OTR Interviews

Trump Pulls the Plug on Moderating GOP Debate, But Reserves the Right to Be Presidential Candidate

Real estate mogul explains his decision to bow out of moderating GOP presidential debate


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 13, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Donald Trump says it would have been great debate. So why did he pull the plug on moderating the Republican presidential debate? And is he ready to endorse? We went straight to Donald Trump for the answers.


VAN SUSTEREN: Donald, nice to talk to you.


VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you're grabbing headlines again, Donald. Now I understand that you are not going to go forward with this debate.

TRUMP: Well, the Republicans were very worried that I was going to run as an independent. They were afraid to go into the debate, other than, of course, Newt Gingrich, who showed great courage, and Rick Santorum. So they were afraid to go into the debate.

They were sort of being led by a couple of people that said, Well, if Trump runs as an independent, and I'd only do that if they choose somebody that is not to my liking, somebody that would not beat the president, who must be beaten if this country is going to almost survive. You could use that expression, I really believe. We are in such deep trouble.

But the Republicans were very concerned that I would run as an independent. And you know, that's their -- that's their concern and that's their problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are they -- let me ask you this way. Do you think they're afraid of you?

TRUMP: I don't know that they're afraid. I know they're afraid that I'll run as an independent, and I'll only do that if they pick somebody that I don't think will win or somebody that I don't think would do a good job, which is a possibility.

VAN SUSTEREN: What difference would that make? What difference would that make in you moderating a debate, do you think?

TRUMP: Well, they didn't want to be in a debate where somebody would be running as an independent sometime into the future. As you know, I have the equal time laws against me because of the show, "The Apprentice," and I'm not allowed to run until around May 20th. After that time, I'm a free agent. I can do what I want. If I see that the Republicans have picked the wrong candidate or somebody that either won't do a good job or isn't going to beat Obama, then I would be able, after May 20th, to run.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Donald, I am -- I have watched and even spoken to you after many of them have made a pilgrimage to New York to talk to you. There's no secret that -- that you have thought that it has not been particularly loyal of many of them, with the exception of Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich. Is that a fair assumption again tonight that you think the rest of them were disloyal to you? They wanted...


VAN SUSTEREN: They wanted your endorsement?

TRUMP: I was very disappointed with Mitt Romney. We have a great relationship. I like him very much. I think he likes me. I was very surprised he didn't do the debate. I think it would have been a great thing for him to do. It would have been fair and tougher than the other debates. I know the issues better than the moderators. They don't even bring up the important things as do what is happening and what is wrong with our country. So I was very disappointed that Mitt Romney didn't do the debate. I think it would have been a very good thing for him.

VAN SUSTEREN: I got the feeling you were leaning perhaps endorsing Governor Romney. Is it safe to assume now that you are going to endorse either Speaker Gingrich or Senator Rick Santorum in light the way the cards unfolded?

TRUMP: I don't think it's safe to assume. I do respect the fact that Newt Gingrich came up and was immediately willing to do the debate. He didn't wait. He was the first one. He said I would love to do the debate. His big thing he wants to beat Obama. He is looking at this audience not just to win the nomination but to beat Obama.

But I haven't made my mind up. I haven't made a decision yet. When I do, I'll let a lot of people -- a lot of people are waiting for me to make the decision because they understand that I see what is going on. I see what is being ripped off by other nations and OPEC, and nobody does anything about it. We are like a trust without a trustee. We don't have somebody that is confident enough as a president to protect us as a nation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think Speaker Gingrich can beat Obama? If so what is your level of confidence he could?

TRUMP: I think he could. I think President Obama has done such a poor job and divisive job. Class warfare may be the only way he will get re-elected because the country is doing terribly. The real unemployment rate is 21 percent. I had a smile last week when it down you than to 8.6, but 315,000 people gave up and may gave up permanently in trying to get a job, and therefore they don't count. What kind of numbers charade is this? If you look at the numbers you are probably talking about 21 percent unemployment.

