From the moment Donald Trump called us to the time bad Yiddish got him in trouble — here are the most surprising, outrageous, and newsworthy Trump moments of 2015.
“Hi, this is Donald Trump, returning your call.”
I hadn’t called the billionaire businessman but had asked his campaign to comment on the hiring of an Iowa operative. However, the soon-to-be-candidate himself picked up his cell and dialed me from an unblocked New York number to chat about the early network he was building for a much-speculated presidential bid.
We chatted for a few minutes, with a congenial and cheerful Trump hinting at his decision. “Can’t tell you yet, though I’d like to!” he joked.
Throughout the race, Trump has mixed unparalleled access — including calls like that one — with biting criticism and insults that enthuses the GOP base. Weeks later, Trump derided NBC News reporter Katy Tur in a testy interview.
“Don’t be naïve. You’re a very naïve person,” Trump said when she cited data that contradicted his position on immigration. “I mean, I don’t know if you’re going to put this on television, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
His very first racially-charged sweeping condemnation
Weeks later, Trump kicked off his presidential bid with an rambling 45 minute speech that would set the tone for the rest of his campaign: He immediately went off script, overstated the size of the crowd, boasted of his wealth, condemned China, and offended a large minority group. There, Trump offered up an at-times perplexing world view in which China is the major threat, unemployment is at 21%, and Mexican rapists are coming across the border.
Trump said the majority of undocumented immigrants who make it the United States “are bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists. Some, I assume, are good people.” He continued: “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
It was precisely the kind of rhetoric the GOP was hoping to avoid ahead of a race where they’d vowed to increase minority outreach, grow the voter base, and stay away from inflammatory rhetoric.
The time he tried to tax the world
Soon after, Trump’s polling numbers shot up and pundits and reporters alike began digging into the policy specifics of Trump’s platform. And if there’s one consistent theme throughout the decades of Trump’s evolving policy priorities, it’s his belief that lots more tariffs can solve America’s problems.
But is that even legal? MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin investigated.
Defying gravity: Trump attacks John McCain
This year Trump tested — and according to the polls, triumphed — over traditional political rules that have long governed presidential candidates when it comes to sweeping condemnations (see: undocumented immigrants) and personal attacks.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said of Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain in Iowa this August. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, okay?” He quickly walked it back slightly: “Perhaps he’s a war hero,” he said moments later.
Almost as soon as pundits declared Trump to have gone too far, his poll numbers surged.
And the insults continued
Trump tosses out insults like most candidates send out fundraising pitches. In September, he went after Marco Rubio (too sweaty), Hillary Clinton (shrill), Rand Paul (also shrill), National Review editor Rich Lowry (the “dumbest”), and Megyn Kelly (“the worst”) — to name just a few of his targets.
In October alone, he went after the Bernie Sanders (“maniac”), Politico (“clowns”), and conservative commentators Glenn Beck (“wacky”) and Bill Kristol (“dopey”), among others. November was all about Muslims (ban them), refugees (ban them), a Black Lives Matter protester at one of his rallies (“maybe he should have been roughed up”), Dr. Ben Carson (“violent or pathological liar?”), Karl Rove (“total fool,” “biased dope”) and fighter Ronda Rousey (“not a nice person!”).
Still, Trump says he’s got a great relationship with … everyone
Mexicans “love me,” Trump said repeatedly. And according to his claims, so do Neil Young; the people of Buffalo, New York; the tea party; and Scots from Aberdeen. He’s got a “great relationship” with “the blacks,” the Mexicans, Christian conservatives, and Americans who don’t like getting ripped off — not to mention all the people of Scotland, India, Russia, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, as well as everyone else.
“I get along with everybody,” Trump told Anderson Cooper on CNN this summer. “People love me, and you know what? I’ve been very successful, everybody loves me.”
That time he catcalled me
Driving from his helicopter landing pad to the Iowa State Fair in a golf cart, the Republican front-runner catcalled this reporter.
The racially charged fiction
In the fall, Trump spread falsehoods and stoked fears about blacks, Muslims, and Hispanics, retweeting a photo detailing inaccurate crime statistics appearing to show that the vast majority of murdered white Americans were killed by black Americans. He also argued that he’d seen news footage of New Jersey Muslims celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11.
As MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin put it: “The dark turn in the race has created significant new challenges for his rivals — challenges most seem unsure how to handle. After all, what does one do about a candidate who is neck-deep in a fever swamp while head and shoulders above his rivals in the polls?”
The Muslim ban
Trump took it further in December, when called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what’s going on.”
He later backtracked, saying that Muslim-Americans serving their country in the armed forces would be allowed back in. The remark was the most sweepingly xenophobic statement by a presidential candidate this year.
The party has fractured around the proposal
“Trump has essentially divided the GOP into two parties. One is essentially about limited government and the Constitution, and one is about Donald Trump,” Republican strategist Rick Wilson told MSNBC the day after Trump first pitched banning Muslims from the country. “This guy is an existential threat to the party.”
For years, Republican party leaders had kept the most conservative, xenophobic and racist sentiments expressed by some base voters largely outside the mainstream political conversation, only to see Trump lift them up and onto the front page of newspapers around the world.
Trump’s candidacy has singularly brought that faction back as a driving force in the Republican Party. Whether or not the real estate magnate becomes the nominee, his supporters are now out in the open — their world view becoming more emboldened than ever before, as they cheer at rallies when the GOP presidential front-runner calls for religious discrimination.
“She got schlonged!”
The escalating vitriol between Trump and Clinton got personal fast when the Republican front-runner tossed out an obscene term to describe Clinton’s last presidential bid and crudely theorized about her bathroom activity — all while he stood below glittering wreaths at a Christmas-themed rally.
“She got schlonged, she lost. I mean, she lost,” Trump told a Michigan crowd of Clinton's 2008 bid, inventing a verb out of a Yiddish term for a penis. He also mused at length about Clinton’s “disgusting” bathroom break during Saturday’s Democratic debate.