Donald Trump Thinks America Needs a Better Ballroom

Five years ago, the real-estate developer turned presidential candidate offered an unsolicited donation, and along with it, a hint about his priorities.

Scott Roth / Invision / AP

What would Donald Trump do if elected president?

Rather than cover the billionaire’s candidacy as a sideshow, National Journal’s Andy Kroll sought answers. Who did he plan to listen to on policy, for instance, and how would he work with Congress? What did he hope to leave as a legacy after a term or two in the White House, beyond sealing up the border as tight as Tupperware?”

His search was not fruitful.

I have zero to report about Trump's plans for actually being president,” he concluded, “except that, from all available evidence, he hasn't given it a moment's thought.”

Peter Suderman concurs in the judgment that when it comes to solid positions, “there’s simply nothing to find.” The Trump campaign’s substance cannot be analyzed because “aside from a generalized angry nativism, there isn’t any.” Liberal polices that Trump formerly touted, like gun restrictions, government health care, and wealth taxes, “only tell us how little his support for any particular position matters. Even if there was any policy substance to be found, it would be beside the point.”

For the most part, these writers have a point.

Even on immigration and China, the two subjects on which Trump is most emphatic, one cannot help but wonder what policies he would actually pursue in office.

But there is one promise the political press has overlooked.

Almost five years ago, during a previous flirtation with running for the presidency, the real-estate developer and reality-television star laid out a specific, seemingly earnest complaint about one aspect of Obama administration policy. This isn’t just a policy that he vowed to change if he were in charge. It’s one he spoke of trying to remedy while still a private citizen, offering unsolicited advice to a sitting leader.

I speak of balls and ballrooms.

“This is nothing much,” he began, “and I shouldn't even waste your program's time by saying it.” Then he launched into a lengthy, animated harangue. “I notice that the White House they give a lot of the balls for people, and some should have balls!” he exclaimed to his interviewer, Rush Limbaugh. “I mean, if you look at Britain, if you look at certain places, they've come through and they've been good allies, and we should have balls for them. As you know, because you're in Palm Beach, I have the greatest ballroom probably in the world. I built it five years ago, and it's one of the great ballrooms of the world. It's at the Mar-a-Lago Club. And I see that the White House—the White House, Washington, DC—when a dignitary comes in from India, from anywhere, they open up a tent. They have a tent. A tent!”

This really got under Trump’s skin.

“A lousy looking tent,” he repeated. “An old, rotten tent that frankly they probably rented, pay a guy millions of dollars for it even though it's worth about two dollars, okay?”

As he surveyed America, looked at its problems, and pondered solutions—this was the issue that actually roused Trump to action.

“So recently, a couple of months ago, I called up the White House. I said, ‘Listen, I'm really good at this stuff. I will build you a magnificent ballroom. We'll go through committees. You know, you have all sorts of things with committees. We'll go through committees; we'll pick the one they like. We'll pick the architect everybody likes. We'll pick something that works. We'll do ten designs. You'll pick the one that's the greatest with the greatest architecture. I will build it free.’ So that's anywhere from a 50 to 100 million-dollar gift. I will give that, and I mean, I'm talking, Rush—it's the first time I've said this. I'm talking to the biggest person, one of the biggest people at the White House. I'm not talking to a low-level person.”

If it had been up to Trump, America would have that ballroom.

“So when the head of India comes to town we can give him a five-star dinner in a magnificent ballroom, befitting of this country and the White House, right? They never got back to me. It's a $100 million gift. They never got back to me.”

His interviewer suggested that they snubbed him because he’s a Republican.

“Well, but they never got back to me, Rush,” he complained. “When whether I'm a Republican or an independent or a Democrat, they never got back to me. If I was a Republican they should do it anyway! They should say, ‘Trump's gonna give us a hundred million dollars? He's gonna build the ballroom? It's gonna be magnificent?’ Why wouldn't they get back to me? That's the problem with this country.”

It may seem like I’m being less than serious in relating this anecdote––and I admit that I am laughing as hard rereading the exchange as I did when I first heard it back in 2011––but I really do believe that this exchange lends insight into how Trump would govern.

He would seize on building something in order to show the world that America and its president are possessed of the means, power, and taste to erect impressive stuff. And the White House would have a ballroom.