flinging racial slurs and, sometimes, attacking protesters at his rallies. “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you?” Trump told a crowd in Iowa on Feb. 1.
“Seriously. O.K.? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”

    Michael Glassner, deputy campaign manager, and a Secret Service bomb-sniffing dog. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times 

Then on March 8, Lewandowski grabbed the arm of Michelle Fields, then a reporter for Breitbart News, when she approached Trump at a campaign event at the golf club where we were now sitting, leaving bruises. Fields filed a complaint, and the stories now circulating portrayed a Trump campaign in a state of “serious existential threat,” as one Politico article put it. Stone had been quoted in that article, and Nunberg, who would later announce his support for Cruz, had reached out to Fields through an acquaintance and suggested lawyers to her.
Inside Trump World, these matters were regarded as drastically overblown. Trump had no intention of punishing Lewandowski for the Fields incident the way Cruz had thrown his national spokesman Rick Tyler overboard the month before for ill-advised Facebook and Twitter posts. Nevertheless, Trump quietly issued the order that his rally venues for the time being be smaller, and thus more easily controlled, even as he stood by his campaign manager and defended his revolution as a nonviolent one.
At the golf resort, I brought up the more strategic criticism that had been leveled at the campaign, that Trump needed to turn his guerrilla squad into something resembling a more conventional operation, and asked Lewandowski and Hicks how that might happen. “Ever since we won Nevada, all these guys have been calling us and saying we had to build out the team,” Hicks said. The campaign’s core staffers had received this advice with eye-rolls, recognizing it as a worldview at odds with their own — and from time to time would draw up imitation organizational charts imagining what an expanded Trump World would look like:

But a small cloud was gathering in the otherwise unblemished sky over Palm Beach. That evening, a Wall Street Journal article by Reid J. Epstein was published online under the headline “Ted Cruz Gains in Louisiana After Loss There to Donald Trump.” Epstein wrote that although Trump had won that state’s primary, Cruz’s team was exploiting the state party’s arcane rules to help draw many of the delegates their way.
The man Trump called “Lyin’ Ted” was running a campaign operation that, in the view of Trump World, wasn’t half as brilliant as the media had given it credit for. After all, who had won the evangelical vote in South Carolina? Who had swept nearly all of the South? Who had snatched victory in Missouri from the jaws of Cruz’s supposed wizard Roe? Still, Cruz’s campaign had found a different way to win.

  Paul Manafort, who oversees the campaign’s delegate operation. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times                    

Stone told him that yes, such a feat was entirely possible.
The last time anyone in the Republican Party had felt the need to prepare for a brokered convention was 1976, when former Gov. Ronald Reagan of California mounted an insurrectionary challenge to President Gerald Ford. Among the operatives managing Ford’s short but intense convention-floor fight was Paul Manafort, a 27-year-old protégé of Ford’s campaign manager, the future secretary of state James Baker.
Manafort went on to advise several subsequent Republican presidential campaigns, but since the mid-’80s, much of his counsel had been devoted to helping foreign leaders including Ferdinand Marcos and Vladimir Putin’s ally in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Still, with his pinstripe suits and white-shoe deftness, he represented a steady and low-profile contrast to Trump’s whippetlike campaign manager. He was also more than 25 years Lewandowski’s senior — a true peer to Trump, who often referred to his traveling entourage as “the kids.” As it happened, he lived on the 43rd floor of Trump Tower, and was Stone’s former business partner.
At Trump’s request, Manafort had dinner the evening of March 24 with the candidate at Mar-a-Lago. Manafort offered his services pro bono — he was already plenty wealthy, and presumably preferred an optimized blend of influence and independence. Four days later, on the morning of Monday, March 28, members of the campaign staff assembled at the Washington office of Donald McGahn, Trump’s campaign lawyer, for a secret meeting. The team conferred for three and a half hours. The manager of Trump’s shoestring delegate operation, Ed Brookover, and his deputies Brian Jack and Alan Cobb, began with a review of the campaign’s current delegate-hunting status state by state. But midway through the presentation, the discussion spilled over into a deeper examination of the state of the campaign — of how the candidate’s message should be shaped and how his operation should be broadened.
As the newcomer in the room, Manafort was deferential but also pointed in his observations. He told Lewandowski he was taking on a new role now, according to two people present at the meeting. He was bigger than just a campaign manager, he said. Senators would want to meet with him directly, and he should leverage that when he was in Washington. Such leveraging was, of course, exactly the skill of an establishment hand like Manafort, not an outsider like Lewandowski. (A spokesman for Manafort said he did not recall this being said.)
The next morning, March 29, Lewandowski turned himself in to police in Jupiter, Fla., and was charged with simple battery for the incident with Michelle Fields. Ultimately the state attorney for Palm Beach County would decline to prosecute him. What lingered in significance, however, was the complete senselessness of his denial that he had ever touched Fields. (The episode was captured on video.) Instead, Lewandowski had followed the example of his pugnacious boss, which he and Hicks characterized to me during our meeting at Trump’s golf resort in Palm Beach: Don’t back down.
Double down.

