Graham: 6 minutes with Trump: ‘never too big, right?’
Donald Trump told me to look him up. Twice. In retrospect, I should have taken him up on his offer.
It was March 2007. Everything was much simpler back then: the U.S. housing crisis was still a few months off, the name “Kardashian” was mostly a relic of the O.J. trial, and Donald Trump was still best known as the loudmouth host of TV’s “The Apprentice” and the owner of a ridiculous head of hair.
It was at this time when Trump was due in Detroit for WrestleMania 23. He was set to compete in a match billed as “The Battle of the Billionaires,” where he would fight, via surrogate grapplers, World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman Vince McMahon. At stake: The loser’s head would be shaved by the winner.
It wasn’t Trump’s first mingling with WWE. He had appeared at several previous WrestleManias and hosted both WrestleMania IV and V at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. In 2013, he would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
I was the lead reporter for The Detroit News for all things WrestleMania 23, so it fell to me to interview Trump by phone five days before the event. I was scheduled to have 10 minutes with him and I think I got six, several of which he spent wondering why the event wasn’t being held somewhere bigger.
That was the other main thing he was known for: Everything had to be the biggest it could be, the most grandiose, as huuuuuge as possible.
“How’s the hoopla about this thing in Detroit? Is it monster?” Trump asked.
I told him yes, people were excited.
“Someone said it’s the biggest wrestling match in history, I guess. That there’s nothing like it,” he said.
Ford Field would be hosting the event.
“I don’t know if they’ve ever used a stadium like this before,” he said. “It’s pretty big.”
They have, I told him. Capacity for WrestleMania at Ford Field was around 80,000, while more than 93,000 were packed into the Pontiac Silverdome for WrestleMania III. (It was an attendance record that would stand until earlier this year.)
Trump was baffled.
“Is this a smaller stadium?” he asked, like the words were foreign to him. “Why did they build a smaller stadium?”
For The Donald, everything was big, bigly, biggest. I told him the Silverdome — even then in a state of disrepair — was a mess. Also I mentioned the Lions, long a losing franchise, had trouble filling the ’Dome in its day. The place was too big.
“If you have a winning team,” Trump countered, “it’s never too big, right?”
I assured him Ford Field was a much nicer building, which offered him comfort, if not relief.
“I’m glad you told me that, I feel better now,” he said. “You going to be there?”
Yes, I told him.
“Well you’ve gotta look me up,” he said, offering no follow-ups on how that could happen.
He went on to talk about the match — “millions of dollars” would be going to “all different charities” he said, but nothing more specific — his relationship with Vince McMahon (“he’s got a tremendous ego, and I’m looking forward to making it a little bit smaller”), his hair. He even managed to get in a plug for a furniture line he had just launched, which he promised would be both “great” and “terrific.”
The Trump of the campaign trail isn’t much different from the one hyping a wrestling match: grand self-promoter, quick with an insult, loose on the details. What made him engaging then is what helped him gain favor with a large portion of the U.S. electorate, his principles of everything bigger than everything else mirroring the American mindset.
“Listen, I’m getting on my plane right now,” Trump said. “Look me up, OK?”
“Will do,” I told him.
But there would be no looking up of The Donald.
At the event that Sunday, Trump stand-in Bobby Lashley beat the “Samoan Bulldozer” Umaga, so Trump kept his mane.
Trump played along and even tackled McMahon ringside, getting a few blows in on the Chairman. After the match, Trump helped shave McMahon’s head, smiling as he dragged the Bic razor across his skull.
But something was troubling Trump. You could read it on his face. As he looked out into the crowd, it was like something was missing, like he was wondering why the place wasn’t just a little bit bigger.