But before Trump was against Obama, he was for him. And a detailed review of the real estate developer's shifting opinions about the first black president — reproduced in full in our timeline, below — offers a glimpse at a man whose opinions seem neatly shaped to match nothing more than public opinion polling.
Though Trump endorsed John McCain (who he has, more recently, trashed) in the 2008 election, Trump was openly (and enthusiastically) supportive of the 44th president. He defended the president's handling of the economic crisis — Obama, he said, is a "champion" who had saved America from a depression — and seemed excited by the ways that Obama might change America's image around the world.
But as President Obama's popularity began to decline in the months before the 2010 midterms, Trump's view of Obama's presidency did as well. A note of skepticism creeps into Trump's comments in early 2010, around the time that Obamacare became law; while he did not criticize Obama overtly, Trump appeared suddenly hostile to the president.
A sudden change took place around the 2010 midterms, which were disastrous for the Democratic Party, however. That October 5, Trump appeared on Morning Joe to float the idea of running against Obama in 2012. And after the president's party lost badly in the midterms, Trump's views shifted dramatically. By the next April, he was referring to Obama as the "worst president ever."
What happened in the winter of 2010? Mostly, Obama's winning streak — his electoral win, his legislative victory in passing Obamacare — came to an end. Trump decided Obama was a loser, and began digging into the internet fever swamps for bizarre allegations with which to tarnish the president.
It was, for Trump, a familiar pattern. Trump had nothing but praise for George W. Bush through his first term and reelection campaign. Bush, he said in 2004, is "very good." But as that year went up Trump turned loudly against Bush and Iraq, a war he had previously been largely silent on. By 2005 and through 2008, Trump found himself regularly saying George W. Bush needed to be impeached and would go down as one of the worst president's in U.S. history.
Unlike Bush, however, Obama noticed the developer's hostility.
His birther phase caught Obama's attention, and brought Trump a presidential humiliation: The same May night that Obama sent special forces to kill Osama bin Laden, the president looked across the room and sneered:
Donald Trump is here tonight! Now, I know that he's taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter –- like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?
Needless to say, Trump has been a bitter enemy ever since:
"Then he asked me about Barack Obama. I told him that Barack will need to be a great president, because we're in serious trouble as a country. It hasn't been this way since 1929. So he doesn't have much choice—he will simply have to be great, which he has a very good chance of being. I saw him speak in Berlin, and what he has done is amazing. The fact that he accomplished what he has in one year is truly phenomenal."
"I have great respect for President Obama. I think that he sets the right tone, he's an intelligent guy, it's about time we have an intelligent guy in that office. He's an intelligent guy, you look at him, he knows. The one problem we have is no matter how smart, there's a certain amount of trial and error. It's never been done before, it's never been attempted before. What they're trying to do now is breaking new ground, so there's a lot of trial and error, and we'll see what happens. Honestly, it sounds good. People think it's good. You can go to me, you can go to great businessmen, they think it's good, or some think it's not good. [...] [T]his is a time when we need great vision and correct vision, and I've often said that I think that Obama, hopefully, will be a great president because if he's not a great president, if he's just a good president, we're in big trouble."
Feb. 5, 2009: In a blog post entitled “Obama Is Absolutely Right,” Trump discusses an interview he did with Larry King the day before, and says “I think Obama is doing the right thing” by trying to limit executive salary related to the bank bailouts.
"Last night I was on the air with Larry King who always has incisive questions. He asked me if Obama was right or wrong to go after these executives with salary caps--and I said he's absolutely right. [...] We are in a situation that is trial and error. We've never dealt with this before. But I think Obama is doing the right thing and all of us must remain alert to what is happening."
Feb. 9, 2009: In an interview with Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren, Trump says that Obama “is a strong guy knows what he wants, and this is what we need.”
"First of all, I thought he did a great job tonight. I thought he was strong and smart, and it looks like we have somebody that knows what he is doing finally in office, and he did inherit a tremendous problem. He really stepped into a mess, Greta. [...] "It is a bad sound bite, but I thought he did a terrific job. This is a strong guy knows what he wants, and this is what we need."
April 20, 2009: In a blog post, Trump describes an interview he did with Larry King the week before.
"On Obama: He's a champion. He won against all odds. When he first announced his decision to run for President, people were giving him virtually no chance. And he's done something that is amazing."
"On Wednesday morning I was on CNN to talk about President Obama's first 100 days in office [...] We're not in a great stage right now in and the problems he's dealing with--from health care to pirates--is formidable. I gave him an overall grade of at least a B+ and I think he's lived up to his challenges in a big way. As the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told him, 'You've changed America's relationship with the world.'"
July, 2009: In a piece for Bloomberg Business, Trump says that he “would hire” Obama. “[O]verall I believe he’s done a very good job,” he adds.
"I would hire him. He's handled the tremendous mess he walked into very well. He still has a daunting task ahead of him but he appears to be equal to the challenge. He has kept his eye on both national and international issues and his visits to foreign countries have shown him to be warmly received, which is certainly a change from the last Administration. I believe he should pay more attention to OPEC and what's going on there, but overall I believe he's done a very good job."
