This Is Donald Trump’s Biggest Weakness

July 28, 2016, 3:01 PM UTC

On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton made American history as the first woman to become a major party’s nominee for President of the United States. But the next day it was Donald Trump once again commanding media attention. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the Republican nominee said at a press event, seemingly urging Russian hackers to illegally obtain Clinton’s emails from her time as Secretary of State.

The statement ignited a firestorm. The Trump campaign insisted the presidential candidate had been misunderstood, and Trump later said he was joking. Still, many struggled to understand why Trump made the comment in the first place.

Trump’s former ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, however, had no trouble coming up with a theory:


Schwartz, president of the Energy Project, a New York-based consulting firm, recently has emerged as a go-to expert on (and reliable critic) of Donald Trump. He shadowed Trump for 18 months while ghostwriting Trump’s first bestseller, the 1987 The Art of the Deal. Saying he had a “deep sense of remorse” for having helped propel Trump into stardom, Schwartz spoke publicly about Trump for the first time in a New Yorker article published earlier this month. Schwartz had written every word of the book, he claimed, telling the New Yorker it was a “nonfiction work of fiction.”

“I’m one of the very few people who really saw this man up close and isn’t constrained by a NDA [non-disclosure agreement],” he said in an interview with Fortune this week. “The reason I’ve chosen to come forward is I believe Trump is deeply unqualified and would be extremely dangerous as President by virtue of his easily aroused anger and thin skin.”

Below is a transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity.

Fortune: What was the Trump empire like in the 1980s?

Schwartz: There wasn’t yet a Trump empire back then. It was a few guys in an office. He operated with a very small number of people. They worked on a small number of very high profile deals that he had made. The biggest of them were the Grand Hyatt and Trump Tower.

How did he become so successful in business?

He’s a person who pushes and pushes and intimidates and that is an effective strategy for getting things in the world in which he made his success. He’s a testament to the power of aggression in getting what you want in this world of real estate and construction. I see him as a bully. It’s fine to buy an apartment from a man like that, but not to vote for him for President.

What do you think Trump’s Achilles’ heel is?

When you needle him and when you make him feel either not valuable or important or smart or even good looking, he gets very, very reactive, and he doesn’t operate on rational terms. We’ve seen this in the presidential campaign.

Donald Trump’s vanity was basically all I saw of him. He was about Donald Trump all the time. And his interest was in knowing how you felt about him and whether you recognized that the last thing he said he did was even greater than the previous thing he told you about.

Trump has been accused of lying. What would you say is his biggest lie?

I genuinely believe his biggest lie is a kind of a broad one—which is that he knows anything about anything related to being President of the United States.

He has such a short attention span that he was, in my experience, unable to retain much information about any subject because he couldn’t pay attention for long enough to do that. It’s reflected in the severe limits of his vocabulary, the elementary nature of the sentences that he speaks, the lack of specificity he gives about anything he would do as President.

You’ve described him as this vain, self-centered person. But what about what his children? How do you explain the fact that people are so loyal to him?

Who says people are loyal to him? His kids are—they’re his kids. None of the people who were involved with the Trump organization when I was there are still there. That was 30 years ago.

I do not think Trump has friends. I saw no evidence of that. He had business acquaintances and relationships with people who worked with him.

Trump’s acquaintances were almost exclusively with wealthy people. This is not a guy who spent a moment thinking about the “people.” He wants to hang out with people he thinks are “winners”people who have a lot of money and will tell him he’s the greatest.

Some people have questioned whether Donald Trump truly wants to be President. What do you think?

I did not think Trump wanted to be president based on what I knew of him—his short attention span, and desire to live in an unrestricted way. I assumed he recognized the job of president would require doing an awful lot of things he doesn’t enjoy doing. Running for president probably was a way for him to stoke his ego and get his voice out there, and he thought, the worst case is “I’ll build awareness for [the Trump brand].”

I’m guessing there came a point in the last several months when it dawned on him he could actually get elected, and the idea of that kind of power, reflected in the speech he gave at the RNC, suggests that yes, he does want to be elected president now. If, God forbid, he is elected, he’ll be looking for ways not to have to do the job.

Author’s note: In response to Schwartz’s public comments to the New Yorker and others, Donald Trump’s lawyer has sent Schwartz a cease-and-desist letter and demanding the return of all royalties. Trump has claimed that Schwartz is a disgruntled former partner. Fortune reached out to the Trump campaign and will update this post if it receives a response.

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