Twenty-seven years after a New Hampshire Republican activist named Mike Dunbar dreamed up the idea of a Donald Trump presidency, the idea still hasn’t worn off. For Trump, at least.
Early yesterday morning, Trump made an appearance in Manchester, N.H., at “Politics & Eggs,” an established stop for anyone pondering a White House run. It wasn’t his first time flirting with the idea of running for president, and it likely won’t be his last.
It was early summer of 1987, and Mike Dunbar had an idea. What if Donald Trump ran for president? Dunbar launched a “Draft Trump” campaign. The media got wind of Dunbar’s plan, and the first round of stories about a possible Trump presidency ran in newspapers across the country. In October 1987, Trump’s helicopter landed in New Hampshire. That night, Trump spoke before a packed house.
Trump didn’t run for president in 1988. But he has returned to New Hampshire six times since then, with each visit prompting a rush of national media to wonder whether he just might run. And 27 years after his first trip to the Granite State, Trump is still toying with the idea. Or at least he’s pretending to.
Trump told Boston.com that Dunbar’s efforts may well have “planted the seed” that has resulted in almost three decades of contemplating a presidential campaign. “It was a long time ago. And because I was in New Hampshire, everyone went crazy and said ‘He’s running for president’, which wasn’t true … But it really was because of that speech that this whole thing started.” As for whether he plans on actually running in 2016, Trump said, while standing outside an event designed as a stop for presidential hopefuls, that he’s “not even thinking about it right now.”
Meanwhile, Dunbar, now 66, has moved on from his days of political activism. In the 1980s, Dunbar served as vice chairman of the Portsmouth Republicans. He later went on to serve two terms on the Portsmouth, N.H., City Council.
Dunbar looked back on the events that led up to Trump’s first trip to New Hampshire. “At the time, Donald Trump interested me. I felt … that he had what we needed in a president. I thought he would be amenable to a grassroots movement.” (Trump was registered as a Democrat at the time, but even that didn’t deter Dunbar, who at the time commented to the Chicago Tribune: “How long does it take to change your registration?”)
During the summer of 1987, Dunbar approached Trump with a proposal: a speech before members of the Portsmouth Rotary Club. “Every candidate who runs speaks to the Portsmouth Rotary Club,” Dunbar explained. Trump was receptive. As fall approached, Dunbar was in New York, meeting with Trump at Trump Tower.
And then, a few weeks later, on Oct. 22, Trump’s helicopter landed at Hampton Airfield, which Dunbar admits was (and is) little more than a “grass strip.” Dunbar met Trump with a limousine and the two drove to Yoken’s, a restaurant that, at the time, was also Portsmouth’s largest function hall. (Yoken’s has since closed its doors.)
By all accounts, the Portsmouth event was a success. “The room was packed beyond belief with hundreds of people. It was one heck of a show. Anybody who was anybody was there. I introduced him. He came. I’ve never seen a crowd that big. It was standing room only. Yoken’s had never had that many people before,” Dunbar said.
Dunbar’s 1988 “Draft Trump” campaign didn’t come to fruition. And rumors of another possible Trump presidential campaign didn’t resurface until he contemplated a possible run as the Reform Party candidate in the 2000 election.
By this time, Dunbar’s involvement in the New Hampshire political was history. In 1992, he and his wife, Susanna, had a son, and Dunbar made a quick exit from politics altogether. “I became a family man. I just walked away,” he says.
There is little about the Mike Dunbar of today to indicate he was once a guy heading up a campaign to draft Donald Trump into national politics. In 1994, Dunbar started The Windsor Institute, a Hampton, N.H., based school offering classes in the art of handmade Windsor chairmaking. He has authored eight woodworking books, with a ninth in the works.
Dunbar has also written a set of teen adventure books called “The Castleton Series.” The books tell the story of “two star-crossed lovers who can never be together because they were born seven generations apart.” Dunbar explained: “It’s a time travel saga.”
While Dunbar retreated to a less political existence, Trump has done the opposite. Since 1987, he has visited New Hampshire again and again, including three trips leading up to the 2000 election cycle and two trips in 2011, each time reigniting the “will he run or won’t he?” debate.
