In mid-October 2015, a claim began appearing online holding that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had supposedly proclaimed “Republicans are the dumbest group of voters” during a 1998 interview with People magazine:
Despite People‘s comprehensive online content archive, we found no interview or profile on Donald Trump in 1998 (or any other time) that quoted his saying anything that even vaguely resembled the statement “Republicans are the dumbest group of voters.” Trump appeared somewhat regularly in the magazine’s pages before he came to star on The Apprentice, but the bulk of the magazine’s celebrity-driven coverage of him back then centered on his marriages to, and divorces from, Ivana Trump and Marla Maples.
Trump’s political endeavors (or the absence of them) did rate some space on the magazine’s pages, though. For example, a December 1987 profile titled “Too Darn Rich” chronicled Trump’s later claims that he had been courted by both Democrats and Republicans:
House Speaker Jim Wright led a delegation to Trump’s office asking him to chair a major fund-raising event for the Democratic Party. Trump is a Republican but gave the invitation serious consideration before bowing to pressure from GOP friends and turning down his Democratic suitors. Beryl Anthony Jr., the Arkansas Congressman who came up with the approach to Trump, was disappointed. “There’s no question he was getting a lot of pressure from the Republicans,” Anthony told a reporter. “It would have given him the opportunity to see if his temperament is sufficient, if he could stand the scrutiny.”
In 1988, Trump launched into an impassioned political diatribe on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show, but he concluded by saying he “probably” wouldn’t [ever] run for office, not that “Republicans are the dumbest group of voters.” In 1998 (the year the quote in question purportedly appeared in People), Trump’s political involvement was somewhat differently oriented:
“My information is that Donald Trump has raised in the ballpark of $1 million for the Bush campaign and the Republican Party,” said Sen. Steven Geller, president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States.
“I have heard from too many sources, including Republican lobbyists, that although Mr. Bush is denying it, the deal [to allow Indian casinos in Florida) has been cut,” Geller said.
By October 1999, Trump had become more serious about dipping his toe in the political waters. Announcing on CNN’s Larry King Live that he was forming an exploratory committee with the intention of running for president, Trump said:
I’m a registered Republican. I’m a pretty conservative guy. I’m somewhat liberal on social issues, especially health care, et cetera, but I’d be leaving another party, and I’ve been close to that party … I think that nobody is really hitting it right. The Democrats are too far left. I mean, Bill Bradley, this is seriously left; he’s trying to come a little more center, but he’s seriously left. The Republicans are too far right. And I don’t think anybody’s hitting the chord, not the chord that I want hear, and not the chord that other people want to hear, and I’ve seen it.
It’s unlikely Trump would have proclaimed that “Republicans are the dumbest group of voters” at the same time he was announcing he was himself a registered Republicans.
At around the same time in October 1998, Trump ran through his then-current political positions with NBC‘s Stone Phillips:
Mr. TRUMP: I’d like to see major tax cuts.
PHILLIPS: Along the line, for what the Republicans are talking about eight hundred billion or so? Would you go that far?
Mr. TRUMP: Along the lines of that number, yes, approximately at that number, and could even be more.
PHILLIPS: Health care?
Mr. TRUMP: [I’m] liberal on health care, we have to take care of people that are sick.
PHILLIPS: Universal health coverage?
Mr. TRUMP: I like universal, we have to take care, there’s nothing else. What’s the country all about if we’re not going to take care of our sick?
Mr. TRUMP: I hate the concept of abortion. I hate anything about abortion, and yet, I’m totally for choice. I think you have no alternative.
PHILLIPS: Gun control? Where do you stand on that?
Mr. TRUMP: If you could tell me that the bad guys, the criminals, wouldn’t have guns, I’d be a hundred percent for gun control. But the fact is, if you have gun control, the only people that are going to obey the laws, are going to be the good guys. So the bad guys are going to have the guns, the good guys aren’t going to have the guns, and what good does that do us? So, I’m not in favor of it.
Notable about the apparently spurious “Republicans are the dumbest group of voters” Trump quote is its purported reference to Fox News in 1998. While the Fox News Channel was rolled out across major American news markets between 1996 and 2000 (and thus isn’t entirely chronologically out of place in a circa-1998 quote), the network wasn’t nearly as prominent or widely watched until the 2000 election of George W. Bush, the September 11th attacks in 2001, and the start of the Iraq War in 2003. Before that time, although Fox News was making its way into living rooms across the United States, it was not exceptionally well-known (or particularly regarded as a right-leaning outlet) in 1998.