Q: Did Donald Trump tell People magazine in 1998 that if he ever ran for president, he’d do it as a Republican because “they’re the dumbest group of voters in the country” and that he “could lie and they’d still eat it up”?
A: No, that’s a bogus meme.
The meme purports to be a quote from Trump in People magazine in 1998 saying, “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.”
We were alerted to the meme by a reader, A. Douglas Thomas of Freeport, N.Y., among others, who saw it in his Facebook feed, along with a message from someone who said, “I just fact-checked this. Google Donald Trump, People magazine and 1998. This is an actual quote by Trump.”
We’ll save you the effort. It is not an actual quote by Trump.
We scoured the People magazine archives and found nothing like this quote in 1998 or any other year.
And a public relations representative with People told us that the magazine couldn’t find anything like that quote in its archives, either. People‘s Julie Farin said in an email: “People looked into this exhaustively when it first surfaced back in Oct. We combed through every Trump story in our archive. We couldn’t find anything remotely like this quote –and no interview at all in 1998.”
In 1998, Trump was cited frequently in the pages of People, but at the time, most of the stories were about Trump’s pending divorce from Marla Maples and appearances at various social and entertainment events.
There were several stories in the late 1990s about Trump’s flirtation with a presidential run. (This became a running theme for Trump, who claimed he was considering a run for president in 1988, 2000, 2004 and 2012. That prompted some early on to dismiss Trump’s claim this time around that he’d run for president.)
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 30, 1999, Trump said he was mulling a run for president, and it sounded like he was considering a bid as an independent.
Trump, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 30, 1999: Let’s cut to the chase. Yes, I am considering a run for president. … Unlike candidates from the two major parties, my candidacy would not represent an exercise in career advancement. I am not a political pro trying to top off his resume. I am considering a run only because I am convinced the major parties have lost their way. The Republicans are captives of their right wing. The Democrats are captives of their left wing. I don’t hear anyone speaking for the working men and women in the center.
In the op-ed, Trump said he came to his decision after then Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura — who was elected as a Reform Party candidate — encouraged him to run.
In a CNN interview with Larry King a couple weeks later, Trump said he was forming an exploratory committee and that the committee would look at whether Trump could win as a Reform Party candidate.
Trump on CNN, Oct. 8, 1999: But really, really the big thing they’re going to look in — as — is: Can you win? Can a Reform Party candidate win? Because I believe I could get the Reform Party nomination. I don’t even think it would be that tough. … I’m not looking to get more votes than any other independent candidate in history, I’d want to win. So we’ll see.
Trump told King that he was a registered Republican and that a Reform Party run would mean a split with a party that he was “close to.”
Trump on CNN, Oct. 8, 1999: I’m a registered Republican. I’m a pretty conservative guy. I’m somewhat liberal on social issues, especially health care, et cetera, but I’d be leaving another party, and I’ve been close to that party.
King: Why would you leave the Republican Party?
Trump: I think that nobody is really hitting it right. The Democrats are too far left. I mean, Bill Bradley, this is seriously left; he’s trying to come a little more center, but he’s seriously left. The Republicans are too far right. And I don’t think anybody’s hitting the chord, not the chord that I want hear, and not the chord that other people want to hear, and I’ve seen it.
But again, we could find nothing in the online People magazine archives that suggests Trump ever was quoted as saying the quote used in the Facebook meme, either in 1998 or any other year. We also did a search in Nexis and could find no such quote from Trump in any major publication in the country.
Snopes.com, which also looked into this bogus meme, pointed out that the reference to Fox News viewers is curious, given that at the time Fox News “was not exceptionally well-known (or particularly regarded as a right-leaning outlet) in 1998.”
We reached out to Thomas, who contacted us about the Facebook meme, to tell him it was a fake. He said it just goes to show, “Everything you read on Facebook isn’t the gospel truth written in stone by Moses. You need to check your sources.” Hear, hear!
That advice goes for Trump, as well. On Nov. 23, we wrote about a grossly inaccurate graphic that Trump retweeted that claimed, among other things, that most whites are killed by blacks (which isn’t true). When questioned about the graphic, Trump said that it wasn’t his tweet, that he merely retweeted it. Trump maintained that the graphic came from “sources that are very credible” and added, “Am I gonna check every statistic?” That, in a nutshell, is how false memes — like the one we’ve written about here — get passed around the Web.
As always, we encourage readers to pass along any questionable political claims they receive via chain email or in their Facebook or Twitter feeds. You can reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction, Sept. 29, 2016: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect year when describing the previous years Trump considered running for president.
Travis, Shannon. “Was he ever serious? How Trump strung the country along, again.” CNN. 17 May 2011.
Smith, Kyle. “Stop pretending — Donald Trump is not running for president.” New York Post. 30 May 2015.
Trump, Donald. “America Needs A President Like Me.” Wall Street Journal. 30 Sep 1999.
LaCapria, Kim. “Duh, Donald.” Snopes.com. 16 Oct 2015.
Farley, Robert. “Trump Retweets Bogus Crime Graphic.” FactCheck.org. 23 Nov 2015.