Trump and his women: Tales of power and paradox

Mr Trump speaking with the 2013 Miss USA delegates. The New York Times' interviews with dozens of women who worked for or interacted with the billionaire over the past four decades showed an unmistakable dynamic at play: Mr Trump had the power, and t
Mr Trump speaking with the 2013 Miss USA delegates. The New York Times' interviews with dozens of women who worked for or interacted with the billionaire over the past four decades showed an unmistakable dynamic at play: Mr Trump had the power, and the women did not.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Ms Brewer Lane, who dated Mr Trump in the 1990s when she worked as a model (left), recalls him asking her to don a swimsuit and then being showed off by the pool at Mar-a-Lago as a "Trump girl". Ms Alicia Machado (right), who won the 1996 Miss Univer
Ms Brewer Lane, who dated Mr Trump in the 1990s when she worked as a model, recalls him asking her to don a swimsuit and then being showed off by the pool at Mar-a-Lago as a "Trump girl".PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
Mr Trump speaking with the 2013 Miss USA delegates. The New York Times' interviews with dozens of women who worked for or interacted with the billionaire over the past four decades showed an unmistakable dynamic at play: Mr Trump had the power, and t
Ms Alicia Machado, who won the 1996 Miss Universe title, says he publicly shamed her for gaining weight. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Women's accounts of how he treated them paint a complex and contradictory picture

NEW YORK • Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had barely met Ms Rowanne Brewer Lane when he asked her to change out of her clothes.

"Donald was having a pool party at Mar-a-Lago. There were about 50 models and 30 men. There were girls in the pools, splashing around. For some reason, Donald seemed a little smitten with me," recalled Ms Brewer Lane, who at that time was a 26-year-old model. She changed into a bikini as Mr Trump had asked.

Mr Trump, then 44 and in the midst of his first divorce, decided to show her off to the crowd at Mar-a-Lago, his estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

"He brought me out to the pool and said, 'That is a stunning Trump girl, isn't it?' " Ms Brewer Lane said.

Mr Trump and women: The words evoke a familiar cascade of casual insults by the real estate mogul, hurled from the safe distance of a Twitter account, a radio show or a campaign podium.

But the 1990 episode at Mar-a-Lago that Ms Brewer Lane described was different: a debasing face-to- face encounter between Mr Trump and a young woman he hardly knew. This is the private treatment of some women by Mr Trump, the up-close and more intimate encounters.

The New York Times interviewed dozens of women who had worked with or for Mr Trump over the past four decades and women who had dated him or interacted with him socially. In all, more than 50 interviews were conducted. Their accounts reveal unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women, and unsettling workplace conduct, according to the interviews, as well as court records and written recollections.

What emerges from the interviews is a complex, at times contradictory, portrait of a provocative man and the women around him, one that defies simple categorisation. Pressed on the women's claims, Mr Trump disputed many of the details, such as asking Ms Brewer Lane to put on a swimsuit. "A lot of things get made up over the years," he said. "I have always treated women with great respect. And women will tell you that."

But in many cases there was an unmistakable dynamic at play: Mr Trump had the power, and the women did not.

THE COMPANY OF WOMEN

With his purchase of the Miss Universe Organisation, Mr Trump was in the business of young, beautiful women.

Ms Temple Taggart, the 21-year-old Miss Utah, was startled by how forward he was with young contestants like her in 1997. As she recalls it, he introduced himself in an unusually intimate manner - by kissing her directly on the lips.

Mr Trump was married to Ms Marla Maples at the time and Ms Taggart didn't think it was appropriate to "kiss on the mouth".

Mr Trump disputes this, saying he is reluctant to kiss strangers on the lips.

His level of involvement in the pageants was unexpected. Ms Carrie Prejean, who was 21 when she participated in the Miss USA contest in 2009 as Miss California, was surprised to find Mr Trump personally evaluating the women at rehearsal. "We were told to put on our opening number outfits - they were nearly as revealing as our swimsuits - and line up for him on stage," she wrote in her memoir, Still Standing.

Inside the Trump Organisation, the company that manages his various businesses, Mr Trump occasionally interrupted routine discussions of business to opine on women's figures.

Ms Barbara A. Res, Mr Trump's former head of construction, recalled her boss saying to her "You like your candy" after she had gained a significant amount of weight.

WOMEN AS TRUSTED COLLEAGUES

To build his business, Mr Trump turned to women for a simple reason: They worked hard - often harder than men, he told them.

When Trump hired Ms Res to oversee the construction of Trump Tower, he invited her to his apartment on Fifth Avenue and explained that he wanted her to be his "Donna Trump" on the project, she said. Few women had reached such stature in the industry.

"He said, 'I know you're a woman in a man's world. And while men tend to be better than women, a good woman is better than 10 good men,'" Ms Res said. "He thought he was really complimenting me."

In a rough-and-tumble industry thoroughly dominated by men, Mr Trump's office stood out for its diversity, recalled architect Alan Lapidus who designed the Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City.

"For any company to hire a woman as chief of construction was actually startling. I don't know of a single other developer who had a woman in that position," Mr Lapidus said.

No single figure better encapsulated the paradoxes of Mr Trump's treatment of women in the workplace than his first wife, Ms Ivana Zelnickova.

He entrusted her with major pieces of a corporate empire and gave her the titles to match. She was the president of Trump's Castle, a major casino in Atlantic City, and the Plaza Hotel, the storied complex on Central Park South in Manhattan.

"She ran that hotel," Ms Res said. "And she ran it well." But he compensated her as a spouse, not a high-level employee, paying her an annual salary of US$1 (S$1.37), according to her tax documents.

He grew to resent her outsize role. By the end of their marriage, Mr Trump wrote in his 1997 book, The Art Of The Comeback, he regretted having allowed her to run his businesses.

Mr Trump says the world misunderstands his relationship with women. He sees himself as a promoter of women - a man whose business deals have given them untold opportunities for employment and advancement. "Hundreds and hundreds of women, thousands of women, are the better for it," he said.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Trump and his women: Tales of power and paradox'. Print Edition | Subscribe