“I think we’re doing well”
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Donald Trump has had a difficult stretch, starting with convention drama in Cleveland and continuing through two rough weeks of damaging controversies. TIME interviewed him on Aug. 9, just hours before he seemed to suggest the only remedy to a Hillary Clinton-nominated Supreme Court was for Second Amendment supporters to take action. What follows is a transcript that has been edited for clarity and length.
TIME: It’s been a difficult stretch for your campaign over the last two weeks. What’s going on in the polls?
Trump: Well, I think we’re doing well. We have tremendous crowds. We have the same level of enthusiasm that we’ve had, if not more. Some of the polls are down a little bit. We have some polls that are not down very much. But I think we’re moving along. I think we’re doing fine.
TIME: You had a couple of conversations with Reince Priebus last week. He was pretty direct with you about the state of the campaign, saying that you were running behind some key Senate races. It was reported to us that he issued what amounted to an ultimatum that they would potentially support Senate candidates over your campaign if the numbers didn’t reverse themselves by September. Could you shed a little bit of light on this?
Trump: He never said that. We never had a conversation about that. We are, we do very well together. We never had that conversation. Doesn’t exist. And by the way, Reince Priebus is a terrific guy. He never said that. It was never stated. Why would they state that when I’m raising millions of dollars for them?
TIME: Going back to the polls, some showed you down six, seven, eight points nationally and in swing states by a similar margin. You won the primary, but the general election is obviously a very different electorate. What do you have to do differently?
Trump: Well, I’m running it differently than I did the primaries. I am listening to so-called experts to ease up the rhetoric, and so far, I’m liking the way I ran in the primaries better. I got more votes than anybody in the history of the primaries, I got 14 million votes and won most of the states. But I’m now listening to people that are telling me to be easier, to be nicer, be softer. That’s OK, and I’m doing that. Personally, I don’t know if that’s what the country wants. When we’re having heads chopped off in the Middle East, when things are happening that have never happened before in terms of the atrocities, in terms of giving $400 million in cash and all other things, I think maybe they want tougher rhetoric. They would like me to be a little bit different than I was in the primaries. And in the primaries, I broke the all-time record for votes.
TIME: So do you intend to revert?
Trump: I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with anybody. I think I may do better the other way. They would like to see it be a little bit different, a little more modified. I don’t like to modify. But that’s what I’ve done. We’ll see where it takes me.
TIME: You’ve said that you intend to win black and Latino voters in the general election, but some of the surveys right now have you at less than 3% with African-American voters, about 20% with some Latino voters. How do you intend between now and Election Day to turn it around?
Trump: All I can do is tell the truth. That’s all I can do. And we’ll see what happens. All I can do is be honest and tell the truth. I’m looking to tell it like it is. I’m going to bring jobs back. We’ll stop the illegal immigration. And all I want to do is be honest and be truthful. If that does it, that’s great. And if that doesn’t do it, that’s fine too.
TIME: Let me ask you about the debates. Secretary Clinton has just accepted an invitation to all three presidential debates scheduled by the commission. Can you also commit now to attending all three debates under the conditions negotiated by the commission?
Trump: Well, I haven’t seen the conditions, I’ll be seeing the conditions this afternoon or tomorrow, so I’ll let you know then. But I want a debate very badly.
TIME: Is there anyone that would be unacceptable to you as a moderator?
Trump: Well, I don’t know. Who would be the moderators?
TIME: They haven’t announced those yet.
Trump: I’ll have to see who the moderators are. I would say that certain moderators would be unacceptable, absolutely. By the way, I will absolutely do three debates. I did very well in the debates on the primaries. So I look forward to the debates. I will demand fair moderators. I think the moderator has to be impartial and there’s some people that aren’t.
TIME: You mentioned you want to see the conditions. You’ve talked a lot about how you want to negotiate better deals. Is that something that you would like to reopen?
Trump: Well, I did it once before. I re-negotiated the debates in the primaries, remember? They were making a fortune on them and they had us in for three and a half hours and I said that’s ridiculous. I said, you know, that’s unacceptable. And they changed the whole format of the debate. I’m sure they’ll be open to any suggestions I have, because I think they’ll be very fair suggestions.
TIME: Just to follow on your speech in Detroit yesterday. You talked a lot about revitalization the manufacturing sector. Would you back a policy that requires U.S. companies or U.S. allies to buy American-made products?
