Would Trump disrupt the economy? This billionaire hopes so

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Tom Barrack, CEO of Colony Capital, speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni - RTSJ47J

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the second of two perspectives on the campaign from the world of business. Yesterday, correspondent Paul Solman talked to LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, a Hillary Clinton supporter.

Tonight, Paul sits down with Tom Barrack. He’s a friend of, economic adviser to, and fundraiser for Donald Trump. It is the second take this week of our series, “Making Sense”.

TOM BARRACK, Founder and Executive Chairman, Colony Capital: I’m the first kid to ever go to college, first kid to ever go to law school.

PAUL SOLMAN: Billionaire Tom Barrack, the son of Lebanese immigrants, made his fortune as a real estate investor. Though his firm, Colony Capital, has taken stakes in more visible, if unconventional assets as well, like Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, film company Miramax, and the debt of photographer Annie Leibovitz. His showbiz investments often made with his friend actor Rob Lowe.

But the southern California educated polo-playing mogul spoke with us on behalf of his business associate of longstanding, Donald Trump.

Is the reason you’re one of the only two top executives who were willing to talk to us in support of Mr. Trump because you’re fearless?

TOM BARRACK: It starts with number one: he’s a friend. And number two: with him, it’s the personal things of compassion, and kindness, and intellectual acuity, and the ability to make decisions that I think I could help explain.

PAUL SOLMAN: Barrack met the candidate when he sold Mr. Trump New York’s Plaza Hotel in the 1980s, as he recounted at the Republican National Convention.

TOM BARRACK: He said, “No contract. No contract. You and I shake hands right here, no lawyers, no contract, no nothing. You just tell me the things that I should know and how to fix it and I’ll do this deal.” He played me like a Steinway piano.

PAUL SOLMAN: A few years after the deal, Trump filed for bankruptcy and the plaza was sold at a loss. But the two have been friends ever since.

Barrack is one of Trump’s economic advisers because, he says, among other reasons —

TOM BARRACK: We have an unequal barbell society. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, middle class is evaporating. I see it every day in our businesses.

So, somebody has to intervene, other than professional politicians who are paid to increase the bureaucratic morass of what everybody else is dealing with.

PAUL SOLMAN: But, Mr. Trump’s policy with regard to, for example, taxes, would actually cut taxes more on the people who are on the — I don’t know, the richer side of the barbell.

TOM BARRACK: Well, I don’t think it’s — it’s fair to say that, right? The concept is, that if you incent people to take risk, they will take risk. They’ll infuse more capital into the system. And at the higher end of that — of that equation, that’ll eventually produce more growth, and growth will produce more opportunity, and the tax base itself will increase.

But it takes all of us on the outside, gently knocking at that door, and saying, it’s time to reexamine these things, let’s do it.

PAUL SOLMAN: Well, it’s not gentle knocking at the moment, right? I mean, Mr. Trump is not a “gentle knocker.”

TOM BARRACK: Well, actually, on the policy side, I think it is gentle. The rhetoric is not gentle. I think they’re both better than that. I think Hillary is very accomplished and very capable, and I think people would be surprised at the — the intellectual ability of Donald on these issues.

PAUL SOLMAN: “Conciliator,” you said in one interview.

TOM BARRACK: Yes, absolutely. And you think about the difficulty of building a Trump Tower. I mean, you have 100 constituencies that you have to bring together, and then you have to be able to sell it to somebody who’s going to lend you the money. Making deals and negotiations to me is where the United States is going to have to go in the next decade. We haven’t been good at it.

You have Donald, who has no political background, but has a very good background in being able to coalesce these constituencies, most of the time successfully, sometime not successfully, who’s saying, “I will challenge that system, and I’ll bring in people who understand the system, but people who are not of the system.”

PAUL SOLMAN: But he’s giving no indication that that’s what he’s like, when he appears in public, in the debate, when he appears at rallies and so forth, right?