Memorabilia and fan art line the walls of the campaign headquarters. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times 

Trump, meanwhile, had other problems. He was now campaigning in Wisconsin, where anti-Trump forces were mounting a fierce and skillfully coordinated effort to deny him the nomination at the convention. “I’ve never said this before, but if I don’t win it on the first ballot, the dishonest establishment will never allow me to win,” Trump told me aboard his 757 on the morning of April 5. We were departing Milwaukee, where voters were going to the polls, and the Fox News pundits on his TV were dissecting what had been the worst two-week stretch of his young political career — one that had begun with his campaign manager’s arrest.
When one commentator made reference to Trump’s recent “unforced errors,” Trump said, “O.K., you can turn the sound down now.” Scavino obliged.
Referring to the results of the Wisconsin primary that would arrive that evening, Trump asked me, “What do you think is going to happen?”
“You’re probably going to lose,” I said.
He shrugged. “I have the whole machine against me.”
Surveying his recent setbacks, however, he allowed that he had perhaps made some mistakes.
He had come to regret his decision to retweet the Heidi Cruz photo that night at Mar-a-Lago, which had dogged him for weeks now. “I could’ve done without it,” he gruffly acknowledged. “Some people were offended.” I asked him if it was strategically wise to have spent the past week in Wisconsin repeatedly attacking the state’s governor, the former presidential candidate Scott Walker — who, granted, was a Cruz supporter but who also enjoyed an 80 percent favorability rating among the state’s Republicans. “Maybe not,” Trump mumbled. “We’ll see.”

   The subcellar at Trump Tower. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times                    

