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9 June 2016

Trump’s chilling confidence, Boris’s immortal longings and why England have no chance

Trump once called me “vicious, arrogant, obnoxious, possibly evil”. Which may be true.

By Piers Morgan

When I won Donald Trump’s US ­Celebrity Apprentice show in 2008 he called me “vicious, arrogant, obnoxious, possibly evil”. Which may be true but must also represent the purest illustration of irony ever uttered. Appearances can be deceptive, though. I’ve known Trump for a decade and have found him to be as loyal to his friends as he is vengeful to his enemies. He’s also razor-smart, disarmingly charming, ridiculously competitive and a brilliant businessman. So I’ve been less surprised than most by his success so far in the US presidential race.

Yes, he’s divisive, polarising, controversial and occasionally downright offensive. Yet many Americans of all ages, colours and creeds absolutely love him, as I’ve witnessed at first hand when we’ve walked the streets of New York together. Trump, to them, is the walking, talking, preening, cocky, chest-thumping embodiment of the American dream – a billionaire who by his own “humble” admission has spent his entire life living up to the title of his bestselling book Think Big and Kick Ass.

Beneath all the inflammatory bluster, though, he’s a skilled dealmaker trying to close the two biggest deals of his life: first, the Republican nomination, which he’s all but wrapped up. Second, the presidency itself. Love him or loathe him, the way Trump has destroyed all his rivals in this race so far is remarkable and has shaken both the Washington elite and the Republican Party to their very foundations. I imagine it’s also keeping Hillary Clinton up at night, as she tries to figure out how on earth to stop him.

Trumping his rivals

When I met Trump in New York recently, he was relaxed, focused and chillingly confident. He doesn’t just think he’s going to win, he has an absolutely unshakeable conviction that he will. It’s that extraordinary self-belief, fuelled by his hugely popular campaign pledge to “Make America Great Again” that has propelled Trump from 200/1 rank outsider to a guy who may well pull off the political shock of all time come November.

I wouldn’t personally vote for him even if I could, not least because of his enthusiastic support for the NRA gun lobby. But it’s not hard to see why Trump’s straight-talking, no-nonsense style is so appealing to many Americans numbed by the professorial, lead-from-behind, “steady-as-we-go” Bar­ack Obama. And I believe that, like with all dealmakers, Trump’s bark will turn out to be a lot scarier than his bite. “See you at the White House,” he chuckled when we said goodbye. President Trump? Stranger things have happened. Just ask Jeremy Corbyn.

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Questions for Boris

If there’s one thing even more unnerving to a Briton than the words “President Donald Trump” it is surely “Prime Minister Boris Johnson”. Yet we are now just three weeks away from perhaps having to consider that unthinkable scenario, too.

One of my more enlightening hobbies is to go back over old interviews I’ve conducted with major public figures to see what they said before they really hit the big time and then clam up. In June 2007, Boris was still a lowly MP, David Cameron was leader of the opposition, and this magazine’s guest editor was running the country.

“Do you think you could be prime minister one day?” I asked Boris during a prescient interview that month for GQ. “I think it’s highly unlikely,” he smirked. “That’s bollocks,” I replied. “You do think you can be, don’t you? Is there any reason why you shouldn’t be?” He obfuscated. “What, biological? Intellectual? Moral? Aesthetic?”

I pressed. “Do you think this country would ever elect a buffoon as prime minister?” Boris smirked again. “Have I over-buffooned it? Hmmmm. I think it’s very difficult to be both, I agree. Mind you, there have been quite a few prime ministers who’ve done a pretty good job of it! Roy Jenkins says in his Churchill biography that many great men have an element of comicality about them.”

As for his political motivation, Boris displayed due shameless comicality: “Disraeli was once asked why people went to the House of Commons,” he opined, “and he said, ‘We do it for fame.’ And Achilles said that fame or the desire to be known is not, in itself, necessarily disreputable. He said he was doing it all for the glory of song and immortality.” Yet there is one thing even Boris won’t sacrifice in his fame-hungry charge for immortal power. “You can be prime minister but you have to give up sex. Would you take the deal?” I asked. He looked absolutely horrified. “NO!”

Come off it

On the subject of unlikely victories, can England win the Euros? No. There’s more chance of me becoming archbishop of Canterbury. Germany or France will win it. By all means go along with the usual ­overinflated and illogical hype that the trophy’s “coming home”. Just remember that no international football trophy has actually “come home” since 1966 – when I was 15 months old.

No one knows

Am I “In”, “Out” or “Shake It All About”? Unfortunately, because of my Good Morning Britain “news” presenter status, I can’t tell you until after 23 June. Not that I have great form in this arena. As Daily Mirror editor, I campaigned for Britain to join the euro, believing it would be a disaster if we didn’t. I came to this belief after lobbying from some of the country’s finest financial and political minds. They were all wrong. So I’d view any “certainties” about this EU debate with great scepticism. Nobody really knows.

Au revoir, les journaux

Finally, speaking of France . . . its industrial strikes meant I couldn’t get my usual UK newspapers while holidaying over there. So I read them all online instead and found the experience just as rewarding. I give print versions of papers 15 years, max. 

Piers Morgan writes a weekly diary for the Mail on Sunday’s Event magazine

This article appears in the 07 Jun 2016 issue of the New Statesman, A special issue on Britain in Europe