In an interview with Donald Trump on Monday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer hit Newt Gingrich for pointing out that poor inner city children lack role models: "He made some controversial comments recently about the poor and jobs....Maureen Dowd in the Times on Sunday said, 'Has he not heard of the working poor?'"
Lauer turned to Trump and fretted: "Did Newt Gingrich unfairly characterize what's happening in poor communities across this country?" Trump replied: "No, it wasn't maybe politically correct but it happens to be the truth....[Gingrich] is looking at the inner city, where Obama has done nothing..." Lauer pressed: "But do children in those inner city areas really have no role models who work?"
In response to that, Trump argued: "Well, I think you have a role model in President Obama. Let Obama be the role model....Unfortunately, he hasn't turned out – it hasn't turned out to be much of a role model."
Lauer questioned: "In their own families, though?" Trump reiterated: "No, they don't have, in many cases, role models, Matt, it's very sad. They do not have role models. So I know it's not a popular statement, but it happens to be true."
Moments later, while asking about Mitt Romney, Lauer quoted from Trump's new book, "Time to Get Tough": "Smart people learn things, so they change their minds. Only stupid people never change their minds." Lauer took that observation and wondered: "So is it more important to you that you have a candidate who can beat Barack Obama or someone who sticks to conservative principles?" Trump dismantled the premise: "Well, I actually think it's going to be a combination of both."
Here is a full transcript of the December 5 interview:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: Newt rising. Newt Gingrich surges to the top of the GOP field in Iowa and is set to meet with power broker Donald Trump today, as Trump takes heat for his plan to moderate a Republican debate. This morning, the Donald answers his critics in an exclusive live interview.
7:01AM ET TEASE:
ANN CURRY: I came back to some breaking news over the weekend, in fact a lot of breaking news, because now with less than a month to go before the first votes in the Republican presidential primary season, take a look a this, there's a new NBC News/Marist poll released just on Sunday and it shows that Newt Gingrich is leading in Iowa and his lead is very likely to continue to grow when you factor in voters who were supporting Herman Cain before he suspended his campaign over the weekend, Matt.
MATT LAUER: But we understand today Gingrich will meet with Donald Trump, who's become a big voice in this Republican race and the man who may still be flirting with a run of his own. So far, Gingrich is the only candidate to sign up for Trump's debate in Iowa that's coming up on December 27th. Two candidates have already said no way. The event is being blasted by conservative critics. We're going to talk about that and much more with Donald Trump when he joins us live in just a couple of minutes.
7:05AM ET SEGMENT:
MATT LAUER: Donald Trump is our next guest, he joins us exclusively. He's out with a new book called, "Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again." Donald, it's good to see you, good morning.
DONALD TRUMP: Good morning, Matt. And tell Chuck Todd it will only help.
LAUER: Alright, well let's see. Let's talk about this debate, though, first. You've said you were going to host this debate December 27th for Newsmax. You heard George Will say "No, these people should say away from this." Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman have already said they won't be there. Ron Paul says, "It's beneath the office of the presidency." He went on to say it contributes to a, quote, "unwanted circus-like atmosphere" and people surrounding Jon Huntsman called this, "The presidential 'Apprentice' debate with the Donald." Do you think other candidates are going to stay away?
TRUMP: No, I don't. I think most candidates are going to join and I think those two candidates have zero chance of being elected so it makes no difference. But Ron Paul, as an example, says you know, Iran should have nuclear weapons or can have nuclear weapons and doesn't even think in terms of Israel. So I think that they are joke candidates and they're doing very poorly. And certainly Mr. Huntsman is doing extremely poorly in the polls, at 1%, and frankly it gives more air time to people that really have a chance of getting elected.
LAUER: Newt Gingrich has said he'll be there, do you think the other candidates might agree, Donald, simply because you have them exactly where you want them? A lot of these people have stopped by your office looking for your approval or your support. That would be a wasted effort if they then snub you and don't show up at your debate.
TRUMP: Well, a lot of the Republicans – top Republicans – asked me to do the debate. I think it'll get tremendous ratings. We're doing it with Newsmax, which is a very powerful organization. And frankly, I have a lot of people, millions of people that follow me because they're tired of seeing this country, our great country, the United States, getting ripped off by China, by OPEC, by almost every country, Matt, that does business with us. And you know, I'm tired of it and a lot of other people are tired of it and I think the candidates know. I mean, I left – when I left because of the equal time provisions, I'm not allowed to have a show and run – when I left, I was leading in the polls, if you look at your Meet the Press polls.
LAUER: But let me just – I've known you for a long time. Let me just tie this up by asking you this, this isn't going to be all about Donald Trump? You're not going to use this as a way to get on center stage and talk about what you believe, this will truly be about the candidates, right?
TRUMP: I want a great candidate, a candidate that is going to beat President Obama. It's very important. It's vital for this country. If we don't get that candidate, we are in big, big trouble because the country is in big, big trouble. It's being led down the drain.
