Donald Trump isn’t what he appears to be. On camera, he’s brash and disrespectful, a pompous ass whose defiant demeanor and bullying behavior have put all of the Republican presidential candidates on their heels. He insults people – everyone from Sen. John McCain and rival Jeb Bush to Fox’s Megyn Kelly and Univision’s Jorge Ramos and the entire population of Mexico – and he plays fast and loose with the facts.
I thought that the best way to get a sense of the bombastic billionaire would be to hear from the people who worked in the trenches with him on The Apprentice, and was surprised to discover that when the cameras aren’t rolling, he’s respectful and kind to everyone he meets — though facts don’t seem to matter much then either.
I contacted dozens of the show’s former producers, and while most declined to talk about the former reality TV star — and only one would talk on the record — a picture of the Man Who Would Be President has emerged that isn’t anything at all like what we see on TV. Which is not surprising, because very few things ever really are.
A few years ago, while on location in Los Angeles, two Apprentice producers were going over the day’s shoot, talking as they hurried to the set, when they saw Trump coming toward them. As he approached, they made eye contact with the billionaire and held out their hands to greet him, but Trump kept walking as if they weren’t even there. “We looked at each other and we were pretty shocked,” one of the producers recalled. “We had started to put out our hands to say hello to him and he just looked through us and kept walking. We both felt it was kind of funny. This had been a hard shoot, and it was an opportunity for him to say, ‘Hello and thanks for the work,’ but he literally looked right through us. I’ve worked on many, many shows, and you are all members of the team, cast and crew. But not Trump. The fact that this guy is running for president, I feel no way. He is a typical politician. He’ll only talk to you if he needs something from you. If he doesn’t, he won’t.”That snub, however, appears to be out of character. Another producer told me Trump is not the kind of man to snub anyone.
“That’s surprising,” he said. “I didn’t find him that way at all. He’s a people person. Maybe it was inadvertent. I read that he doesn’t like to shake hands, so when I first met him, I didn’t stick my hand out, but he stuck his hand out to shake mine. But I guarantee now that he’s shaking a lot of hands on the campaign trail, there’s always a ton of Purell nearby.”
“I can’t say anything bad about the guy because he was always nice to me,” he said. “To be honest, he really was nice. On TV, he looks like a posh, fancy guy, but when the cameras are off, he’s a regular guy. He is like an everyman.”
The producer said that while Trump appears to be a hot-head on TV, prone to lashing out against any perceived slight, in real life he’s anything but. “He is a nice, calm guy. I never saw him get angry, and he’s respectful to women, across the board.”
After a party at Trump’s ridiculously lavish Manhattan apartment/mansion, where the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was a guest, the producer came away feeling that Trump’s gaudy lifestyle is just part of the act. “I found him to be more of a guy’s guy than all that bullsh*t gold-plated opulence. He’s a P.T. Barnum. He’s the No. 1 self-promoter in the world.”
And a world-class bullsh*tter, on or off camera. “He used to make up facts and figures about the show, based on nothing, just coming out of his ass,” the producer laughed. “If we were fifth in the ratings, we were the No. 1 show in the history of shows. He would cater his stories to his agenda. If he wanted people to think it was the No. 1 hit show, he would say it was whether it was true or not.”
The producer added: “I wouldn’t vote for the guy because I’m a Democrat. I don’t want him to be president, but I like him. He’s nice. I think he has a chance of getting nominated, but I don’t think he has a chance of winning. He’s too out-there with the Tea Party and the rabid conservatives. You can’t win with the rabid conservatives. He’s alienating a crazy amount of people. He says all this stuff about Mexicans, and then he says he’s going to get the Hispanic vote, that he’s going to build a wall on the border and that he’s going to make the Mexicans pay for the wall, and that they will ‘love’ paying for it. He says he’s going into Iraq and take all the oil. How’s that going to happen? He says these crazy things that have no basis in fact, and yet, a lot of people believe it. People love somebody who will say what’s on his mind. I hope he runs as a third-party candidate, because that would be a done deal for the Democrats.”
During taping of The Apprentice, “Trump is all business,” said another producer. “The guy shows up, he looks at everybody and says: ‘You got two minutes. It’s going to be a million dollars a minute after that.’ You shoot it, and after two minutes, he walks out. You always get limited time with the guy. He’s there to do the job and get out of there. He wants to know what to do, where to stand, shoot it and he’s out of there and into his limo.”
Said another producer, “Everybody has a Donald Trump story.” But of the show’s many producers, few are willing to tell them – at least not on the record. One who is, producer Matthew Bartley, worked on the show for 12 seasons. “What you see is what you get,” he said. “He’s a very nice fella. He was always kind and generous to me. I don’t have a bad word to say about the man.”