Trump: Romney has the best chance of beating Obama, really understands China and 'phony' OPEC

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 2, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: It's my honor, real honor, and privilege, to endorse Mitt Romney. I've gotten...



GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Well, it happened. Donald Trump picks a candidate, and with Las Vegas as his backdrop, Trump says he has picked a winner! We spoke with Donald right after the big announcement.


VAN SUSTEREN: Donald, nice to see you.

TRUMP: Hello, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, Donald, big news. You've endorsed Governor Mitt Romney. I'm curious, back in December, when you were going to host a debate, he said that he couldn't make your debate, that his schedule didn't permit it, and you told me that you thought his excuse was far-fetched. So why are you so -- why are you in his corner now?

TRUMP: Well, he called me right after that, actually, right after I spoke to you, and we had a little talk. And frankly, he was very respectful and very good. And I think maybe he would have done it, if I really wanted it. I'm not sure. But he was very respectful, and I understood his reasons for not doing it fully.

VAN SUSTEREN: What were his reasons fully? Because at the time, it looked like he just didn't want to do it with you.

TRUMP: Well, for one thing, no I don't think so at all, for one, because we were actually very friendly and continue to be. For one thing, he was leading and he figured, you know, Why should I jeopardize a possible lead? And I can understand that. And I did understand that, actually. He called me. He couldn't have been nicer. And I fully understood. And I think he might have done it if I really asked hard.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, but the first -- at first he says it's a scheduling thing, and then he moves to the story -- or I shouldn't say story, but then he moves to another thing to you and says It's not a scheduling thing, the real thing that I was leading in the polls. So he changed it?

TRUMP: No, this is what I was saying. I was saying that, frankly, from his standpoint, I could understand why he wasn't doing it, and I felt it was because he was doing very well. And what did he need to jeopardize it for? But I think he might have done it, had I really wanted it. But I didn't do that.

And then, ultimately, it ended up where I decided not do it for the other reasons, including the fact that a lot of people wanted me to run and polls showed me doing very well, so I decided not to do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, give me sort of the behind the scenes, how these endorsements go on. I mean, what -- I mean, in -- like, in the past two weeks, do you get a bunch of phone calls from all the candidates and they say, you know, Donald, I really need your help, and you say, Well, I need to know this. I mean, take me back to, like, when this really sort of got going in earnest, your decision-making.

TRUMP: Well, I think it really got going a number of months ago when people came up to Trump Tower. And I really developed a lot of good friendships out of it, to be honest with you. And I had a lot of respect - - as an example, I have a lot of respect for Newt. I think he's a terrific guy. And we really, I think, have a really good relationship.

But it just worked that I watched what happened over the last number of weeks. I loved what Mitt was saying about China and the rest of the world, which is just absolutely ripping us off and trying to destroy this nation with a smile. And I think that Mitt Romney really sees China for what they are.

I think he understands OPEC and what's going on with this phony OPEC - - you could call it a monopoly or call it whatever you want, but what they do is unbelievable. Their streets are paved in gold, and we are just -- you know, we're riddled with potholes in our country. And I think, really, he gets what's happening to this country and he sees what's going on with other people just taking the money out of our back pocket.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, besides the positions that you share with him, that you endorsed him for, I'm just sort of curious how sort of the mechanics go. Did you call him, like, yesterday and say, OK, Mitt, you're the guy, or did he call you? Have you been going back and forth? I'm just curious how it works out.

TRUMP: Well, I think we've been calling each other. I've developed a very good relationship with him over the last couple of months, and even a little bit prior to that. I see him as a very tough guy and a very smart guy...

VAN SUSTEREN: But just...

TRUMP: ... and that's what we need. He's sharp...

VAN SUSTEREN: I understand what -- I Understand that you like him and you've endorsed him and for substantive reasons. I'm just trying to understand, like, did you call him up and say, OK, I'd like to speak to the governor, and did you have a private conversation with him yesterday? Because there's sort of a lot of intrigue. The media was trying to guess what you were doing last night. We were checking schedules. And I'm just sort of -- I want sort of the behind the scenes.

TRUMP: Well, I'd rather not get into it. I don't want to say I called, he called. It doesn't make any difference. I mean, over the last couple of weeks, it was obvious to him and to me where I was going. And I feel very happy about and very really content that I did the right thing.

I mean, I think he's going to be terrific. I think he's going to run a great campaign. He'll probably win now, and I think he'll probably beat Obama. Obama's got tremendous baggage, tremendous! If you look at what -- I mean, just today, if you look at the numbers that came out, they think that unemployment is going up to 9.2 percent by the end of the year and that growth is down to 1 percent.

I think Obama's got tremendous baggage. Personally -- I don't know where these polls are coming from, but personally, I think it's going to be very hard for Obama to win.

VAN SUSTEREN: You said earlier that you had a good friendship over the past couple months you developed with all the candidates. One of them is Speaker Gingrich. Did you call him and tip him off and say, Look, you know, I just got to let you know I made my decision, you're not my guy?

