President Donald Trump argued that he has expanded the Republican Party to be more of a home for “the working man and woman” in an interview for this week’s TIME cover.
In a brief call from Air Force One to discuss his relations with Republicans on his way to an Oct. 10 rally in Erie, Pa., Trump cited his 2016 win, his renegotiation of free-trade agreements and his combative foreign policy as reasons that the GOP is stronger than before his presidency.
“The party is a much bigger party now, and it’s like really a party for the working men and women in this country, in addition to plenty of others,” he said. “In the true sense, it has been changed, and I think that’s why I won an election nobody else would have won. If you look at the places I’ve won, nobody else would have won those places.”
Both the Democratic and Republican parties have seen drop-offs in recent years in the number of voters who identify with them, and there are fewer self-identified Republicans now than when Trump won the 2016 nomination. But among Republicans, Trump has support in the mid-80s, in line with Ronald Reagan’s.
Read a lightly edited transcript of Trump’s interview below.
Hi, Mr. President. Thank you for talking to me today.
Good. I’ll try and get a good cover for a change. That’s nice.
We’ve been talking to a lot of your supporters. And we’re trying to explain to readers the different reasons people support you, and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.
We are doing a lot of good things, I think. You know, we just had a great judge put on the Supreme Court and a lot of people would have said that was not going to happen. Now that’s two of them in less than two years, substantially less than two years. That was my honor. But all of the things that are happening have been really great, including jobs and regulations, everything. The market’s had a little bit of an off day, but I understand why that is. That’s easy to figure.
Do you think that you’ve changed the Republican Party permanently?
Well, I don’t think of it that way, Brian. I mean I really like much of what the Republicans were doing. I think we have brought a lot of people in. You know. The party is a much bigger party now, and it’s like really a party for the working men and women in this country, in addition to plenty of others. I guess in the true sense, it has been changed, and I think that’s why I won an election nobody else would have won. If you look at the places I’ve won, nobody else would have won those places. And a lot of that is because of my views which are very strongly held.
There are hundreds of Republican politicians out there, what do you think they can learn from you, the things you say, your policies and the way you say it?
Well I think for one thing we have to fight harder for our country. And I think we have to put America first. We, people have not been doing that. They’ve been doing these horrible trade deals. You know we just renegotiated and there were tough negotiations. But NAFTA was one of the worst deals ever made. We lost thousands of factories and plants and jobs, millions of jobs, millions and millions of jobs. And it was a horrible deal. That’s why I refused to call the new deal anything to do with NAFTA, you know the USMCA. And you know it’s a deal that will make it very hard for people, for companies to move out of the United States because if they move out of the United States there’s going to be a very big penalty to pay. And you know we were losing our companies and therefore we were losing our jobs. People were being fired. And that was something that I refuse to allow to happen. That’s a big difference right there. I think more than anything else, it’s putting America first. And you know, I’m proud of our country. I want to be proud of our country. So many things were happening so bad so foolish that, you know, it’s just unacceptable.
Our trade deals were horrible and frankly our military deals were horrible. We’re protecting wealthy countries and not being reimbursed for it. It’s ridiculous. You look at our military costs and they’re ten times what other large countries are, more than ten times. And yet because we are protecting half of the world and much of that are wealthy countries and we’re not being reimbursed. Well we are going to start being reimbursed. You know, why should we be protecting countries of massive wealth and not be reimbursed for this military protection? That was not a very Republican thing to say, but it wasn’t a very Democrat thing to say either. It was neither. But I say it. And it’s happening, as you see. You see what’s happening. NAFTA if you look at what we did with NAFTA but if you take a look at NATO. Because NAFTA now is gone, you know, it has to be approved by the Senate, but we have to have good bipartisan, you see that. … But if you take a look at NATO, last year they paid $44 billion more. I said you’re going to have to pay folks. Because payments were going down everyday for 10 years.
You could speak to Secretary General [Jens] Stoltenberg. And last year I went in, I said, “Look, you’re either going to pay or you’re going to have a problem.” And they paid $44 billion more. This year it’s the same thing. They’re paying billions more. But it’s still unfair, NATO. Because we’re paying for 80% the cost of NATO in order to protect Europe and on top of everything else Europe takes advantage of us on trade. That’s a mouthful, Brian, but you understand what I’m saying. I’ve had people say to me, I’ve had generals say to me, “Sir, we do this for trade.” I said, really? We lost $151 billion with the European nations, you know the union, but you add those nations together which are largely the same, and we lost because they have trade barriers, they have tremendous tariffs.
[Note: In 2017, the European Union had a $153 billion trade surplus in goods with the U.S. When trade in financial, tech and legal services are included, the total trade surplus is $101 billion.] And they took advantage of our country and they’re not going to be able to do that any more.
We talked to supporters in Missouri, in Pennsylvania, in West Virginia, we heard from some people who love the way you talk, some of your harsh attack lines that you use, and we found people who love your policies but are uncomfortable with the harsh ways that you talk. How do you thread the line of different types of people that support you?