Then there was his interview the previous week with the MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who asked him whether his pro-life views meant that he also supported criminal penalties for a woman who had an abortion. Trump had replied that yes, there should be “some form of punishment.” Now he argued to me, rather unconvincingly, that he had been misinterpreted: “I didn’t mean punishment for women like prison. I’m saying women punish themselves. I didn’t want people to think in terms of ‘prison’ punishment. And because of that I walked it back.” A more believable explanation, furnished by a senior adviser for the Trump campaign, is this: Trump, a serial non-apologizer, initially saw nothing wrong with his remark and refused to walk it back. Only when every network chief executive and over 100 media outlets besieged the Trump campaign with requests for additional comment on how women should be punished for abortions did the Trump campaign turn to an ally: Chris Christie, whose tenure as the Republican governor of the blue state of New Jersey had given him experience placating both social conservatives and the moderate voters Trump hoped to attract in the general election. A member of Christie’s political team helped draft a statement that essentially repudiated Trump’s earlier one.
In any other presidential campaign, this string of failures would have cost someone his or her job. But no heads had rolled in Trump World — a tacit acknowledgment by the candidate, perhaps, that responsibility for the campaign resided in the man with the office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower. The campaign’s inner circle remained intact; Hicks now sat directly behind Trump on the plane, pecking away at her laptop alongside Lewandowski, whose eyes were haunted with fatigue and who had lost so much weight recently (15 pounds, he would later tell me) that his blue blazer drooped like a cloak around his shoulders. I asked Trump if his campaign manager’s job description had been affected by recent developments. “Zero,” he insisted.
That evening Trump lost Wisconsin by 13 points to Cruz. Further setbacks followed in Colorado and Wyoming, where Cruz’s team outmaneuvered Trump’s in the delegate-apportioning process, as even some of Trump’s staff members would concede to me.
Lewandowski thought highly of the 1993 Bill Clinton campaign documentary “The War Room,” and admiringly regarded Clinton’s team as a roomful of “killers.” The able but mild-mannered Trump delegate crew, which included Jack, Brookover and Barry Bennett — all alumni of Dr. Ben Carson’s recently shuttered campaign — did not seem to have the appetite for the jugular that Cruz’s team did.
At 8 in the morning on Saturday, April 16, Trump’s top staff members convened on the fifth floor of Trump Tower. Ten months into the race, the candidate’s headquarters looked more like the dingy redoubt of a soon-to-be-disbanded mayoral campaign than the hypercaffeinated situation room of a presidential front-runner. On ordinary days, no more than eight or 10 staffers inhabited the warehouselike floor, which in the manner of many campaigns was decorated like a politics-obsessed dorm suite: a model White House topped with pink flamingos, life-size posters of John Wayne and Ronald Reagan, an oversize plush lion the team had named Lion Ted. A recent description in New York Magazine of its spartan condition offended the building owner, who protested to me, “It’s this beautiful raw space!” He conceded that Hillary Clinton’s campaign offices in Brooklyn might be better appointed — “though she never had my location.”
Manafort and Lewandowski had gathered the team to discuss the campaign’s new structure — which would now have Manafort overseeing the entire delegate operation and Lewandowski the campaign apparatus — and to introduce its new members, including Rick Wiley, the national political director, previously Scott Walker’s campaign manager. The candidate strolled into the conference room. “Wow, this looks like a professional group of people,” he said, smiling, according to two sources who were present. “All right, guys. I need you to go win.
And we’re going to make sure you have what you need to win.”

The candidate in his campaign headquarters. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times        