TRUMP: Well, I called him a couple of times last night on a number that I have, and there was no response on that number. So I wanted to call him. I did call him. I like him. I respect him. And he's a terrific guy.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. And so -- and I assume now with this announcement, that your plans are you're not going to run as an independent unless there's some unforeseen circumstance. At least, tonight that's your plan, you're not going to run.

TRUMP: Well, if Mitt Romney wins, obviously, I wouldn't run. Otherwise, you'd really have a story, right? You endorse somebody and then you decide to run. So I don't think that works out very well.

But no, if Mitt Romney wins, I would certainly not, and as you know, I can't run during the course of "The Apprentice" anyway, which starts in another two weeks. So no, I think Mitt is going to do really well. I think he's going to be an amazing candidate. I think he'd going to do great against President Obama.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think the impact of your particular endorsement is? Because there's also some sort of question, like, you know, what do endorsements mean. They certainly get a lot of attention, and to the extent that they replace any having to pay for advertising, you get a lot of attention on a candidate. But I'm curious, yours in particular, what does it bring to Governor Romney? And who do you -- what voters do you bring along?

TRUMP: Well, I think I bring a lot of people. But first of all, I have a great relationship, as you know, with the Tea Party folks. I mean, I love the Tea Party. They've really made this world aware of what's going on with our country. So I have a great relationship there.

I have a great relationship with the entire Christian Coalition. I have amazing friendships in that whole group. And I love them and I respect them. And you know, I think I have great, great relationships. I'm a Presbyterian, which shocks a lot of people, Protestant Presbyterian. They say, I don't believe it, Donald.

But I have great relationships there. And maybe most importantly, I have great relationships with the people of this country that are tired of being ripped off by China and by OPEC and by everybody else that does business with us. And they're just draining trillions of dollars out of the pockets of our citizens. And I have a great relationship with them.

So I really have some very strong relationships with a lot of great people, and I think that carries forward. I don't know. I mean, I don't know if they like me or what I say, but it seems to carry.

And I can tell you that people wanted my endorsement. And when you were up at 8 or 9 candidates, most of those candidates really wanted my endorsement. And you saw what happened today and the hoopla. Well, I think it's hoopla because they do respect my opinion and they do want to see this country stopped being ripped off by virtually everybody that does business with us.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of the Christian Coalition that you said you have a good relationship with, I think many people think that, you know, to the extent you generalize about what groups go which direction, is that Senator Rick Santorum has a very close relationship with the Christian Coalition, as well as Speaker Gingrich. Can you peel off those voters that he has, that those two men have, and move them over to the Romney candidate? And are you actively going to go out and try to peel off those voters for Governor Romney?

TRUMP: Well, I don't know. I mean, I'm not sure that endorsements in terms of that -- people like Bob Vander Plaats, who's a fantastic guy. When he gave, as you know, Rick Santorum, the -- when he was in Iowa and gave him the endorsement, that had a huge impact, a very powerful endorsement, one of the most powerful that I've seen.

But I have great respect for people like Franklin Graham. And so many of the people that I deal with, I know, I like. Now, as to what -- and they like me. But whether or not that really can translate into Mitt Romney, I really can't say.

But I know Mitt Romney. And I've gotten to know him very well. And he's a fine man, but he's a tough man, and he's a smart man, and that's what we need in this country.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you say that, but then if you sort of rewind back to I think last April, I think you -- I think it was on another network, you talked about Governor Romney and you were sort of less effusive about his business skills. Is that just sort of, you know, talking, or have things changed? Do you all of a sudden have a greater impression about his business skills?

TRUMP: Well, I only got to know him over the last three or four months. I mean, I haven't known him for a very long period of time, and I didn't know too much about him. And certainly, he's done an amazing job and he's put a lot of people to work. And he's really -- I think he's starting to be very proud, to be honest with you.

And I actually told him, I said, You've done a great job, you put tremendous numbers of people to work. I mean, you know, with a lot of the companies that we're talking about, they would take over sick puppies and make them better in many occasions, not in all occasions because sometimes it just doesn't work. But they take over these sick companies and make them better.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you convince -- there's a huge or significant Tea Party contingency in Nevada, and they tend to be people who are really sort of tired of the status quo. How do you convince them that Governor Mitt Romney isn't the status quo, that -- you know, that he is really someone who is going to make significant changes? Because I think these people want bigger changes than just your -- you know, than many other voters.

TRUMP: Well, first of all, he's not the status quo. And I know him on a personal level and he really is a little bit different. You know, when you get to know some people -- I've been for so many years in politics, and sometimes you see somebody on air and that's what you have on a personal basis.

Mitt Romney is a warm, terrific guy, smart as can be, and really, he's got a tough edge to him, which is a tremendous thing because we need a tough edge in this country. He gets it. He's a great businessman. I think he's a really natural businessman, which is very important. And I think he'll do a great job.

And I think the people in the Tea Party, when they really get to know him, I think they're going to really like him and they're going to pick up the banner because he will be a great candidate. I think he's going to out-debate -- you look at what happened those last two debates. He was fantastic. And frankly, Newt admitted that. I mean, Newt was a little bit off. But he admitted it.

