President Trump is obsessed with this election win, thinks New Hampshire is a “drug-infested den,” worries about looking like “a dope” and doesn’t want to talk publicly about who is going to pay for the wall.
These are among the themes and standout moments from Trump’s January telephone conversations with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller obtained transcripts of the calls and published them Thursday.
We have pulled out eight of the most jaw-dropping passages and added context:
1. TRUMP TO PEÑA NIETO: “We have the drug lords in Mexico that are knocking the hell out of our country. They are sending drugs to Chicago, Los Angeles and to New York. Up in New Hampshire - I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den - is coming from the southern border. So we have a lot of problems with Mexico farther than the economic problem. We are becoming a drug-addicted nation and most of the drugs are coming from Mexico or certainly from the southern border. But I will say this - you have that problem, too. You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with, and we are willing to help you with that big league.”
Recall that Trump’s critics hit him hard for using the phrase “bad hombres” during a presidential debate in October, so it is striking that he would repeat a variation in a call with the president of Mexico. Trump’s dim appraisal of New Hampshire recalls his description of “American carnage” in his inauguration speech seven days earlier.
2. TRUMP TO TURNBULL: “Look, I spoke to Putin, Merkel, Abe of Japan, to France today, and this was my most unpleasant call.”
This is extraordinary language for the leader of one friendly country to say to another. The whole point of these phone calls, days after Trump was inaugurated, was for the two leaders to get to know each other and start things off on the best possible note.
Trump steamrolled that objective when he compared his conversation with the Australian prime minister, leader of one of America’s staunchest allies, to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had just meddled in the U.S. election, and deemed Putin more pleasant.
The Post published a summary of this conversation in February, reporting that “25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.” Now the full transcript is public.
3. PEÑA NIETO: ‘To tell you the truth, Mr. President, I feel quite surprised about this new proposal that you are making because it is different from the discussion that both of our teams have been holding.”
TRUMP: “Enrique, if I can interrupt - this is not a new proposal. This is what I have been saying for a year and a half on the campaign trail. I have been telling this to every group of 50,000 people or 25,000 people - because no one got the people in their rallies as big as I did. But I have been saying I wanted to tax people that treated us unfairly at the border, and Mexico is treating us unfairly.”
The proposal that caught Peña Nieto by surprise was a tariff on goods imported from Mexico to the United States. Trump agreed that a tariff had not been discussed in talks between White House adviser Jared Kushner and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray but said Peña Nieto should have expected it, based on Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
Note the way Trumps slips in a boast about his crowd size.
4. TRUMP TO TURNBULL: “I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people.”
In both phone calls, Trump seems singularly focused on bad people getting into the U.S. and how bad it will make him look. He had just signed an executive order banning travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations (which courts would later block). His logic is that if he agrees to take in 1,250 immigrants who landed in Australia, per a deal the Obama administration made, he’ll look like a hypocrite. Especially if Trump’s greatest fear is realized and one of these people turns into the “Boston bomber” (his words) or the next “San Bernardino or World Trade Centers” (also his words).
Nevermind that Turnbull explains to Trump, several times, that these immigrants were vetted both by Australian and U.S. security officials.
5. TRUMP TO PEÑA NIETO: “In the latest election, I won with a large percentage of Hispanic voters. I do not know if you heard, but with Cuba, I had 84 percent with the Cuban American vote. But overall generally, I had well over 30 percent, and everyone was shocked to see this. I understand the community, and they understand me, and I have a great respect for the Mexican people.”
Trump loves to brag about his victory, but it is not clear where he came up with his statistic about Cuban American voters. According to the Pew Research Center, Trump did win 54 percent of the Cuban American vote in Florida, but the White House has not been able to back up Trump’s claim to have won 84 percent of the Cuban American vote nationally.
On the overall Latino vote, Trump is in the ballpark. He got 28 percent of the vote, according to exit polling.
6. TRUMP TO TURNBULL: “What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats?”
In these phone calls, Trump also displays a very shallow understanding of foreign policy.
Here, he seems baffled by Australia’s policy of rejecting refugees who arrive by boat, despite the fact that Turnbull had also explained several times that it’s a deterrent policy: Anyone who tries to migrate to Australia by water will automatically get kicked out. “So we said if you try to come to Australia by boat, even if we think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Nobel Prize winning genius, we will not let you in,” Turnbull finally says.
7. TRUMP TO PEÑA NIETO: “In Ohio, they are having rallies for Trump right now because Trump has taken a hard stance on Mexico. We lost a lot of factories in Ohio and Michigan, and I won these states - some of these states have not been won in 38 years by a Republican, and I won them very easily. So they are dancing in the streets. You probably have the same thing where they are dancing in your streets also but in reverse.”
Trump’s habit of talking about himself in the third person is on display here - as is his sense of humor. His line about Mexicans dancing in the streets “in reverse” appears to be a joke about protests against his election.
8. TRUMP TO TURNBULL: “I look like a dope.”
This was about the Australian refugee deal again. Trump’s singular focus on letting bad people into the country seems derived from his concern for his public reputation. Trump ran on reining in immigration, and he seemed worried that honoring a deal made by the Obama administration would hurt his credibility, or at the very least make him look like a hypocrite.
“This is going to kill me,” he told Turnbull. “I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. . . . It makes me look so bad, and I have only been here a week.”