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Fact Check: Video Shows Trump Saying in 1980 He Wouldn't Run for Office Because 'It's a Very Mean Life.' Here's What Else He Said

A Reddit post featured a video clip of Donald Trump saying he didn
Wolfgang Kuhn/United Archives via Getty Images

Claim:

Donald Trump said in a 1980 television interview that he didn't believe he would run for public office because "it's a very mean life."

Rating:

Rating: Correct Attribution
Rating: Correct Attribution

On Feb. 20, 2024, a Reddit user posted an old, 41-second video clip that purported to show a 34-year-old Donald Trump saying that he wouldn't want to run for public office – perhaps the U.S. presidency – because "it's a very mean life."

The user captioned the post with the opinion, "Trump unintentionally predicted the person he is today in a 1980 interview."

One of the most-upvoted Reddit comments came from a user who mentioned picking up an "uncanny valley vibe" from watching the video, almost as if it wasn't real. Another user remarked, "This is so strange. It's almost like AI."

However, this was an authentic video clip from an interview conducted by entertainment reporter Rona Barrett in 1980 – 36 years before Trump would be elected to the U.S. presidency. It was not a deepfake video, nor was it the product of artificial intelligence software. The interview was recorded for use in the 1981 NBC TV special, "Rona Barrett Looks at Today's Super Rich." The program also features interviews with Belgian fashion designer and businesswoman Diane von Furstenberg and the late businessman and philanthropist Clement Stone.

The brief video clip that appeared on Reddit (bolded below) is presented in its full context in the transcription that follows, thanks in part to a transcript provided by The Washington Post, which included some comments that did not appear in online videos:

BARRETT: For some people, the ultimate goal in life has been becoming the President of the United States. Would you like to be the President of the United States?

TRUMP: I really don't believe I would, Rona. But I would like to see somebody as the president who could do the job, and there are very capable people in this country.

BARRETT: Most people who are capable and not running for office. Most men are frightened of politics today.

TRUMP: It is a shame, isn't it?

BARRETT: Yes.

TRUMP: It is a shame. The most capable people are not necessarily running for political office, and that is a very sad commentary on the country. They head major corporations, and they head this and that, but they are not running for political office.

BARRETT: Why wouldn't someone like yourself run for political office? You have all the money that you possibly need. You've accomplished a great deal even though you are only 34. I know there's a lot of things that you possibly can do in the years ahead. Why wouldn't you dedicate yourself to public service?

TRUMP: Because I think it's a very mean life. I would love, and I would dedicate my life to, this country but I see it as being a mean life, and I also see it in somebody with strong views, and somebody with the kind of views that are maybe a little bit unpopular, which may be right, but may be unpopular, wouldn't necessarily have a chance of getting elected against somebody with no great brain but a big smile. That's a sad commentary for the political process.

The interview continued with Trump making remarks about former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln never having smiled, which did not appear to be entirely true:

BARRETT: Television in a strange way has ruined that process, hasn't it?

TRUMP: It's hurt the process very much. I mean the Abraham Lincolns of the world. Abraham Lincoln would probably not be electable today because of television. He was not a handsome man, and he did not smile at all. He would not be considered to be a prime candidate for the presidency, and that's a shame, isn't it?

BARRETT: But if all the men are like you, then when are we going to get somebody who might be good?

TRUMP: I don't know. I hope it's around the corner, but I don't know. I really don't know. What I would like to be involved in is trying to help choose somebody, or working with a group of people whereby they put up a candidate who would be acceptable to be a presidential, you know, to be the president. The country, if we have the one man, and it's really not that big a situation. You know people say, "Well, what could anybody do as president?" One man could turn this country around. The one proper president could turn this country around. I firmly believe that.

BARRETT: You think there is one man?

TRUMP: There is one man that can turn this country around. I could tell you, I know a number of people that would be excellent presidents. I will not tell you who they are, but I know a number of people that could be excellent presidents of this country. But they are not running for political office. They are not in political office. They are extraordinarily brilliant. They are very, very confident. They are leaders. They have the respect of everybody, and they would be fabulous presidents. But they're not running for political office, and I think that's very sad, and I think you said it. Maybe television is a thing that most hurt the political process in this country.

Near the end of the interview, Trump joked that he might run for president if he lost all of his money:

BARRETT: If you lost your fortune today, what would you do tomorrow?

TRUMP: Maybe I'd run for president. I don't know.

BARRETT: You mean you think you have to be bankrupt, with not a dime in your pocket in order to be a good president?

TRUMP: No, I'm only kidding. You know when I say that of course I'm being somewhat fictitious. But I have to tell you a lot of people would vote for you if you were in that position because they feel sorry for you, and again I think that's a very sad commentary. I think that's a very sad commentary.

A partial edit of Trump's remarks was made available in a YouTube video from the MyRealLifeMyRealWorld channel. The relevant comments begin at the 2:45 mark, shortly after Barrett asked him what he would do to "make America perfect."

Sources:

Mankoff, Robert. "Lincoln's Smile." The New Yorker, 28 Nov. 2012, https://www.newyorker.com/cartoons/bob-mankoff/lincolns-smile.

Shales, Tom. "Rona To Riches." The Washington Post, 23 July 1981, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1981/07/24/rona-to-riches/2c057979-433c-44d7-bb50-2c74391b6e49/.

"This Is a Transcript of Rona Barrett's 1980 Interview of Donald Trump." The Washington Post, 1980, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-stat/graphics/politics/trump-archive/docs/rona-barrett-1980-interview-of-donald-trump.pdf.

u/Sami1398. "Trump Unintentionally Predicted the Person He Is Today in a 1980 Interview." r/interestingasf--- via Reddit.com, 20 Feb. 2024.