Washington: The truth is that Donald Trump can't help himself. The mouth opens and the words that pour out may or may not be relevant to the question asked; or he'll lash out, with no regard for the mood of the moment.
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When Ben Carson, another insurgent candidate for the Republican nomination, bombed out early in March he endorsed Trump and told Americans that they had nothing to worry about because the front runner in the race had two sides – there was Trump's combative campaign persona; but, Carson assured them, the brash New Yorker could be "very cerebral" in private.
However, the events of the last week have left some gaping.
The headline news was about terrorism and the Belgian bombings. But Trump was back in the gutter, slinging insults at his nearest rival for the nomination, Texas senator Ted Cruz – demeaning Cruz's wife Heidi; threatening to "spill the beans" on her; and retweeting a Twitter post, in which a Trump supporter juxtaposed an unflattering photo of Ms Cruz with an air-brushed image of Trump's ex-model wife Melania, captioned: "No need to 'spill the beans' – the images are worth a thousand words."
The manner in which Trump speaks, makes it difficult to be precise about what might be called a policy platform – sometimes he makes an outlandish statement, but Trump will quietly circle back in subsequent days, to retract or qualify that initial comment.
But in the verbal deluge, themes emerge.
To the extent that Trump means what he says, his candidacy is a marked departure from Republican orthodoxy – NATO is overrated; there's little value in the US military commitments in the Asia-Pacific region; he'll protect Social Security and Medicare; he'll crackdown on tax breaks for Wall Street hedge fund managers; and he defends Planned Parenthood.
And – sacrilege – there was this gem in one of the early Republican debates: "Obviously the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake, all right? George Bush made a mistake. We can [all] make mistakes. But that one was a beauty. They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction – there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction."
But who gets to see or hear Trump's "very cerebral" side?
While visiting Washington on Monday, the candidate sat for an hour-long talk with the editorial board of The Washington Post, a group of writers and thinkers who might reasonably have expected a more considered performance than that dished out by Trump in televised debates or at his rallies. No such luck.
Instead, they met a candidate who, despite the criticism and ridicule he heaps on his Republican opponents and despite the rough and tumble of American public life, is aggrieved that anyone might criticise him; and who genuinely seems to fret about what anyone might think about the size of his hands … and his appendage.
And as the meeting broke up, Trump thought it appropriate to say to one of the women present: "I hope I answered your question, beautiful."
We are indebted to The Washington Post for seeking Trump's agreement that the meeting be recorded and a transcript published. It reveals that this was not an ambush to which the Post team came with "gotcha" questions.
The transcript is 25 pages – much of it excruciating; a lot of it is incoherent, revealing what Post columnist Eugene Robinson later described as Trump's "breathtaking ignorance of government policy – both foreign and domestic".
The pure flavour of this man who would be president can be gleaned only by quoting this document at length.
Asked if he would like to make an opening comment, Trump skips any weighty matters of state. Instead, he wants to make known just how miffed he is by the Post's coverage of his candidacy, which he thinks is grossly unfair because he is developing a nearby building.
"I've been treated very, very badly by The Washington Post, but, you know, I guess — and I'm your neighbour, I'm your neighbour right down the road, in fact we're actually giving a press conference there in a little while, I think your people are going to be there." And later he circles back: "I've had stories written about me – by your newspaper and by others – that are so false, that are written with such hatred – I'm not a bad person."
Trump reveals his personal insecurity: "I went to a great school, I was a good student and all. I am an intelligent person. My uncle, I would say my uncle was one of the brilliant people. He was at MIT for 35 years. As a great scientist and engineer, actually more than anything else. Dr John Trump, a great guy. I'm an intelligent person. I understand what is going on."
Trump runs the Post team in circles on a simple question about the burning issue of African-Americans and the law – "do you see any racial disparity in law enforcement?" – before seeming to say that he didn't know, and if there was a disparity it was the fault of the Mexicans and the Chinese.
Here's his answer: "I've read where there are and I've read where there aren't. I've read both. And you know, I have no opinion on that. Because frankly, what I'm saying is you know we have to create incentives for people to go back and to reinvigorate the areas and to put people to work. And you know we have lost million and millions of jobs to China and other countries. And they've been taken out of this country, and when I say millions, you know it's, it's tremendous. I've seen 5 million jobs, I've seen numbers that range from 6 million to, to smaller numbers. But it's many millions of jobs, and it's to countries all over. Mexico is really becoming the new China. And I have great issue with that."
On the Iran nuclear deal, he is horrified that on agreeing to lift sanctions against Tehran, Washington released back to Iran funds that had been frozen in Western accounts – but what upset him most, it seems, was that in spending the money, Tehran went to non-American suppliers.