It’s not just Dunbar who has seen major life changes since 1987. Trump has since divorced twice and had two more children. His business empire has dramatically expanded, and now includes not just hotels and golf courses but apparel and entertainment. He owns the Miss Universe organization. He has a hit NBC show, “The Apprentice,” and sells a line of ties at Macy’s. He launched Trump University (now being sued for fraud by the New York attorney general’s office). Between 1991 and 2009, four Trump businesses sought bankruptcy protection. But as of September 2012, Forbes estimated Trump’s net worth at $3.1 billion. (Trump says it’s more like $10 billion.) He makes weekly appearances on Fox News, and spent much of the 2012 election cycle telling anyone who would listen his endless theories about Obama’s vast birth certificate cover-up conspiracy.
Over the years, Dunbar has kept abreast of Trump’s name in the headlines. “I pay attention anytime he [Trump] makes any noises.”
What about “The Apprentice”? Dunbar has heard of it, but has never seen it. And those Trump ties sold at Macy’s? “I don’t even wear ties.”
Dunbar admits that he did incorporate a bit of Trump into his “Castleton Series” books. The character that borrows from Trump is Jack Lincoln, a business manager for a teen band on a “meteoric rise,” who ultimately steals the band’s money and siphons off their wealth.
The books describe Jack Lincoln arriving in Hampton, N.H., to meet the teen musicians after offering his management services. “The man looked out of place in a small town like Hampton… He wore a shiny gray suit. His shoes were alligator skin, as was his briefcase. His hair was slicked back and he wore sunglasses.” The book goes on to describe Jack Lincoln’s office as “an entire floor of a skyscraper” complete with “magnificent views of New York” and “waiters in tuxedos” serving food and drinks.
Jack Lincoln is, according to Dunbar, a “Trump-like character” who is “bigger than life” and who “moves through life like a bulldozer.” The scenes describing Lincoln’s fictional Manhattan office were patterned on what Dunbar saw during his 1987 meeting at Trump Towers. The wealth siphoning was not inspired by Trump, according to Dunbar.
The way Dunbar sees it, all politicians should be Trump-like. “I have no problem with someone being bigger than life. I think you need that in politicians.”
During the George W. Bush administration, Dunbar and his wife changed their voter registration from Republican to undeclared. In a state where seemingly everyone is involved in politics, Dunbar is decidedly not. “I have nothing to do with Republicans. I have nothing to do with the Democrats. I have nothing to do with politics any more.”
“I voted for Mitt Romney as the lesser of two evils. I voted for George W. Bush only because what was offered up by the other side was even worse.” As for Chris Christie, Dunbar shook his head and said only “No.”
Dunbar’s strongest political stance these days is his support for the idea to eliminate political parties altogether. “I think elimination of all political parties would solve every problem. Every candidate should run as an independent. Everyone should be registered as an independent. I beat the drum for eliminating political parties.”
But Trump still seems to hold a place in Dunbar’s heart. Yesterday morning, Dunbar and his wife watched a livestream of Trump’s “Politics & Eggs” speech from their home in Hampton, N.H., a half hour from Manchester.
Would Dunbar consider casting a vote in the event Trump ran this time around? “The last two — even the last three — presidents have been so horrible that he can’t be any worse.”
Dunbar doesn’t see the Trump of today much differently than he saw Trump when he first tried to draft him in 1987. “He was no slouch in 1987. But now, he certainly is far better known. He’s a household name. If you took a microphone to Boston Common, more people would know Donald Trump’s name than Joe Biden’s. He has to be at close to 100 percent name recognition in the country.”
Is Dunbar hoping 2016 might be the year his “Draft Trump” campaign finally comes to fruition? “I guess I’m hopeful that perhaps one of these days, he’ll do it.”
On Dunbar’s bookshelf sits a copy of Trump’s book: “Trump: The Art of the Deal.” An inscription inside, dated December 1987, reads: “To Michael – I really appreciate your friendship – you have created a very exciting part of my life – on to the future. Donald.”
Trump said he is already planning another trip to New Hampshire for April, and a spokesman couldn’t rule out additional trips later in the year.
When can we expect an answer on whether 2016 will be Trump’s year to finally take the plunge? Trump told Boston.com: “I will be making a decision immediately after evaluating the 2014 election results.”firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@lilsarg.