It is now almost 30 years since I tried to tap Donald Trump for $20 million. It is possible, likely even, that Mr Trump does not remember the occasion. My own memory is hazy, but let me say immediately that I did not approach The Donald in person. I sent him a letter written in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I was holidaying with family in the summer of 1989. In the letter I asked Mr Trump to back the launch of a conservative broadsheet in New York, to compete with the liberal New York Times, which was then, as it is now, the only broadsheet in the city.
I had estimated the start-up costs at $20 million, but am pretty sure that I did not mention that figure in my letter (a copy of which I have anyway long since lost). All the same, that’s the sum I – and my team – needed, at the very least, and Donald Trump was the first (and only) multi-billionaire I approached. Mr Trump chose not to reply, but back in London I got a pro-forma letter from one of his secretaries. You know the drill: “Mr Trump thanks … regrets … wishes you well.” I could almost hear the sniggers in Trump Tower from my library in Balham.
It’s rather embarrassing to look back on those days now. All the same, I was young – 46 – and put a lot of work into the project. I felt I had made a plausible case for a new broadsheet, and so did others. The paper was to be called The New York American, and Nicholas Thirkell, who designed The Independent, did a dummy front and back page for me. I took my dummy and my proposal to New York in February 1988, where I met and talked to Wick Alison, then publisher of the National Review, and Peter Brimelow, an English immigrant to the US who was then a financial journalist and is now editor of the anti-immigrant, and sometimes rather gamey, website VDARE. The late Frank Johnson, one of the great parliamentary sketch-writers of the last century and then assistant editor of The Sunday Telegraph, was also in New York and joined me in talks with Brimelow. Everybody was very civil, very agreeable and, in principle, thought it would be good fun to poke the Establishment in the eye.
The New York Times has long been hated by conservative ideologues for its liberal bias. It is known to some Catholics as the Devil’s Bible. Perhaps worse than that, it is terrible beast of a thing. With its many sections it must be one of the bulkiest papers in the world. Its stories are long and thorough and are nearly always “continued on page 94”. It is also scrupulously unsensational. Here’s a sample headline: “For Swiss Elections, Little Suspense”. They don’t write headlines like that just to sell papers.
We all grow up eventually, however, and I ceased to be an ideologue 20 years ago. Now, in old age, I find myself warming to what is known as The Gray Lady. The NYT is not only thorough and unsensational.
It is also, in its way, honest — and sometimes a bit dotty. When, for example, it adds agency copy to that of a named reporter, it places the agency copy in square brackets and acknowledges its source. In England, agency copy is just fed into correspondents’ stories. Another thing in the NYT’s favour: it employs Ross Douthat as a columnist. Douthat is one of the best conservative Catholic writers in the business, and, like so many of us, he is struggling with Pope Francis. If you don’t know his work, you will find him on the The Gray Lady’s website.
The idea came to nothing, of course, which was fortunate for everyone concerned, not least Donald Trump. I think it is fair to say that the man would not be where he is now if he had become a newspaper proprietor. Proprietors of newspapers don’t end up in the White House (except as guests to be coddled). They end up getting engaged to Jerry Hall. On the other hand. as Iowa has shown us, property tycoons with mountainous egos don’t end up in the White House, either.
Let the last word go to the extraordinary Andrei Navrozov, a Russian writer who emigrated (or escaped) to New York from Moscow with his parents in 1972, and then, in 1985, fled New York for London. He was soon appearing in our better publications (Guardian, Spectator, Telegraph), and in the years immediately before the collapse of the Soviet Union entertained himself and his readers by warning the Russia was winning the Cold War. He has since moved to Palermo.
In any case, I enjoyed his company and naturally told him about my American dream. He liked the idea, but when I told him that I proposed to call the newspaper The New York American, he said sternly: “No, Stuart. That is not a good idea. You might as well call it the New York Anti-Semite.”