TOM BARRACK: Yes. It’s true. This crass sense of who he is, which comes out of vignettes, which he doesn’t help, right? Because he’s not apologizing for things the way —


TOM BARRACK: — that we would, right? That being said, I think a man who has the courage to say, “Look, interpret it however you want. I’m not a political animal, so I make mistakes, and that’s who I am” is refreshing.

PAUL SOLMAN: You have no concerns that he might go too far, that he might do things — threatening, for example, Secretary Clinton, with putting her in jail? I mean, that doesn’t bother you?

TOM BARRACK: Look, all, all of that quite personally bothers me. It bothers me having her attacked, it bothers me having him attacked. I don’t see any benefit in either of those things. It’s this cat fight that’s becoming disheartening.

PAUL SOLMAN: And if Donald Trump, as he will, hears you saying this, he’s not going to be upset with you?

TOM BARRACK: No, he will! He hates it when I say that, because, in his view, the cat fighting is what’s important. In other words, the emails, the lack of credibility, the lack of integrity. I look at it differently, saying, look, I have a private server, and I have a public server. And I know how complicated it is, just for me as a little guy trying to keep track of things.

I quite honestly think somebody of Hillary’s ilk is not intentionally doing any of that. And a foundation, if you’re president of the United States then you have to go get a job, what are you gonna do, be a caddy! Right? I mean, you’re going to do something elegant, you’re going to go out to the world and you’re going to form a foundation, and you’re going to do big things.

So, if you then do those big things, and somebody needs to get invited to a lunch, is it — is it so out of place that you’re going to invite somebody who’s a contributor versus somebody else. You know, the things to me are not the issue.

PAUL SOLMAN: But Barrack says there are a host of economic issues Donald Trump would positively address.

TOM BARRACK: Fair trade, a monetary policy that’s failed with quantitative easing and a focus on jobs is employment and normal people having an education and healthcare system.

PAUL SOLMAN: But, Mr. Trump has had almost no specific proposals for how to deal with any of the things you’re talking about, except to say, “No!” to the trade deals, “They’re bad. I’m going to make them better.”

TOM BARRACK: So, here’s why I think that it’s not as silly as it sounds. So, if you take trade, you have every senator and congressman that has a different view, that all have special interests that need to be vetted, and, by the time that you get to the efficacy of any trade agreement, it’s illusory. So, I think, somebody like Mr. Trump coming in, saying, “Look, I don’t know. I’m not sure on the trade side, I’m not sure on central bank intervention.”

PAUL SOLMAN: But, blow it up.

TOM BARRACK: Not blow it up, I’m gonna bring the best minds that I can find, and I’m going to take it apart and I’m gonna make it better, because I have no vested baggage in it.

PAUL SOLMAN: But to Tom Barrack, Hillary Clinton is part of the economic system and that system is broken: over-indebted, over bureaucratized, overregulated, overtaxed — problems papered over by a Federal Reserve that’s printed too much money.

Are you saying that the economy, the United States economy is a mirage? The extent to which things look good, markets look good? Unemployment is down?

TOM BARRACK: Of course, it’s artificial stimulation and an illusion.

PAUL SOLMAN: And it’s going to end catastrophically?

TOM BARRACK: My belief is, unless something happens, it will end catastrophically, one way or the other.

PAUL SOLMAN: And so, the, something that would prevent it from happening would be?

TOM BARRACK: A disruption.

PAUL SOLMAN: Like Mr. Trump’s election.


PAUL SOLMAN: And, is that what’s fundamentally driving you economically?

TOM BARRACK: Absolutely. Absolutely. A hundred percent.

So, I think whoever the next president is, it’s going to be high on their list, and that Congress will pay attention this time. And that they’ll move it. It’ll move 15 degrees with one, seven degrees with the other, but I think the debate will have done a good job of getting them to move period.

PAUL SOLMAN: Tom Barrack, thank you very much.

TOM BARRACK: It was great to be with you, thanks.

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