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Reality TV to U.S. President: Donald Trump's Road to the White House

Donald Trump's self-promotion, ambition and risk-taking made him a real estate mogul, reality TV star, and now the U.S. President.


Donald Trump attends a launch ceremony with New York City Mayor Ed Koch, center, and New York Governor Hugh Carey pointing to an artist rendering for the Grand Hyatt hotel on June 28, 1978. 

One of Donald Trump's first big projects: Armed with guaranteed loans from his father and generous tax abatements, Trump transformed the defunct Commodore Hotel into a glimmering Grand Hyatt adjoining Grand Central Station that opened in 1980.

Fred Trump built his real estate business by dangling dreams of luxury living to the middle class and used tax breaks and subsidies to make his projects profitable, a strategy his son has embraced as well.

Donald Trump worked with his father even before he completed college and in no time leapfrogged his dad in the arts of both deal-making and self-promotion.

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Trump holds the bridle of a polo pony while talking to Andy Warhol on Nov. 4, 1983. Yale University polo player Eric Stever sits astride the horse.

Mario Suriani / AP
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New York real estate magnates Donald Trump and Steve Ross announce an agreement on Aug. 1, 1985 in New York, to merge the Houston Gamblers and the New Jersey Generals United States Football League teams.

The Generals have been largely forgotten, but Trump's ownership of the USFL team was formative in his evolution as a public figure and peerless self-publicist. With money and swagger, he led a shaky spring football league into an all-or-nothing showdown with the NFL, building an outsized reputation in the process.

Thirty years after the USFL's collapse, many who participated in league see Trump's presidential campaign as a replay of his football days. Some in lower perches in the league say Trump suckered the league into self-destruction by supporting his attempt to break into the clubby world of the NFL.

Before the USFL, "I was well known, but not really well known," Trump told The Associated Press. "After taxes, I would say I lost $3 million. And I got a billion dollars of free publicity."

Marty Lederhandler / AP
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Trump poses in front of one of three Sikorsky helicopters at a heliport on March 22, 1988.

Wilbur Funches / AP
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Trump meets New York Yankees manager Billy Martin, right, at Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach on March 26, 1988. Seated with Trump are his son Donald, 10, with a ball given him by Martin and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner during the game with the Montreal Expos.

Richard Drew / AP
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Trump shares a light moment with boxing promoter Don King and Vice President George H.W. Bush on April 12, 1988 at New York's Plaza Hotel during a fundraiser for Bush by Trump.

David Bookstaver / AP
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Trump and his wife, Ivana, pose outside the Federal Courthouse after she was sworn in as a United States citizen in May 1988. Ivana was born in the Czech Republic

There was plenty of turmoil when Trump's 1990 divorce from first wife, Ivana, played out like a tawdry serial in the New York tabloids and word of his affair with Marla Maples became public.

In 1992, Trump famously sued ex-wife Ivana for $25 million, claiming she violated the nondisclosure portion of the couple's divorce decree. The lawsuit stemmed in part from a romance novel authored by Ivana Trump called "For Love Alone," which Donald Trump claimed was based on the couple's marriage. Ivana Trump countersued over other parts of the divorce agreement, and in 1993, the two settled their differences.


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Trump, heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and his wife, Robin Givens, leave the New York State Supreme Court building on July 22, 1988, after an interim agreement with Tyson's manager Bill Clayton on the purse from the Tyson-Spinks bout. Trump has been advising the boxer.

Charles Wenzelberg / AP
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Trump poses with Miss America pageant contestants onboard his yacht in Atlantic City, N.J. on Sept. 4, 1988.

Trump owned the Miss Universe and Miss USA beauty pageants from 1996 until 2015, which he sold after his comments on Mexican immigrants led to a dispute with television networks.


Jack Kanthal / AP
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Trump and Rep. Charles Rangle cut a ribbon during the ceremonies marking the Trump Shuttle's inaugural flight at Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. on June 8, 1989.

Trump Airlines was Trump's attempt to make money by offering a luxury shuttle service to Washington and Boston from New York City. 

Back in 1989, Trump pounced at the chance to buy the troubled Eastern Air Lines shuttle service for $365 million. He put the Trump name on the planes, dressed them up inside — and waited for business to boom. It didn't. 

But the business took on too much debt and eventually defaulted. It was sold to USAir.


Barry Thumma / AP
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Trump is flanked by super middleweight champion Thomas Hearns, left, of Detroit, and Michael Olajide of Canada at a news conference in New York on Feb. 15, 1990. The three announced the super middleweight title bout at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort at Atlantic City, N.J.

Timothy Clary / AP
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Trump stands next to a genie lamp as the lights of his Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort light up marking the grand opening of the venture in Atlantic City, N.J. on April 5, 1990.

Trump opened the Taj Mahal in 1990, one of three casinos he once owned here. But he cut most ties with Atlantic City in 2009 aside from a 10 percent ownership stake in the Taj Mahal's parent company in return for the use of his name.