March 25, 2010: In an interview with Neil Cavuto, Trump warns that the Obama administration has “to be very, very careful” in handling Wall Street, because “it’s very fragile.”
CAVUTO: Anyway, Donald Trump taking note of the president's tone towards big business in America, telling me that President Obama should think carefully before going any harder after what he calls America's moneymakers.
TRUMP: I hope they take it easy because it really is the engine that's driving this country and the city isn't everything else it touches. So they have to be very, very careful. It's very fragile.
CAVUTO: All right. Now, we're told we're getting some, you know, dribs and drabs of what the president is going to say tomorrow when he comes to Wall Street. Cooper Union, more to the point, a couple of miles away, that he hopes Wall Street will not fight this but go along with him. Do you think Wall Street will?
TRUMP: Well, I think certain aspects Wall Street will and I think it's inevitable. Look things happen over the last couple of years that we're not acceptable. They were not good, whether it's mainstream or Wall Street itself, I mean, it's really, it just wasn't acceptable what's been happening. So I think that Wall Street certainly is going to fight to make it a less painful as possible, as painless as possible but we'll see what happens, Neil. It's going to be very interesting. A lot of his big supporters are from Wall Street.
April 28, 2010: Trump tells Larry King that Goldman Sachs is “being used a little bit as a scapegoat for” the financial crisis, and “you have to be very, very careful with regulation, because you’ll drive business out of this country.”
"Look, I have a lot of friends in China. They think our representatives, they think our politicians are the dumbest men on Earth. They can't believe what they're getting away with."
September 2010: Trump is asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer if Obama has “saved us from another depression.” “I do agree,” he replies.
BLITZER: His economic policies, President Obama says, have saved us from another depression, is he right?
TRUMP: Well, I do agree, and this did start prior to him getting there, but he also kept it going. You had to do something to sure up the banks, because the psychology of the banks and you would have had a run on every banks, the strongest and the weakest. So, you have to do something. And I hated the ultraconservative view on that. And ultraconservative is nothing should ever happen. If they go out of business, everybody said, that's fine.
You did have to do something to sure up the banks. They probably should have done something for Lehman Brothers, because Lehman was a disaster that caused lots of other disasters. Lehman was a real disaster, but they did have to do something to sure up the banks. And it starred a little bit sooner than him, but also, it really started with Paulson. But also Obama carried it forward, and you did have to do it. Whether you had to go beyond the banks, that's another thing. Whether all of this TARP money was spent wisely, that's another thing.
Oct. 5, 2010: Trump says on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that he is “absolutely thinking about” running for president against Obama.
"Somebody has to do something. We are losing this country. This country will not be great if something isn't done rapidly."
Nov. 18, 2010: In an interview with Good Morning America, Trump tells George Stephanopolous that while Obama was “initially” viewed well by other countries, “we’re like a whipping post right now.”
TRUMP: It could be fun [to run for president] because I'd like to see some positive things happen for the country. When people tell me from other countries that they no longer respect our country, now, whether you liked Ronald Reagan or didn't - like Ronald Reagan, I mean, there was a level of respect for this country that we had.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think President Obama doesn't have that? He's had periods where he's quite popular around the world.
TRUMP: Well, initially, he was. I mean, certainly initially he was. But we cannot let the rest of the world beat us up. I mean, we're like a whipping post right now.
Feb. 10, 2011: Trump gives a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he says that Obama "came out of nowhere," and that "nobody knew who the hell he was" when he ran for president.
"Our current president came out of nowhere – came out of nowhere. Wn fact, I'll go a step further: the people that went to school with him, they don't even know, they never saw him, they don't know who he is. Crazy! With no track record – and, I will tell you, he's got nothing to criticize. You have no record, you can't be criticized. Wonderful guy, he's a nice man, but there's no record – nothing to criticize. He didn't go in wars, he didn't go in battles, he didn't beat this one, that one, have enemies all over the place. Nobody knew who the hell he was! He's now our president. He's our president! But he is our president."
April 7, 2011: Trump tells TODAY that he has “some real doubts” about whether Obama was actually born in the United States.
"Three weeks ago when I started, I thought he was probably born in this country. Right now, I have some real doubts. "I have people that actually have been studying it and they cannot believe what they're finding [...] His grandmother in Kenya said he was born in Kenya, and she was there and witnessed the birth. He doesn't have a birth certificate or he hasn't shown it. He has what's called a certificate of live birth. That is something that's easy to get. When you want a birth certificate, it's hard to get."
In the same interview, Trump calls Obamacare "a total disaster," and says of the president: "I think the thing that he did best of all is get elected. He ran an unbelievable campaign. I want him to do well ... I love this country. But this country is going to hell."
"I'm a deal man. I make hundreds and hundreds of deals and transactions. [Obama] never did deals before. How's he gonna corral all these people? I would get everybody together, and we'd have a budget."
"Look, he's been a horrible president. I always said the worst president was Jimmy Carter. Guess what? Jimmy Carter goes to second place. Barack Obama has been the worst president ever. In this history of this country, Barack Obama is number one."