By Lee Barnathan
Anyone following the Republican presidential campaign has heard the things Donald Trump has said: that he would build a border fence and make Mexico pay for it, that John McCain wasn’t a war hero, that he would ban Muslims from entering the country, that Libya was better off with Muammar Gaddafi in charge, and that Carly Fiorina has a face nobody would vote for.
Mike van der Goes knows different, having worked for Trump for three years.
“What he stated is not who he is,” van der Goes said this week in his office at TPC Valencia, where he’s general manager. “People will take statements and totally turn it backwards. … He’s not a racist. He’s not a bigot. … He’s a true patriot. He loves his country. He thinks it’s the best in the world. He truly believes this country should be run as a successful business.”
As an example, van der Goes cites Trump’s comments about building the border fence.
“He got a bad rap when he said he wanted to build a wall,” he said. “He’d like people to follow the process and proper procedure. He’s not against immigration. Just follow the rules.”
Van de Goes was working as a golf pro at Ocean Trails Golf Course in Palos Verdes when The Donald bought the course from the bank. Renaming it Trump National, he sought to bring a professional tournament there and succeeded, hosting the final LPGA Office Depot Championship in 2005. He also wanted to make his course on par with Pebble Beach and other public courses, and van der Goes said Trump succeeded there, too.
Van der Goes found Trump to be serious, competitive, knowledgeable and businesslike, with an energetic sense of humor, “an astute businessman and a marketing genius,” he said. “Never beats around the bush.”
Trump came in looking for a new GM. He asked van der Goes who would be best suited.
“At the time, I thought it was a weighted question,” he said, “and if I didn’t say ‘me,’ he might think I don’t want it.”
But Trump wanted to give him the job; there was just one problem. The winner of the first season of “The Apprentice” had a choice of taking a management position with either the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago or Trump National Golf Course. The winner, Bill Rancic, chose Chicago.
As GM, van der Goes dealt with Trump by telephone two to three times a week and saw the man monthly.
“It can be stressful because of who he is,” he said, “but it was extremely enlightening to see how he marketed his brand, how he marketed his name and how he turned it into a profitable journey.”
Van der Goes left on good terms in 2008 to come to TPC Valencia and has had no contact with Trump since, so he has watched the campaign from a distance. He said he thinks Trump says what many people think privately. As a registered Republican, he said he plans to vote for Trump in the June 7 California Primary. The problem for Trump, as he sees it, is that a candidate isn’t nominated and a president isn’t elected by popular vote. If it was, he’s convinced Trump would be the 45th President of the United States.
“Is what he says not politically correct? Yes, I would say so,” he said. “Politicians may not be able to take that position.”