After speaking for less than two minutes, Trump walked out. For the rest of the meeting, much was said by everyone in the room, but nothing was decided, because Manafort and Lewandowski had thoroughly opposing visions of how the campaign should be run. The Washington-based strategist believed it was time for Trump to close out the primaries by taking a more scripted, mollifying approach. The campaign manager held to the view that people attended a Trump rally fully expecting the same type of raucous, unpredictable drama they saw at a sporting event. Trump apparently was listening to both men now. But it was not obvious that morning whose view would prevail — or even which of the two had the authority to give orders. One attendee told me that he came out with no more clarity than he had before the meeting.
The plane touched down at the airport, and the waiting fleet of black sedans whisked the candidate and his entourage to the city’s hockey arena, where the rally would take place. Trump was posing for photographs with campaign volunteers when Hicks’s phone buzzed. It was Paul Manafort, calling to try to head off another public-relations controversy.
A woman whom Trump had briefly considered hiring in 2015 to help with communications strategy, Cheri Jacobus, was suing the candidate, his campaign and Lewandowski for libel after Trump tweeted that she had “begged my people for a job,” in addition to a few other disparaging remarks.
Trump wanted to punch back — it was what he did; and in Lewandowski’s view, the candidate’s brawling, politically incorrect impulses were what had made him the front-runner to begin with.
At the candidate’s direction, Hicks had prepared a statement chiding Jacobus’s threat. Manafort was now on the phone urging Trump not to release the statement. Attacking Jacobus yet again struck him as unnecessary, not to mention a distraction from the task at hand: winning big in tomorrow’s primary. It also flew in the face of Manafort’s publicly stated vow that his new client would now be evincing a more “presidential” affect.
Trump grew more red-faced as he heard Manafort out. Then he said, “Don’t tell me how to [expletive] do P.R.” He stepped into a private room to fix his hair, then posed for a few more photos with the man who was about to introduce him to the crowd, Rex Ryan, head coach of the Buffalo Bills. That evening, addressing a hockey arena filled with perhaps 17,000 delirious Trumpophiles, he bellowed: “I don’t want to really act more ‘presidential’ until we win!”
The following evening at Trump Tower, the man who stepped out before the press — heralded by Sinatra’s “New York, New York” — to celebrate his 35-point victory in his home state’s primary appeared uncharacteristically subdued. He referred to his vanquished opponent not as “Lyin’ Ted” but as “Senator Cruz.” He held his usual grievances in check. After eight minutes, he departed the lectern without taking any questions.
Manafort had managed to impose a veneer of Beltway respectability on the campaign. More field organizers were now materializing in states like Pennsylvania, where local volunteers had hitherto been left largely to fend for themselves. Supporters who previously received no direction from the campaign before going on TV to expound on the candidate’s policies — “I just make [expletive] up,” Representative Duncan Hunter of California confessed to a Trump senior adviser — were now receiving daily talking points.
Later that day, en route to West Chester, Pa., Trump’s thoughts kept wandering afield from politics.
He sat with a large stack of newspaper clippings — some of them with handwritten notes from his daughter Ivanka — at his feet. To his right sat his 32-year-old son Eric, whom I heard Trump refer to as “honey.” He perused some documents relating to a land deal he was considering, pausing to fret over the fate of his friend Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback whose four-game suspension for his role in the Deflategate scandal was upheld that morning by a federal appeals court: “He should’ve sued the N.F.L. in Boston at the very beginning.” He asked Lewandowski whether his campaign schedule would allow him to attend the June 25 grand opening of his Turnberry golf resort on the coast of Scotland.
“If we get to 1,237, you’re there,” Lewandowski said. “If we’re at 1,100, you’re going nowhere.”
Trump scowled a bit but did not protest. I was reminded that Trump was still fundamentally a real estate developer with exactly zero previous campaign experience, who had gotten this far by spending only a fraction of what his opponents had and against the wishes of his party — who was as new to the idea of a Trump candidacy as the rest of us were.
Although his political maturation over the past year had not been altogether linear, it seemed clear that an understanding of what his candidacy meant to his supporters was taking root.
Trump seemed aware, despite his insistence that voters of all stripes were drawn to him, that his constituency came chiefly from white working-class Americans who felt left out of the Obama recovery and cheated by what they saw as a rigged economic system. Playing to this sentiment, he had begun to include in his speeches a litany of dire economic statistics pertaining to whichever state he happened to be visiting at the time. The data, compiled by Sam Clovis and Stephen Miller, senior policy advisers, invariably cited the collapse of that local manufacturing sector over the past two decades. It had become axiomatic in Trump World that wherever jobs had been lost was also where Trump’s voters could be found. “They’re great people,” he murmured back on the plane after the event in Buffalo. “And they want help.” His face crinkled in disgust. “They don’t want hope. They want help.”
It was a sobering reminder of the expectations that a President Trump might find on his shoulders come January. But the moment passed, and his mood seemed to regain altitude, the desperate souls on the rope line reaggregating into an adoring mass of victory-assuring, superlative-defying yugeness. “So you’ve covered other people — nobody comes close to this,” he said. “Two guys from Fox said they’ve never seen anything like it.”
We rose upward through the skies in the vehicle Trump referred to as “just about the fastest plane made,” eventually passing over the Ferry Point golf course that Trump said he had built faster than anyone else could, and finally toward the great Manhattan skyline that Trump had made even greater — a taste of what he could do for America, if its great people would only let him.

