Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump isn’t ever at a loss for words. He tweets, he does interviews, holds rallies, and calls into every show imaginable. One thing he doesn’t do: allow himself to get pinned down.
For someone who never sought political office, he’s proven maddeningly good at wiggling away from direct questions. That ban on Muslims entering the country? Just a "suggestion," he now says. Women need to be punished for having an abortion? He actually meant they’d probably "punish themselves."
So that got us at MSNBC.com to thinking: What would we ask Trump if he had to give us a direct answer to the question — no wiggling, no prevarication, no promises of “winning” without offering details. Here’s a roundup of what we’d want to know.
Why do you think white supremacists appear to be drawn to your campaign and does that trouble you?
Donald Trump has disavowed the support he's received from white supremacists (including — eventually — David Duke), but they have still consistently come out to praise his candidacy. Most recently, a would-be Trump delegate from California had to step down after it was revealed that he is a white nationalist. The Trump campaign attributed his selection to a "database error," but the California Secretary of State has ruled that the white nationalist's name will remain on the ballot when Republican's vote on June 7. This incident — as well as the candidate's repeated re-tweeting of white supremacists — has raised an alarm about how comfortable his campaign may be with hatemongers.
In 2008, you said you thought Hillary Clinton would “make a great president.” What qualities did she possess then that made you come to that conclusion? Does she not possess those qualities now?
Today, there is no love lost between Trump and Clinton. He has taken to calling her "Crooked Hillary" and has launched a myriad of personal and political attacks on not just her policies, but her character. And yet, as recently as 2012, he called her "terrific," said that he not only liked her but her husband, former President Bill Clinton. He has also donated thousands of dollars to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign and the Clinton Foundation. Which leads us to our next question ...
If Bill Clinton is indeed guilty of "rape," as you have alleged, and various other indiscretions with women — why did you seek him out as a golfing buddy and invite him to attend your most recent wedding?
In recent weeks, Trump has aggressively attacked the Clintons' private life, alleging that the former president was "the worst abuser of women in U.S. political history." He has even resurrected an allegation of rape made against Bill Clinton in 1999, which the ex-president has denied. And Trump has raised the specter of Bill Clinton's links to convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein, even though he himself also has ties to the man. However, as recently as 2008, the two men were photographed smiling and golfing together. Apparently, the two golfed together on more than one occasion and they also reportedly engaged in a friendly call just a few weeks prior to Trump's campaign launch, leading some conspiracy theorists on the right to believe that the Clintons urged the real estate mogul to run.
Did your ex-wives enable your infidelities?
For several weeks now, Donald Trump has argued that voters should hold Hillary Clinton accountable for her husband's infamous infidelities and allegations of sexual impropriety. Trump has labeled Clinton an "enabler" of the former president, and without any stated evidence, suggested that she helped to smear women who her husband had affairs with. Trump himself was once a tabloid fixture because of his own tumultuous personal life, which involved numerous allegations of infidelity — and in some cases, even worse behavior. By his own standards, do his two previous wives deserve some of the blame for his inappropriate conduct?
Are you a feminist?
Trump has been raked over the coals for a long history of making insensitive and, many would argue, brazenly sexist statements about women. His record with women has come under even more scrutiny since he emerged as the last GOP candidate standing in the 2016 race and a New York Times exposé alleged decades of inappropriate behavior on his part. Trump has countered that he has historically appointed many women to positions of power within his company (including his daughter, whom he has also made questionable statements about). He once said, “while men tend to be better than women, a good woman is better than 10 good men” but he also once wrote "I will never again give a wife responsibility within my business." In virtually every major poll, Trump has historically high negatives with women voters. If he were to acknowledge that women should enjoy the same rights, respect and privileges that men do — would that make a difference?
If you are not John Miller, who is? And why did you admit to being him 25 years ago?
Recently unearthed audio from the early-'90s, featuring a man identified as "John Miller," a publicist for Trump who sounds remarkably like the real estate mogul himself, has generated headlines and ridicule. On the tape, Miller boasts about Trump's personal life, claiming that celebrities like Madonna, Kim Basinger and former French first lady Carla Bruni all had been hankering to date him. In 1991, Trump reportedly told People magazine that the whole stunt was a joke gone awry. "What I did became a good time at [second wife Marla Maple]'s expense, and I'm very sorry," he said. But now, after first claiming he had never heard the tape before, he is calling it a "scam" and an impersonation. If he truly isn't John Miller, shouldn't he been seeking out the phony publicist with one of his infamous lawsuits?