LAUER: Right. Let's talk about Newt Gingrich surging to the top of the polls in Iowa. You're going to meet with him a little later today. As I already mentioned, he's agreed to show up at your debate. He made some controversial comments recently about the poor and jobs. I'll play them for you and get your reaction.
NEWT GINGRICH: Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of, 'I do this and you give me cash,' unless it's illegal.
LAUER: Maureen Dowd in the Times on Sunday said, "Has he not heard of the working poor? The problem isn't that these kids aren't working; it's that they don't have time with their parents who often toll day and night at more than one job, and earn next to nothing." So Donald, did Newt Gingrich unfairly characterize what's happening in poor communities across this country?
TRUMP: No, it wasn't maybe politically correct but it happens to be the truth. And I think one of the reasons he's surging, I mean he's like a rocket ship, is because of the fact that he says it like it is. I mean, I like Maureen Dowd very much, but in terms of what Newt said, that's the way it is. I mean, he really is looking at the inner city, where Obama has done nothing, he has done nothing for the inner cities and he wants to do something, whether it's incentives or whatever, to get them going.
LAUER: But do children in those – But do children in those inner city areas really have no role models who work?
TRUMP: Well, I think you have a role model in President Obama. Let Obama be the role model.
LAUER: In their own families, though?
TRUMP: Unfortunately, he hasn't turned out – it hasn't turned out to be much of a role model. No, they don't have, in many cases, role models, Matt, it's very sad. They do not have role models. So I know it's not a popular statement, but it happens to be true.
LAUER: Let's talk about Mitt Romney. Obviously he's someone who has had a difficult time breaking through in the polls. He's going to be on the cover of Time magazine this week and it says basically something to the effect of "Why Don't People Like Me?" What is it with Mitt Romney? Why has he had a difficult time either getting to or maintaining frontrunner status?
TRUMP: Well, I'm actually a little surprised. He's a very attractive guy. I've gotten to know him very well. He's been up to the office a number of times. And he really is a very good, solid person and he doesn't get traction. And I've actually spoken to him about it. I don't understand it. He's not getting traction.
LAUER: Does he have a problem with flip-flopping?
TRUMP: When Herman goes out – well, I don't think so. Look, everybody changes their mind. We have, you have, I know for a fact you have over the years. We all change our minds on things. I don't see it, I think people have done a good job in saying that, but for some reason he doesn't get the traction. When Herman goes out, and Herman I got to know very well, and he's a good guy, but he's suffered greatly over the last few weeks. When Herman, now you take those votes and divvy them up, in theory he should get a lot of those votes but he just doesn't seem to get traction. I don't know what it is.
LAUER: On the subject of flip-flopping, you write this in your book, "Over a lifetime I've seen many people who don't change and they're always get left behind. Smart people learn things, so they change their minds. Only stupid people never change their minds." So is it more important to you that you have a candidate who can beat Barack Obama or someone who sticks to conservative principles?
TRUMP: Well, I actually think it's going to be a combination of both. I think you're really going to have a combination of both. But you do have to – you know, the fighters, you learn a lot from boxing. And they have an expression, you have to go with the punches. You sort of have to go with the punches. And it's true. Life changes, the world changes, things and events change. Sometimes you change your mind. And if you don't change your mind, you're stuck.
LAUER: You are someone who's changed your mind as well and you're right, I have as well. Are you – have you completely ruled out a run for president, even as a third party candidate?
TRUMP: Well, as you know, and again the equal time professions don't allow me to run until May, when I'm a free agent. And you happen to like because I have a very successful show on your network. I hope that's the reason you like me, anyway. But the fact is that if the wrong candidate is nominated to run, if I think it's a candidate that's not going to win and not very good and that could happen, I guess, I mean, I'm seeing some very good people and some very talented people and if the economy continues to be bad and I think it will because I think we have incompetent leadership, I would certainly think about running as a independent, yes.
LAUER: But you've flirted with this a lot of times in the past. I was in your office in 1999 when you talked about this.
TRUMP: No, I flirted with it once. No, that's wrong, Matt. People say that-
LAUER: But do people have – but do people have a right to say at some point, 'You talk the talk, roll up your sleeves and walk the walk'?
TRUMP: Absolutely. But I never really looked at it seriously until this year. People thought that I looked at it years ago because people wanted me to do it, twice. I looked at it once for a period of one week. I love what I'm doing, I love the real estate. In fact, in my book which comes out today, I actually disclose the financial disclosure. I give it, and it tells my net worth, it tells how much cash I have.
LAUER: $7 billion.
TRUMP: $7 billion and almost $300 million in cash. And nobody ever knew that before. I've never disclosed it before. But frankly I did it because I'm very proud of what I've been able to build. I built a great company and I'm proud of it.
LAUER: Donald Trump, good to have you with us, Donald, thanks for your time this morning.
TRUMP: Thank you, Matt.
ANN CURRY: Intense interview.