The Path to the White House

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Donald Trump has been making a splash in Washington, D.C., for years. Sometimes a yuuge splash.
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In the fall of 1998, Trump and several of his family members attended a Larry King Cardiac Foundation gala at the Four Seasons, right here in Georgetown. It was indeed a remarkable scene: a $1,000-a-plate dinner with 380 guests — and now, in hindsight, powerfully prophetic.

Trump was at the gala to receive the Larry King Heart Award. The Georgetowner’s headline for the story that ran the following week on the paper’s social scene pages was: “Larry King, the Donald and a Couple of Hundred Friends.”

King was front and center, but it was Trump who got the most attention. At his table were his future wife, Melania, and his mother, Mary Anne, along with his two sisters and brother.

Celine Dion sang four songs, including, appropriately, “My Heart Will Go On.” Among the minglers were Hammer, Helen Gurley Brown, the Canadian ambassador, NBA star Grant Hill, Robert Altman (the attorney and businessman, not the film director) and Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter. Compliments and congratulations were in ample supply that happy November night.
The event received big play in the Washington Post, which pointed out that “Larry and The Donald also have been buddies for years” and that “Donald is a big fan of Celine, who has sung at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago a couple of times.” King was quoted on “The Donald,” saying: “Ego? I’m not in his league! By his standard, I have none at all.”

Writer Roxanne Roberts observed: “Say what you will about The Donald, the man has charisma. And all his hair. Trump was the most popular photo-op at the party.”

The evening’s kicker was the parody CNN newscast. On video, Wolf Blitzer announced that Trump had purchased Washington, D.C., which would be renamed “Washington, D.T.” Under the new ownership, the White House was to become a club and casino and a revolving restaurant would be added atop the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

The mock graphics depicted it all on screen, but now who’s laughing?

At the event, The Georgetowner asked the big-time New York developer an obvious question: Was he interested in any Washington real estate at the moment? Looking a touch haughty, Trump replied that it would have to be a big project, a major project. There was nothing in D.C. to interest him at the moment.

That disinterest dissolved three years ago, when the Trump Organization won the rights to lease and renovate the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Trump International Hotel opened last October, less than three blocks from the White House.

In between the King Foundation gala and the hotel project, there was another key moment in Trump’s path to the presidency: the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on April 30, 2011 (the night the president ordered the covert operation that killed Osama bin Laden). At the dinner, President Obama and comedian Seth Meyers made fun of Trump as one of the leaders of the “birther” movement.

Some say it was those jokes and jabs by Obama and Meyers that got Trump so steamed he decided to focus his energies and resources on winning the presidency.

The president-elect disagrees. “It’s such a false narrative,” Trump told the Washington Post’s Roberts in April of last year (the Post had invited him to the 2011 dinner). “I had a phenomenal time. I had a great evening. … The president was making jokes about me. … I was so honored. I was actually so honored. And honestly, he delivered them well.” But as for Meyers: “I didn’t like his routine. His was too nasty, out of order.”

So, the decision to run wasn’t ignited that night — or was it?

Either way, Trump has been coming to Washington, D.C., for many a moon. Now, in about a week, the 45th president will be settling into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, with a full cast of characters — some for him, some against, old D.C. hands and newcomers alike — in his wake.

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