Well, if I don’t talk that way, I’m never going to get the point across and I’m never going to be able to make the deal. There is nothing nice about telling a country that we aren’t going to allow you to make $151 billion against the American taxpayer. There is nothing nice in telling China that we are not going to allow you to take 500 billion dollars a year out of the United States. [Note: According to figures published by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. goods and services trade deficit with China in 2017 was $335.4 billion.]
We just can’t do it. And I have a great relationship with President Xi. But we can’t allow this to happen. There is nothing nice about saying to Saudi Arabia: “You have to pay for military protection.” We’re not going to do this unless, you know it’s ridiculous, we’re spending money and they’re paying for just a fraction of the cost of the military. Now I can say it nicely or I can say it less than nicely. The bottom line is a lot of people agree with me. Oftentimes, you can’t be overly nice.
Look, our politicians have been nice for many years, for decades. And look what’s happened. Look what I’ve done with North Korea. When I came in, the day before I came in, if you look, we were going to war with North Korea. President Obama said it was by far his biggest problem. Of course he gave me a lot of problems with a lot of things including Iran. Look at Iran. They’re a weakened nation now. Look at them after what I did. They are a weakened nation. They have riots all over, in every city, the people are rioting. They are pulling back military. They have a lot of problems. The day before I came in, Iran was taking over the Middle East, it was just a question of which week will it be. Now they have everything they do to save themselves.
You look at North Korea. We were going to war with North Korea before I came in. That was going to be a war. President Obama said it was by far his biggest problem. That was going to be a major war. Millions of people would have been killed. Now, and the media gives me no credit for it, and that’s fine because I’m used to them. Obviously they don’t mean as much as I used to think. I used to think they meant a lot. But now, my relationships with Kim Jong Un are excellent. We are having great dialogue. Mike Pompeo just left yesterday and they had a great conversation, a great five hour meeting and conversation, setting up another meeting. But the bottom line is: there’s no missiles going off, there’s no nuclear testing, there’s no rockets. We got our hostages back, Brian, and we’re getting our remains back.
When you leave office what do you think the Republican Party looks like?
And then the media, and then the media says, “Why aren’t you going faster?” Well, I left there three months ago. And these other presidents have been negotiating 30 years on this stuff. And more. But 30 years on the dangerous things, on the things of danger, to put it nicer. So, I’ve done North Korea, and that’s moving along very nicely. The only thing they can say is, ‘Oh, why isn’t it moving faster?’ It’s been three months, Brian. Three months. Why isn’t it moving faster? That’s the only thing they can say. Or they say something else: ‘He met.’ I met. Obama paid 1.8 billion and he gave 150 billion. With me they say, ‘He met.’ That was like, you know, this major concession. That’s not a concession. I met. I’m glad I met. By meeting, we now have a civil relationship and even a good relationship. So that’s just two of many things. I’ll give you and example: Idlib. I met with a person at a big rally in Ohio. It was a person backstage where various people were saying hello. And a woman came up. She was Syrian. She said, ‘Sir,’ — this is five weeks ago – she said, ‘Sir, my sister lives in Idlib province and sir she is going to be killed. Russia, Iran and Syria are surrounding it and they are going in and they are going to kill the 3 million people or a million people but tremendous amounts of people. They’re going to kill my sister and they’re going to kill my family.’ And I said, ‘That won’t happen.’ But I wasn’t that aware of it. I got back and I read an article in, of all places, the New York Times, the failing New York Times, and I read an article about Idlib being surrounded by Russian troops with Iranians and with Syrians. And they were in fact going to go in. Take a look at the tweet I put out at that time.
… Guess what, they didn’t do it. They’re still talking. I said just you got to be surgical. You can’t blow up every building and kill millions of people to get 35,000 terrorists. And look what happened, Brian. They didn’t do it. I said, ‘You better not do it.’ And I’m not saying they shouldn’t get the terrorists, I’m saying you can’t kill 3 million people in order to get, or a million people, in order to get 35,000 terrorists. You can’t do it. So, you know, that happened. I was the one that got it stopped. And then Turkey also got involved after I stopped it. I stopped it. They were going to go in the next day. And they stopped. Totally. Cold. Now they have the town surrounded and they’re doing much more surgical work. And that’s the way it should be done if you want to get the terrorists. You can’t kill millions of people. You just can’t do it. It’s unacceptable. So what I’ve done, nobody’s done what I’ve done. Nobody.
I say it myself because the media will never say it. But the people get it. The people understand it. And in a way it shocks me ’cause I always gave too much credit to the media. Because in theory, based on media, I shouldn’t have gotten 306 electoral college votes. I shouldn’t have got it. Because it’s really staged for the Democrats to win. But the people get it. It’s really amazing to see. It’s really a beautiful thing to see. And one of the advantages I have — like I’m going to a rally right now, you know, I would have canceled it because of the hurricane but there are thousands of people lined up yesterday to get to a rally that takes place at 7 o’clock tonight in Pennsylvania — but one of the assets I have is I’m able to speak to people in tremendous numbers. We have thousands of people lined up outside right now trying to get in. But I’m able to speak to them and often times it’s on live television, you understand. So I’m able to get my word out. I wish I could speak to you more often. I think I would have gotten — instead of having 90 percent bad TIME covers, I would have had 60 percent good TIME covers.
Let’s talk more often. I think we should.
It’s always an honor to be in your magazine.