The media’s latest knock on President Trump is that he lacks compassion and empathy. The caricature is especially timely during the pandemic and has been pushed by his niece Mary Trump.
Mary Trump barely knows the president, but her largely fictional account in her book portrays Mr. Trump as an ogre.
In contrast to Mary Trump, Norma Foerderer spent almost every day with the mogul for 26 years as his vice president and top aide. No one knew so well both the personal and business side of Donald Trump.
In the only in-depth interview she ever gave, Foerderer, who has since died, told me there are two Donald Trumps: One is the Trump who appears to the public, making often outrageous comments on television to get attention; the other is the real Trump only insiders know.
“I mean Donald can be totally outrageous, but outrageous in a wonderful way that gets him coverage,” Foerderer told me. “That persona sells his licensed products and his condominiums. You know Donald’s never been shy, and justifiably so, in talking about how wonderful his buildings or his golf clubs are.”
The private Trump, on the other hand, is “the dearest, most thoughtful, most loyal, most caring man,” Foerderer said. That caring side inspires loyalty and is one of the secrets to his success.
When Foerderer began having a problem with her eyes and had to stay at home, Mr. Trump called her every week and sent her baskets of gourmet food. After she died in 2013, Mr. Trump tweeted, “I have just lost my beautiful & elegant long time exec. assistant Norma Foerderer. She passed away yesterday — a truly magnificent woman.”
Mr. Trump attended her funeral in West Orange, New Jersey.
Tony Senecal, Mr. Trump’s longtime butler at Mar-a-Lago, told me for my book “The Trump White House” that despite occasional tirades, he loved working for Mr. Trump.
Some years ago, when Mr. Senecal’s home air-conditioning system gave out, Mr. Trump had it replaced. When Mr. Senecal paid his own way to attend Mr. Trump’s father’s funeral in New York in June 1999, Mr. Trump was so touched he ordered his pilot to fly the butler back to Palm Beach — a passenger of one — at a cost of $40,000 for fuel and maintenance.
When Mr. Senecal needed surgery to implant a stent, Mr. Trump called him and asked, “So when do you go under the knife?”
“Tomorrow,” said Mr. Senecal.
“Well, if you don’t make it, don’t worry about it. You’ve had a good life,” Mr. Trump said. And then he said, “Listen, I don’t want you going back to your place. You come and recuperate at Mar-a-Lago.”
Mr. Trump routinely hands out $100 bills to janitors and chambermaids and writes checks for tens of thousands of dollars to people he has learned are in distress. But one of the White House media staff’s frustrations has been that Mr. Trump does not want the public to see this side of him and know what he is like behind the scenes. His tough guy image is a key to his success and masks the real Donald Trump.
In the same way, Ronald Reagan quietly wrote personal checks to people who had written him with hard-luck stories.
“Reagan was famous for firing up Air Force jets on behalf of children who needed transport for kidney operations,” says Frank J. Kelly, who drafted Reagan’s presidential messages. “These are things you never knew about. He never bragged about it. I hand-carried checks for $4,000 or $5,000 to people who had written him. He would say, ‘Don’t tell people. I was poor myself.’”
Mr. Trump is the opposite of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who is so nasty to her Secret Service agents that being assigned to her detail is considered a form of punishment.
At the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach just before New Year’s Eve, Trump friend and Mar-a-Lago member Gary J. Giulietti, who as president of Lockton Cos. is a consultant to Mr. Trump on insurance issues, noticed that Mr. Trump invited his Secret Service agents and the agents guarding his family members to help themselves to the spectacular Sunday evening buffet.
Besides prime New York strip steaks grilled to order, they feasted on lobster Newburg, freshly shucked oysters on the half shell, huge cocktail shrimp, stone crab claws, sushi, braised scallops, deep fried soft shell crabs, seafood paella, rack of lamb, prime rib, pork roast, cakes and pies, and make-your-own hot fudge sundaes with choice of dark chocolate or milk chocolate sauce.
When I asked Mr. Trump in an interview for the book at Mar-a-Lago about the $100 tips that he hands out, he punted.
“What tips?” he said. “For who? Where?” he asked. When I pressed him, he finally acknowledged, “I just like taking care of people. I love those people. I take care of the people. They take care of me, I take care of them.”
• Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game.”
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