I mean, Mitt Romney did an amazing job in those debates, the last two in particular. And if he does that with Obama, Obama is not going to look very good, in my opinion.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, there are different skill sets in terms of being a good debater, being a good campaigner, being a good executive, I mean, all different sorts of skill sets. I'm curious -- did your sort of compare and contrast in your selection of Governor Romney? And I assume you looked ahead to see who would be the best president out of the four remaining candidates.

What is it that -- where would Governor Romney be a different president than a Speaker Gingrich and a Senator Santorum and a Representative Paul?

TRUMP: Well, it's a very big question you're asking, and it would take a long time to really go through it. But -- and frankly, I respect everybody. I respect all four. I respect people in politics. I mean, it's a tough life. It's a miserable life, I will say. I mean, I've become -- I've always been in politics. I've always been involved in politics, but the longer you're involved, the more respect you gain for politicians. It's not an easy life. But I just think that he would have the best chance of getting elected. I think he would have...


TRUMP: ... the best chance of beating -- because I think he's a very capable guy with a great story to tell. I think that he will do really well. I was so happy to see the last two debates because I think he will do really well in a one-on-one with President Obama. I think he's going to do really, really well.

And Obama has a lot of baggage. He's somebody that really has baggage because the economy is bad and probably getting worse. If you look at what the numbers that just came out of Washington, they're predicting a 9.2 percent unemployment by election time. And you're talking about a number - - and by the way, 1 percent growth. I've never heard of 1 percent growth before!

You look at China, they're at 10 percent, 11 percent, 12 percent. We're at 1 percent? So this is what we have. And there are many other things. So I think that he's got tremendous baggage, and I think that Mitt Romney will be a great candidate.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if someone has such tremendous baggage and if the unemployment level does move in an upward direction, I think everyone -- I don't think anyone doubts that that puts extreme vulnerability -- makes the president extremely vulnerable in November.

So I'm just sort of curious if you -- you said to me before that all of them could beat President Obama. So I'm just sort of curious. If you look at who you thought would actually be the best president -- and I same that you looked at some factors and made some sort of compare and contrast among them. So I'm trying to understand why you're throwing your weight behind Governor Romney and not the other three.

TRUMP: Well, first of all, I didn't say they could all beat President Obama. I said that I think that Mitt Romney can beat him. But I never said they could all beat President Obama. I don't think it's going to be an easy election because one thing is for sure, Obama is a good campaigner. I don't think he's as good as people think because if you look at Hillary, he was just limping across the finish line. She almost won, and she should have won. And if she would have started out a little stronger, she would have won.

So I'm not so sure that he's such a great campaigner, but he is certainly known as being a good campaigner. But I don't think they can all beat President Obama. I'm not -- you know, I don't know where you got that from.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I'm curious, do you think -- this is a hypothetical. Do you think Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have been a better president, in your mind, than President Obama?

TRUMP: Yes, I do.

VAN SUSTEREN: In what way.

TRUMP: I think she would have been a better -- first of all, I think we would have had a more unified country. We wouldn't have had a country where the Republicans hate the Democrats. I used to -- I dealt with Republicans and Democrats all my life, and they'd argue and they'd fight and then make deals and they'd go out to lunch together and they'd like each other. I mean, these people actually are enemies now. I've never seen anything like it.

And I know them on both sides of the aisle. I've never seen anything like it. But the country is in turmoil, and the hatred of this country toward other groups is incredible. So the leadership is so lacking. I always thought that Obama was going to be a great cheerleader, at a minimum, a great cheerleader...

VAN SUSTEREN: What happened?

TRUMP: ... and he's really not.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why didn't he...

TRUMP: Class warfare...

VAN SUSTEREN: Why didn't you spot that ahead of time?

TRUMP: Well, I think what he's doing -- he's done so badly as president, he's been so pathetic and he's done such a bad job as president that the only way he's going to get elected is class warfare, pitting one group against the other. And I think from the standpoint of getting elected, he's doing the right thing. I think from the standpoint of the good of this country, terrible.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are we going to see you on the campaign trail?

TRUMP: Well, they'd like me to, and I will certainly try and help out as much as I can. I'm very busy and -- but I enjoy it. And I -- most importantly, I love this country. I think that Mitt Romney would really make a great president. And whatever I can do, I will do.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm curious, did Governor Romney pull you aside and say, Donald, thank you?

TRUMP: Oh, he did thank me, absolutely. Well, he thanked me in front of lots of reporters. That was a big group of reporters out there. That was, like -- they told me record-setting, but I'm not the one that said it, they told me. But that was a big group of people, and he did thank me, yes, absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you make of the battle in Florida of the Gingrich campaign challenging -- at least a number of people challenging the whole issue of whether winner-takes-all or proportional delegates?

TRUMP: Well, that's a decision that's going to be made. We'll see what happens. I don't know. It's a number of delegates. It's probably not going to make much of a difference in the end. But somewhere, somehow, that'll get resolved probably pretty quickly.

VAN SUSTEREN: Donald, always nice to see you, and hope to see you soon.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you.