SNAKE IN THE GRASS
Get Ready for Trump’s Vindictive Side: Golf Course Tiff With Biographer Is Just the Start
Trump may have played nice during the campaign but his true nature is emerging—as it did in his golf-course feud with biographer Harry Hurt III at Mar-a-Lago.
The Donald Trump few Americans know emerged briefly a few days ago, a Trump distinctly at odds with the façade created for the 2016 presidential campaign, which hid the nature of Trump’s character and much of his unsavory conduct.
Now that façade may develop cracks since he no longer needs to woo voters, freeing Trump to act as many around him know him to be, but cannot talk about because they signed lifetime confidentiality agreements.
One of those who is free to talk is Harry Hurt III, who like me is a Trump biographer. Hurt got a harsh taste of Trump in victory on Dec. 30 at the Trump golf course near Mar-A-Lago in Florida.
“You are among the few people that understand how fucked up this guy is,” Hurt told me as he recounted the meeting. “He is a complete fucking psycho, but most people don’t know that.”
Indeed, most journalists have failed to convey the depths of Trump’s erratic personality, just as they have failed to report on his long, deep, and profitable entanglements with many violent felons, mob associates, and most significantly, a major cocaine trafficker who supplied Trump with his helicopters and whose criminal case was handled in very unusual ways.
Trump was hitting balls on the practice range last Friday as a midmorning foursome waited to tee off nearby. They were David Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Trump golf club member; Koch’s lifelong friend John M. Damgard; an executive learning the game and her teacher Hurt, who has long been Koch’s frequent golfing companion.
What happened next is a disturbing indicator of what we can expect after Trump takes office.
Hurt told me he walked over to show his respects, his student trailing behind.
“I said ‘Congratulations, sir,’ and shook his hand,” Hurt said, adding that he wore brightly colored knickers and tipped his golf cap as he approached. Hurt said he was surprised that he addressed Trump as “sir,” a term he concluded later was meant to show his respect for the office Trump is about to assume.
Rather than be gracious, Trump declared, “I can’t believe you are here.”
That surprised Hurt because in April 2015 at the same golf course the two men had a cordial conversation. They joked about the golf knickers Hurt wore for the first time that day, layered whites emulating the attire of Gary Wiren, Trump’s top golf pro.
That friendly encounter came two months before Trump announced his run for the White House, a time when the smart strategy was to avoid unpleasantness with people who might say things that would not sit well with some voters. The encounter last Friday was of course after Trump won the Electoral College vote.
Trump continued, Hurt said, his tone angry. “You were rough on me, Harry. Really rough. That shit you wrote...”
Trump was referring to Lost Tycoon, Hurt’s meticulously reported 1993 biography, which revealed that Ivana Trump testified under oath that her husband attacked and raped her in 1989, and that Trump allegedly engaged in a fight with mistress (and later wife) Marla Maples that knocked bedroom doors off their hinges. The book also detailed some of Trump’s many threats against journalists and filmmakers whose works Trump wanted to suppress—and sometimes did.
Hurt, who is 65 and a few years back suffered a debilitating stroke, was not intimidated when he wrote his book or on the golf course last week.
“It’s all true,” Hurt said he replied, with Donald responding, “not the way you wrote it.”
“I said I came [to the golf course] with my friend David Koch and Donald said, ‘Well, it’s inappropriate that you play here and I want you to leave.’ So I went to David Koch and the others and said, ‘You enjoy playing and I’ll get an Uber and get my car at David’s house.’”
David Koch then spoke up, Hurt said. “No, no, we are going to all leave together,” Koch said.
Hurt said a man who identified himself as Orlando, the “head of security” for the golf course, affirmed the order from the boss. Orlando and his staff watched as Hurt retrieved his shoes and other property from the club house.
The foursome then played at Emerald Dunes, a nearby golf course.
Back in 2006 Trump wrote a note to Hurt, some 13 years after Lost Tycoon was published, that gave no hint of animus, but did display Trump’s focus on promoting his enterprises. In “executive pursuits,” a column Hurt wrote for The New York Times from 2005 to 2009, he described the Emerald Dunes golf course favorably.
Trump mailed a copy torn from the newspaper to Hurt with a note in his distinctive handwriting: “Harry, Long time no see. My course is better. Donald J. Trump.”
When I spoke to Hurt, he was focused on how Trump’s actions might hurt Koch and what they foreshadow once Trump takes office. Hurt said he posted about the event on Facebook partly “to control the narrative” because he was certain the Trump side would try to dirty him up and perhaps Koch, too.
David Koch is a libertarian who with his brother, Charles, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to turn the country toward their views. Charles Koch said last year that the choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton was like choosing between cancer and a heart attack.
Hurt forecasts dangerous times ahead because of Trump’s erratic and vindictive personality.
“I am trying to do some damage control,” Hurt said, referring to what he anticipated would be efforts by Team Trump to discredit him. “I am sorry that there is some fallout for David Koch, but everybody wants to cozy up the next president of the U.S.” No one wants to antagonize a man with such vast powers.
Hurt said he hoped people pay attention to the golf course encounter because “when you cozy up with Trump you get in bed with the snake and when you get bitten, and it’s a poisonous bite, don’t come complaining to me.”
Indeed, some of the coverage I read of the incident relied on not-for-attribution sources criticizing Hurt. Nothing wrong with reporting criticisms and even attacks, but they should only come from named sources. News organizations should never allow those who are unwilling to identify themselves to anonymously hurl invective and insults.
The Trump-Hurt encounter illustrates several key themes.
One is that Trump expects those he regards as subordinate to bend to his will regardless of the facts or issues. And as a self-proclaimed genetically superior human, Trump views everyone else as inferior, a perspective enhanced by his winning the Electoral College.
Trump’s belief in his superior genes and his ignorance of America political philosophy were in display when he told an audience that “all men are created equal—well, it’s not true because some are smart and some aren’t.”
That Trump does not distinguish between the human rights Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence and differences in intelligence is disturbing, to say the least. Trump frequently asserts that his success comes from his genes, that he is smart, has the world’s greatest memory, and is great “at English.”
Just last July we got a glimpse of just how fully Trumpian superiority is embraced by his staff. Omarosa Manigault, an Apprentice performer before she became a Trump campaign staffer, looked into a PBS television camera and said:
Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, whoever disagreed, whoever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.
Hurt is right. If you cozy up to Trump, when the poisonous bite comes, don’t say that you weren’t warned.