He says: "I think giving the money back was a terrible mistake. And by the way they are not using the money on us, they are not buying anything from us, they're buying, you noticed, they didn't buy Boeing, they bought Airbus, 118 planes from what I understand, but they bought them all from Airbus, they go out of their way not to spend any money in our country. So I wouldn't have done that."
For all Trump's complaints about libel laws and how unfairly he is dealt with by the media, he seems clueless about the very significant body of law attaching to the freedom of speech that is embodied in the First Amendment. Given that he was visiting a newspaper's editorial board, he might have been expected to be ready to defend his position.
But asked to explain how he would "loosen up" the laws, he replies: "I'd have to get my lawyer to tell you, but I would loosen them up. I want to make it more fair from the side where I am, because things are said that are libellous, things are said about me that are so egregious and so wrong, and right now according to the libel laws I can do almost nothing about it because I'm a well-known person you know, etc, etc."
On Iraq and the so-called Islamic State, Trump is all over the shop. Asked about his debate proposal to send 20,000 or 30,000 troops, he backs off – "No I didn't, oh no no no, OK, I know what you're saying … I said, well the generals are saying you'd need because they, what would it take to wipe out ISIS, I said pretty much exactly this, I said the generals, the military is saying you would need 20- to 30,000 troops, but I didn't say that I would send them."
Asked about China and the South China Sea, Trump loops back to the Middle East: "We should have never been in Iraq. It was a horr- it was one of the worst decisions ever made in the history of our country. We then got out badly, then after we got out, I said, 'Keep the oil. If we don't keep it Iran's going to get it.' And it turns out Iran and ISIS basically—
The Post: How do you keep it without troops, how do you defend the oil?
Trump: You would … You would, well for that – for that, I would circle it. I would defend those areas.
The Post: With US troops?
Trump: Yeah, I would defend the areas with the oil. And I would have taken out a lot of oil. And, uh, I would have kept it. I mean, I would have kept it, because, look: Iran has the oil, and they're going to have the oil, well, the stuff they don't have, because Iran is taking over Iraq as sure as you're sitting there. And I've been very good on this stuff. My prognostications, my predictions have become, have been very accurate, if you look."
Trump also makes clear that he keeps scores – and he wants to settle them.
He was asked about a wealthy Chicago family, the Ricketts, who own the Chicago Cubs baseball team and who have helped anti-Trump advertising campaigns – which prompted Trump to publicly warn the family: "They better watch out. They have a lot to hide."
Asked what the family should watch out for, Trump replies: "Look, they are spending vicious ... I don't even know these people. Those Ricketts. I actually said they ought to focus on the Chicago Cubs and, you know, stop playing around. They spent millions of dollars fighting me in Florida. And out of 68 counties, I won 66. I won by 20 points, almost 20 points. Against, everybody thought he was a popular sitting senator. I had $38 million dollars spent on me in Florida over a short period of time. $38 million. And, you know, the Ricketts, I don't even know these people.
The Post: So, what does it mean, "They better watch out"?
Trump: "Well, it means that I'll start spending on them. I'll start taking ads telling them all what a rotten job they're doing with the Chicago Cubs. I mean, they are spending on me. I mean, so am I allowed to say that? I'll start doing ads about their baseball team. That it's not properly run or that they haven't done a good job in the brokerage business lately."
Trump spends a lot of time blaming failed candidate Marco Rubio for the row over the size of his hands and his manhood. And pressed to explain why he had even bothered to engage Rubio, he claims he had no choice.
And in addressing columnist Ruth Marcus, Trump goes to excruciating lengths to reveal just how personally he took the Rubio gibe: "I don't want people to go around thinking that I have a problem.
"I'm telling you, Ruth, I had so many people. I would say 25, 30 people would tell me … every time I'd shake people's hand, 'Oh, you have nice hands.' Why shouldn't I? And, by the way, by saying that I solved the problem. Nobody questions … I even held up my hands, and said, 'Look, take a look at that hand.'
Marcus: You told us in the debate that you guaranteed there was not another problem. Was that presidential? And why did you decide to do that?
Trump: I don't know if it was presidential, honestly, whether it is or not. He said, 'Donald Trump has small hands and therefore he has small something else.' I didn't say that. And all I did is when he failed, when he was failing, when he was, when Christie made him look bad, I gave him the – a little recap and I said, and I said, and I had this big strong powerful hand ready to grab him, because I thought he was going to faint. And everybody took it fine. Whether it was presidential or not I can't tell you. I can just say that what he said was a lie. And everybody, they wanted to do stories on my hands; after I said that, they never did. And then I held up the hand, I showed people the hand. You know, when I've got a big audience. So yeah, I think it's not a question of presidential."
The next day, when The New York Times reported on Trump's visit to Washington, the headline read: Donald Trump pushes serious image in the capital.