Long before Donald Trump and the National Enquirer forged a political alliance, the supermarket tabloid was busy telling the world stories about Trump’s inability to keep his mistress to himself.
Last week, Trump publicly defended the paper, going to bat for its reputation after the Enquirer published a wannabe-blockbuster on Ted Cruz supposedly cheating on his wife.
Evidence for the allegations was scant. But that didn’t stop Trump from telling everyone about the article. “The National Enquirer did a story,” the Republican frontrunner said on Sunday, insisting he had nothing to do with planting it, but refusing to condemn it. “It was their story. It wasn’t my story. It was about Ted Cruz. I have no idea whether it was right or not. They actually have a very good record of being right.”
It’s an odd thing to say, given how often the Enquirer published thinly sourced stories about Trump’s own sex life, particularly ones about him getting cuckolded or two-timed.
“TRUMP'S MISTRESS CHEATS ON DONALD WITH TOM CRUISE,” a cover story, dated March 27, 1990, alleged, promising “sizzling details inside.” (Another issue from that same month declared that “TRUMP MISTRESS IS PREGNANT,” leading to Ivana Trump’s “heartbreak.”)
The mistress in question was Marla Maples, who later became Trump’s second wife.
The Enquirer followed their relationship for years, running investigative pieces like April 1994’s “Marla Takes Baby to Chiropractor to Stop Her Crying,” which featured a picture of the couple with their bundled infant. The coverage got so invasive that the tabloid had to fight a lawsuit filed by Maples’s father, Stan, who sought $12 million for defamation in 1990.
The Enquirer editors and reporters stayed on the Trump-fornication beat all through that year.
“Caught! Trump & His Mistress,” the tabloid reported in its May 1990 “WORLD EXCLUSIVE” that featured “amazing photos that could cost [Trump] $billions.”
In October 1991, the publication ran a headline that read “Marla ruined my life,” and said it would explain how Trump “dumped his wife-to-be.” (The couple later married in 1993). He was also reportedly near some sort of “breakdown” around this time, as reported in a June 1990 issue. The Enquirer alleged then that former president Richard Nixon (who Trump now has a habit of channeling on the campaign trail) had some sort of plan to save him from this downfall.
And as America entered the mid-’90s, there was yet more alleged Trump cuckoldry to unveil.
“Shock for Trump!” read a cover story dated May 7, 1996. “MARLA CAUGHT WITH HUNK” when “cops interrupt late night beach frolic.”
This article is slightly less declarative than some of the other “exclusives.” The piece only strongly implies that the HUNK in question was carrying on an affair with Maples, who by then was married to Trump.
“Donald Trump’s wife Marla Maples was caught on a deserted South Florida beach at 4 a.m. with a young muscled hunk while her husband was out of town,” the piece begins. “The couple was discovered together by a stunned police officer who instantly recognized the blonde beauty. A rumpled and sandy Marla pleaded with the officer not to report the incident as her red-faced and nervous companion shuffled his feet.”
“‘Ivana will be laughing her head off,’ said a source familiar with the situation,” the article continues.
The Enquirer identified the young man as one of Trump’s “Secret Service”-style bodyguards, who formerly had a reputation as being the “womanizing czar of spring break.”
The 1996 article also makes note of Trump’s presidential ambitions, stating that he was considered by some to be “prime material for a run at the presidency.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment regarding whether this coverage was as “good” or reliable as the rest of the Enquirer’s output.
But it’s remarkable what a difference a quarter of a century makes: The Enquirer once gleefully reported on rumors they believed might cost The Donald a huge share of his fortune in divorce proceedings. Today, the supermarket tabloid—much like political website Breitbart and many in cable news—is just another unit in Trump’s public-relations apparatus.
The shift in the Enquirer’s treatment of Trump might have something to do with the real-estate mogul’s ability to keep friends in high places.
David Pecker—who has been the publisher of the supermarket tabloid since 1999—is reportedly close friends with The Donald, and the Enquirer has routinely targeted Trump’s political foes. In 2005, Trump defended his buddy, when the publication ran images of actress Cameron Diaz allegedly cheating on her then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake, prompting a threat of a lawsuit from Diaz’s lawyer. “When they print something, it’s right on the button,” Trump told the Daily News at the time. “Cameron, one last word of advice. You may just want to avoid hugging strange men in the bushes.” In 2006, a New York Post story briefly referenced that Pecker allegedly “had no interest” in digging for dirt on Trump.
The Republican frontrunner has also written op-eds for the publication, and has offered them “exclusive” interview series throughout the 2016 campaign.
“Trump is a big friend of Pecker,” an anonymous source told the Daily News in August, claiming that the billionaire reality TV star is now “protected” by the Enquirer. “So no John Edwards-type investigations… Some of the staff are furious. Trump’s such fertile ground, and it drives them crazy to not only be staying away from it, but running puff pieces for him.”
The only other presidential candidate who has earned as much truly scandalizing Enquirer coverage as a younger Trump is—not Edwards, not Jesse Jackson, not Bob Dole—Bill Clinton, Trump’s former pal, whose libido Trump once defended and whose taste in women Trump has viciously mocked.
“These people are just, I don’t know, where [Clinton] met them, where he found them…Paula Jones, Lewinsky, it’s just a really unattractive group,” Trump told Fox in 1998. “I’m not just talking about physical…I think at least [the scandal] would be more pleasant to watch” if they were like supermodels.”
Trump doesn’t actually need tabloid journalism to get the tawdrier details of his love life into the mainstream press. He has spent decades publicly talking about his lovers and his womanizing ways (this doesn’t even include the time he talked about his penis size during a televised presidential debate), and has even suggested that such qualities would make him a good president.
“The hypocrites argue that a man who loves and appreciates beautiful women and does so legally and openly shouldn’t become a national leader,” Trump wrote in a piece for the March 2000 issue of Gear magazine. “Is there something wrong with appreciating beautiful women? Don’t we want people in public office who show signs of life? I am what I am, and I make no bones about it.”
According to a past incarnation of the National Enquirer, Trump’s “signs of life” weren’t a qualification for public office—they were pure, juicy, money-making fodder.