VAN SUSTEREN: What would it take for Governor Romney to get back in your good graces and Representative Bachmann and those others that have now disappointed you. What would it take to regain your trust and confidence in them?

TRUMP: We'll have to see what happens. I'm going to give an endorsement in the not too distant future. As you know, millions of people are waiting for that. And they are not waiting because I am a nice person or waiting for any other reason. They really feel I get it. I watched the Republican debate. They don't even talk about OPEC or very little about China. And these are very major reasons why our country is doing so badly. They take our jobs in the case of China. They manipulate their currencies. Then they take our money and loan it back to us and we pay them interest. The whole thing is incredible and it could stop so easily if we had somebody at the top who was competent, which we don't.

VAN SUSTEREN: What are we not going to see in any of these other debates that you would do?

TRUMP: I think you would have had a tougher debate. I wouldn't spent 15 minutes giving instructions, and then go ad nauseam on and on. It would have been a real debate on the real issues. It would have been a great debate. But I also understand, the RNC Reince Priebus was very, very strong in the fact he thought it may be dangerous for Republicans to go into a debate with somebody that could potentially beat an opponent after May 20th.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would it have been dangerous?

TRUMP: It may have been. I don't think it would have been. Even if that was the case, they are going to get their word out. And if they're good at doing it, I don't see how a candidate that is far behind -- you could name any of them. Newt Gingrich right now is way up, but I respect the fact that he has the courage to go out and say immediately I want to do that debate. It's going to be a hell of a debate. There will be a lot of people watching. I was very disappointed that other people didn't want do it. They are so far behind, what did he have to lose?

VAN SUSTEREN: One last question. How important is loyalty to you an element of the endorsement?

TRUMP: Loyalty is very important. But as an example, she is not going to win anyway. I told her, Michele, you are a wonderful woman. Why don't you go home and relax. Michele Bachmann would call me constantly. She came up four times. I didn't want to see her, but out of respect I saw her.

She asked me if I'd do a phone call with a lot of people. We get thousands and thousands of people. I said I'll do it and the call lasted over an hour. Then I said would you do the debate. She says I don't want to do that. It's not relevant because she is not going win anyway, but it was very disloyal. I thought was very disloyal especially in her case because she came up four times. She called. She talked. And then I get this long lengthy call with thousands of people, and then she says she is not going to do the debate. So that's not a loyal thing. I'm a believer in loyalty. I absolutely am.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did anybody call you personally and say Donald, I'm not going to do this?



TRUMP: Governor Romney called me and said very nicely he won't be able to do it. He said his schedule doesn't permit, which is farfetched, I think. If I think he will do the best job, I would endorse him in a minute. It's not because he won't do the debate. I guess you have to get over that psychologically, Greta, but the fact if I think he is the best that will do the best job for the country, I wouldn't hesitate to endorse him.

I will say that I'll be making an endorsement at some point. If that person wins, obviously I'm not going to be running. If the person doesn't win and somebody else, I might depending on who that is.

VAN SUSTEREN: The difference between Newt Gingrich and Governor Romney in your mind tonight is what?

TRUMP: I think there are a lot of differences. Both have done very well in the debates. Both are doing a very good job. They seem to be leading. It seems inconceivable that somebody is going to come up and nab the position. But I think they are very different styles. They have very interesting styles.

I will say it's amazing the way Newt has caught on. He is like a rocket ship. Mitt Romney is really having a hard time getting in that 20 percent quagmire. For some reason, Herman Cain, who I think is an excellent guy, when he leaves and all those potential voters come up and it comes up in the polls, and you see Romney gets none of them it's really -- I don't understand why. I think he doesn't understand what is going on. He doesn't seem to pick up any momentum. That is big problem. He has to solve that problem very quickly.

VAN SUSTEREN: Donald, nice to talk to you.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, Greta.