Santa Barbara- S County

EXCLUSIVE: Rona Barrett reflects on 1980 interview with then-developer Donald Trump

NewsChannel 3 obtained limited usage of archive

SANTA YNEZ VALLEY, Calif. - Many people may not remember but nearly 40 years ago then-businessman and developer Donald Trump was questioned about whether he would want to be President of the United States someday. 

His answer then might surprise you now. 

NewsChannel 3 sat down with world renown journalist and former gossip columnist Rona Barrett, who honed her journalist craft interviewing the rich and famous from the late 1950s to the early 1990s.

Barrett reflected back on 1980. She had just launched a pilot program, zeroing-in on America's 
self-made millionaires. Her first guest was developer Donald Trump.

"He had a very spicy reputation way back in the 70s," Barrett said. "He was flamboyant, in that the press made him that kind of a guy. If I look back now, He was very much like he is today." 

By then, Trump was on his way to becoming a billionaire. He was 34 years old. 

"He was one of the first people, if not the first person, who ever bought the air over a major facility in Manhattan," Barrett said. "I think it was Bonwit Teller (a luxury department store) at the time. He bought the air to build something above the place he couldn't buy! I had never heard of anyone buying air!" 

It was Trump's first network interview. And it was done in his opulent, 66-floor penthouse.

"Gold in certain places, real gold in certain places," Barrett remembered. "I mean, this fellow knew how to live a very rich life." 

NewsChannel 3 obtained limited usage of the archived interview clip, with permission from Reelin' In The Years Productions LLC. 

KEYT's Beth Farnsworth sat with Barrett in the lobby of the Golden Inn and Village senior community she built in the Santa Ynez Valley. She looked back at the man she interviewed, for two hours, all those years ago.

"He was charming," Barrett said. 

Then, she reflected on the man leading our country today.

"I didn't see any of the bravado that I see now."

That 1980 interview between Barrett and Trump is now in demand, worldwide, all because of that one question.

"It just popped out of my mouth. Would you like to be President of the United States? He looked at me and he said, 'No'."

The clip reveals a few of the reasons Trump did not embrace a presidency at the time.

"I see it as being a mean life and I also see it as somebody with strong views and somebody with
the kind of views that are maybe a little bit unpopular, which might be right," Trump said. 

"And he made some sort of comment about he didn't like the attitude of political people, having to smile and be with babies," Barrett added. 

At the time, Trump said he didn't feel America was "going forward" in a "proper direction" and was using very little of its "potential" as a nation.

"It should really be a country that gets the respect of other countries," Trump told Barrett. 

He was highly critical of the handling of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. 

"He also said, 'There are many more people who are far more qualified to be President than I am'." Barrett remembered. 

Yet, he refused to name names.

"The one man could turn this country around," Trump said during the interview. "The one proper President could turn this country around."

Barrett did some more reflecting during NewsChannel 3's interview, then offered a personal opinion while admitting that she's no doctor or expert. 

"I've always had another feeling after that interview with Donald as I was talking to him," Barrett reflected. "I always have felt that he was trying to prove to daddy that he could be bigger and better than daddy ever could."

Fred Trump was a highly successful real estate developer, mostly in New York City, and a philanthropist; but he was never President of the United States.

Barrett said she was surprised when the elder Trump's son, Donald, announced his bid to run.

"I didn't think of him as presidential," Barrett said. 

Today, Barrett stops short when it comes to labeling Donald Trump as a "good" or "bad" President. 

"I'd rather not comment. I'm not a political person. I'm just another human being," Barrett said. 

The former celebrity interviewer has found a new voice as a champion for low-income seniors.

Barrett's housing community is home to more than 60 people, many of whom were homeless or living out of their cars before. Barrett is expanding to house another 60-plus residents with Alzheimer's and assisted living needs. She said that she sees a direct impact between President Trump's policies and the residents who live at the Golden Inn and Village. 

"If you open up your eyes and you look around, and really look around, not at Fifth Avenue but at Fifth Street in any town of this country, you will see, now there is no denying, that there are a lot of people hurting out there." Barrett said. "From my point of view, he's hurting my people. He's hurting my mothers and fathers, my grandparents. He's hurting a lot of people."

Barrett said it is difficult for her to comprehend taking away the Affordable Care Act.

"These people are on the Affordable Care Act and yet, they love this man. But, they're about to lose their Affordable Care Act." 

"I would give anything if he would like to come and see how we are basically caring for people who have low income." Barrett also said, "I'd be very happy to go to Congress and tell them what I have seen." 

NewsChannel 3 reached out to the White House via email to inquire whether President Trump would be willing to respond as to what made him change his mind after answering Barrett's question 40 years ago. And, would he consider having his staff travel to the Santa Ynez Valley to see a potential model for low-income seniors?

The White House replied: "We are carefully reviewing your message."

In the meantime, Rona Barrett is busy building a new future for seniors and compiled her Gray Matters columns into a published book. 

For more information about Rona Barrett and the Golden Inn and Village visit

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