A Debt Agenda for the G7

Martin Feldstein
. Newsart for A Debt Agenda for the G7

CAMBRIDGE – On May 26-27, the heads of the Group of Seven leading industrial countries will gather in Japan to discuss common security and economic problems. A major common problem that deserves their attention is the unsustainable increase in the major developed countries’ national debt. Failure to address the explosion of government borrowing will have adverse effects on the global economy and on debt-burdened countries themselves.
The problem is bad and getting worse almost everywhere. In the United States, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government debt doubled over the past decade, from 36% of GDP to 74% of GDP. It also predicts that, under favorable economic assumptions and with no new programs to increase spending or reduce revenue, the debt ratio ten years from now will be 86% of GDP. Even more worrying, the annual deficit ratio will double in the next decade to 4.9% of GDP, putting the debt on track to exceed 100% of GDP.
The situation in Japan is worse, with gross debt at more than 200% of GDP. Japan’s current annual deficit of 6% of GDP implies that the debt ratio will continue to rise rapidly unless action is taken.
Conditions differ among the eurozone countries. But three of the European Union’s four largest economies – France, Italy, and the United Kingdom – all have large debts and annual deficits that point to even higher debt ratios in the future.
A rising level of national debt absorbs funds that would otherwise be available to finance productivity-enhancing business investment. Businesses now fear that the increasing deficits will lead to higher taxes, further discouraging investment.
That is a worrying prospect for everyone. When interest rates rise, as surely they must, the cost of servicing the debt will require higher taxes, hurting economic incentives and weakening economic activity. And the persistence of large deficits reduces the room that governments have to increase spending when there is an economic downturn or a threat to national security.
Reducing deficits is obviously a task for those responsible for tax revenue and public spending: governments and legislatures. But central banks also play a role, affecting the problem in two ways.
Low-interest-rate policies in advanced countries are depressing the current size of budget deficits, but at the cost of reducing pressure on political leaders to address future deficits and encouraging voters to favor more spending programs and larger tax cuts. Central banks can help by announcing clearly that interest rates will rise substantially in the future, making it more expensive for governments to borrow and to roll over existing debt.
Reducing annual deficits requires either increased tax revenue or decreased outlays. Raising marginal tax rates is both politically unpopular and economically damaging. In the US, there is scope to raise revenue without increasing tax rates, by limiting so-called tax expenditures – the forms of spending that are built into the tax rules rather than appropriated annually by Congress.
For example, an American who buys an electric car receives a $7,000 tax reduction. Larger tax expenditures in the US include the deduction for mortgage interest and the exclusion from taxable income of employer-paid health-insurance premiums.
Although eliminating any of these major tax expenditures might be politically impossible, limiting the amount by which a taxpayer could reduce his or her tax liability by using these provisions could raise substantial revenue. So I do my best to persuade my Republican friends in Congress that reducing the revenue loss from tax expenditures is really a way to cut government spending even though the deficit reduction appears on the revenue side of the budget.
The good news is that a relatively small reduction in annual deficits can put an economy on a path to a much lower debt-to-GDP ratio. For the US, cutting the deficit from the projected 4.9% of GDP to 3% of GDP would cause the debt ratio to drop toward 60%.
The same is true elsewhere. The long-run debt-to-GDP ratio is equal to the ratio of the annual budget deficit to the annual rate of growth of nominal GDP. With 4% nominal GDP growth, a budget deficit of 2% would bring the long-term debt ratio down to 50%. That should be the goal for which all of the G7 countries aim.

Why the Housing Market Is Getting Stronger

New-home sales and quarterly results from Toll Brothers this week should bolster the housing market’s solid fundamentals

By Steven Russolillo 

Spring has sprung for the housing market. Even the Federal Reserve isn’t likely to spoil the fun.

Steady job growth, rising wages and low interest rates have helped prop up housing demand. Friday’s positive report on U.S. existing-home sales underscored this. And even with the specter of another Fed rate increase looming, perhaps as soon as next month, housing’s foundation isn’t likely to be shaken.

There are a few worries after three consecutive months of declines in new-home sales, but government data and quarterly results from luxury home builder Toll Brothers Inc., TOL 3.07 % out Tuesday, should ease concerns. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal estimate sales of newly built homes rose 2.3% in April from a month earlier.

Meanwhile, home builders are feeling pretty optimistic about current conditions, which should bode well for Toll. A gauge of home-builder sentiment, released last week, held firmly in positive territory, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Perhaps more important, expectations for sales in the next six months jumped to the highest level of the year.

Rates also remain favorable. The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 3.61% in April, the lowest monthly average since May 2013, according to Freddie Mac. Of course, rates didn’t stay low for long back then as the taper tantrum roiled the market. This time, an actual Fed rate increase likely wouldn’t provide as much shock value to markets as the mere hint of tapering bond purchases did then.

And a factor that has held housing back—affordability—might give buyers a breather. On the surface, rising home values have made it more difficult to buy a home, particularly for first-time home buyers. But a measure of housing affordability, compiled by the National Association of Realtors, tells a different story.

The Realtors’ group, assuming a 20% down payment, measures a typical mortgage payment for the median priced home and compares it with median household incomes. By this measure, housing has actually been getting more affordable since the summer, a reflection of rising wages and low interest rates.

It isn’t last call yet for this house party.