You repeatedly called on President Obama to release his birth certificate to prove he was born in the United States. He did. Do you now accept that he was born here and that his presidency is legitimate? Why have you stopped talking about this issue?
Trump's embrace of birtherism and long campaign to question the president's heritage in 2011 was arguably the dawn of his political career. After the president reluctantly made his longform birth certificate public, Trump gloated that he deserved the credit for the decision, but also never acknowledged the document's validity. In fact, as recently as last summer, the presumptive GOP nominee for president was still unwilling to say that the president is an American citizen. As a candidate, Trump has repeatedly refused to talk about the birther subject. But he did employ a similar charge against his Republican rival Sen. Ted Cruz.
What do you mean when you say we need to “figure out” the “Muslim problem”?
One of Trump's most controversial policy proposals has been a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. The timeline for the ban — which many have argued would be unconstitutional — has been predicated on when the U.S. government can "figure out" the terrorist threat presumably coming from abroad. Trump has not gotten specific about what we need to figure out or what could constitute sufficient figuring to prevent our nation from discriminating against millions of people around the world over their religious faith. But this is a question that has taken on even more importance considering the fact that ISIS has already been using Trump's broad indictment of Islam as a recruitment tool.
Did you actually believe the criticisms you made of your 2016 rivals?
During the GOP primary campaign, Trump likened Dr. Ben Carson to a child molester, but now the former surgeon is helping to lead the search for the candidate's running mate. Trump mercilessly ridiculed Chris Christie's record as New Jersey governor, but now he's rumored to be on the VP shortlist. He alleged that Sen. Ted Cruz's father may have played a role in JFK's assassination, but now he'd welcome the Texas lawmaker's endorsement. And Trump savaged his opponents for taking money from super PACs and other outside groups, even though now he has signaled that he too will accept big money donations for the general election campaign. Were all of these remarks just a ruse? And if so, why should voters trust Trump now?
How do you justify using funds intended for small business after 9/11?
In one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 campaign, Trump evoked the courage and resilience of New Yorkers in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks to push back against Cruz's criticism of so-called "New York values." But this isn't the firs time Trump has seized onto 9/11 for arguably selfish reasons. According to the New York Daily News, Trump received $150,000 in funds from the Empire State Development Corporation that were earmarked for small business owners in the Wall Street area who were suffering from the economic impact of the tragedy. Apparently, Trump got the money because the state did not enforce federal guidelines of what constitutes a small business.
Would you punch a protester if you felt like he or she were acting out of line at one of your rallies?
Violence at Trump rallies has been all too common this campaign season, and many critics have accused the real estate mogul of urging his supporters to act out physically. In the past, Trump has offered to pay the legal fees of a supporter who assaulted a protester in at least one instance, and he has lamented the passing of the "good old days" when protesters would be unable to leave a site on their own accord. Trump has long maintained that his supporters have only acted out in self defense (even when the footage tells a different story), but does he truly believe that violence in the face of protest in justified?
How much money did you make last year?
Trump has stubbornly refused to release his tax returns, claiming that he might once a federal audit is completed. Even though former President Richard Nixon released his returns during an audit, and every presidential contender in the last 40 years has done so, Trump has argued that his finances aren't anyone's business and are not really of interest to anyone. At issue is not just how much income Trump actually has (many have speculated that he has earned far less than he purports to) but how much he pays in taxes. A recent Washington Post report alleges that at least in the late 1970s, Trump took advantage of real estate developer loopholes to pay nothing to the IRS.
You’re currently pro-life; have you ever encouraged a woman to have an abortion?
This is obviously an incredibly personal question — but of course reproductive rights is a sensitive issue for many Americans, and especially women. Trump has made no secret of his history as a "ladies man" and his stance on a woman's right to choose has evolved in recent years from being staunchly pro-abortion rights to being rigidly anti-abortion.
Your positions on many issues have been flexible, to put it mildly. Is there a single issue that you would never waver on?
Trump has flip-flopped on several major issues — for instance, on the minimum wage, he's gone from saying wages are too low to saying they are too high, and that the federal minimum wage should be abolished. And on taxes he has vacillated between saying the wealthy should pay more and that they should pay less. His defenders would argue that he is simply re-calibrating his message for a general election audience, but critics would argue that his chief operating policy seems to be "everything's negotiable." What are his line in the sand issues? And will we have to wait until after he theoretically wins the White House to find out?