Trump: I don’t think we have to do that. I think we can do it in such a way that they’ll want to buy American-made products. And that’s a good thing. That’s a better thing. You want to have a free market, and I believe in free market, but you want to have strength. And what we’re doing now is we’re being destroyed on foreign trade. And then at the same time, we lose a little less than $800 billion on trade. And we do things for other countries and they don’t buy from us. But no, the answer is I like free markets. I want to make it so that people willingly want to buy from us.
TIME: Another follow-up on the speech yesterday. How would you address criticism of the plan that it would benefit disproportionately those at the higher incomes rather than the middle class?
Trump: No, it benefits corporations, and the middle class gets benefited, big league. But no, it doesn’t, because we have a 12% tax rate. The middle class gets benefited very substantially. But the big beneficiaries are the jobs and what’s happening with business. This is very good
TIME: I wanted to ask about Russia. If Putin continues his provocations, should the U.S. provide lethal assistance to the Ukrainians?
Trump: First of all, I answered the question perfectly previously but only about 70% of the media covered it that way. When Obama is talking about Russia, and when he’s talking about the Ukraine, it was under Obama, and his so-called tough stance, that Crimea went to the Ukraine. This wasn’t under Trump. And so when I answered that question I said they’ve already got Crimea. But it was under Obama that Crimea was taken. And you know, so then he talks about me with Russia. Well, I don’t think that would have happened if I were in his position.
TIME: So how would you –
Trump: And of course, as you know, he reset the relationship with Russia. But it was under Obama’s reign, under Obama’s presidency, that Crimea went to Russia. And you know he’s talking about toughness and he’s talking about all of these different things, but you know, the Ukraine is having a lot of problems. But one of the problems is Crimea goes over to Russia during Obama’s reign. So when Obama criticizes various policy of, let’s say, of Trump, all I said was that was taken during Obama’s time.
TIME: You talk about the strategists and the wise people counseling you. Are you still having fun? You seem to want to return to the way things used to be during the primary.
Trump: I am having a good time. Again, you see the difference. Let’s say between yesterday and go back into the rallies. I would say that I like the previous better. I can always revert to that if I want. It was more of an attacking style, which perhaps is a more natural style for me. There’s always a chance that I will do that and can go back to that.
TIME: Given that you had success with that attacking style and you enjoy it more, why did you decide to make the switch?
Trump: I listen to people, despite what people say. I’m not sure if I agree with them. I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks.
TIME: Do you feel you got yourself off-message in the last two weeks? Did you get yourself back on message yesterday?
Trump: I was hit hard during the Democrat convention. I think we had very successful Republican convention, frankly. But the one that goes last has a big advantage because it’s the last. All they did was negative, negative, negative. So, you know that could have had an impact.
Now I’m going to North Carolina. It’s a packed house. There are people waiting outside. Nobody has that. When Hillary goes out, I look at her so-called rallies, she gets 250 people and there’s empty seats all over the place. I may be wrong, but I think we’re doing much better than anybody understands. And I said that after Wisconsin, when everyone said, well, that’s the end of Trump, it looks like he lost. And I said to you, I don’t feel it. So, we’ve had this conversation before and I actually feel more strongly now than I did then. We’ll see. We’re five points behind, or six points behind. That’s not a lot.
TIME: Do you think the polls are getting your support wrong?
Trump: I think so. Some people get good crowds the last week of the campaign. I had about 18,000 people in Jacksonville, Florida, three days ago. And 4,000 or 5,000 walked away; they couldn’t get in. In Daytona we had thousands of people. So, yeah, I think there’s something out there. And I think the Clinton campaign understands that. They’ve spent $240 million on ads. I’ve spent nothing. Zero. Purposely. We’ve also raised a lot of money. We started in June and we did $51 million and people fell off their seat. And $27 [million] of it was small contributions, $61 dollars. No Republican’s ever gotten that. And they said, ‘that must be a blip, that won’t happen, and that was a blip.’ Except for one problem: in the next month we did $82 million, much of it in small donations. So I’m putting up millions of dollars and we’re also raising millions of dollars for the RNC.
TIME: You mentioned not running television ads. When does that change?
Trump: I would say it’ll change over the next couple of weeks. I’ve got a lot of cash.
TIME: Any particular states?
Trump: We’ll pinpoint a little bit. But, mostly it’s general. Mostly common sense, frankly.