That stake was wiped out in March when Carl Icahn acquired the casino from bankruptcy court. Icahn shut down the casino in Sept. 2015.


Mike Derer / AP file
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Donald Trump waves seated next to his mother, Mary, father, Fred, and sister, the U.S. District Court Judge Maryanne Trump Barry before the start of the grand opening ceremonies for the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., on April 6, 1990.

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
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Trump signs copies of his book "Surviving at the Top" on Aug. 20, 1990 at a bookstore in New York.

Marty Lederhandler / AP
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Trump poses with his new bride Marla Maples after their wedding at the Plaza hotel in New York on Dec. 20, 1993. 

Maples, Trump’s second wife, had already given birth to his fourth child, daughter Tiffany, by the time she and Trump married.

Maples once said of her marriage to Trump: "There weren't any sacred moments. Everything had to be done in front of a camera, or everything was for the business."

Jeff Christensen / Reuters
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Trump and his daughter Ivanka peek over the crowd as they take in a tennis match during the U.S. Open in New York on Sept. 7, 1994.

Ron Frehm / AP
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Trump enters the Plaza Hotel past supporters on Dec. 21, 1994. Hundreds of supporters showed up at a news conference where Trump denied a New York newspaper report that the Sultan of Brunei had bid $300 million to buy the Manhattan hotel.

Don Emmert / AFP - Getty Images
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Trump poses outside the New York Stock Exchange after he took his flagship Trump Plaza Casino public on June 7, 1995. Within a few years of its initial public offering, gambling industry stock analysts at major banks stopped following Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc.

Trump's casinos suffered from debt loads that gobbled up their profits at the tables and slot machines. Trump arranged deals between himself and the company that analysts deemed generous, most notably the 1996 sale of his personally owned Trump Castle casino to his publicly owned company, on which the company later took a big loss. In the six months following the purchase, the stock price of Trump's public company was cut by more than half.

When Trump's publicly traded company, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc., went bust in 2004, Atlantic City's casino revenues were on their way to an all-time high. In fact, two of his casinos' three bankruptcies occurred in years when overall Atlantic City gambling revenue was rising.

Kathy Willens / AP
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Trump talks with host Larry King after taping a segment of King's CNN talk show in New York on Oct. 7, 1999.

Trump told King that he was moving toward a possible bid for the United States presidency with the formation of a presidential exploratory committee. Trump said he planned to confer with Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura who had been courting him for months to seek the presidential nomination of the Reform Party.

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Trump uses the phone and puts his feet on the table in his private plane as he flies to Minnesota for a speech and to attend a fund-raiser for Gov. Jesse Ventura on Jan. 7, 2000.

Richard Drew / AP
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People walk past a sign for Trump's television show, "The Apprentice," hung on the Trump Tower in New York on March 27, 2004.

From the beginning, Trump never passed up an opportunity to be on camera.

Long before NBC's "The Apprentice" turned Trump into a reality TV star in 2004, he was advancing his biz-whiz image in TV and movie cameos, chatting up Howard Stern on the radio and filming ads for Pizza Hut, McDonald's and more. Then, over 14 seasons of "The Apprentice" and "Celebrity Apprentice," he sharpened his ability to work the camera, think on his feet and promote the Trump brand.

Bebeto Matthews / AP
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Trump carries the Olympic flame during day 15 of the Athens 2004 Olympic torch relay on June 19, 2004 in New York. The Olympic flame traveled to 34 cities in 27 countries en route to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.

Todd Warshaw / Reuters
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Trump presents a model of a proposed design for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site in New York City on May 18, 2005. Trump proposed a modified rebuilding of the World Trade Center complex, with an updated and taller design and a memorial to those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the base of the new towers.

Chris Hondros / Getty Images
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Trump listens as Michael Sexton introduces him at a news conference in New York where he announced the establishment of Trump University on May 23, 2005. 

Trump University was an online college that offered to teach the mogul's real estate and entrepreneurship strategies, and charged fees ranging from $1,500 to $35,000. But it was never accredited. 

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Trump for $40 million in 2013, claiming the university was a scam operation that defrauded around 600 students out of thousands of dollars. 

Trump, via his lawyer Michael D. Cohen, denied defrauding anybody and claimed the school had a 98 percent approval rating. He filed a complaint alleging that the AG's office was looking for a campaign contribution.


Bebeto Matthews / AP, file
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Trump throws the first pitch before the start of the second game of an American League double header between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts on Aug. 18, 2006.

Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters
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Trump holds a replica of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as his wife Melania holds their son Barron in Los Angeles on Jan. 16, 2007. He received the star for the category of television, according to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which awards the stars.

Chris Pizzello / Reuters
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Trump, Bill Clinton, and Billy Crystal attend the 2008 Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation Golf Classic at Trump National Golf Club on July 14, 2008 in Briarcliff Manor, New York.

It wasn't always politics between Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Clinton said in a May 2012 interview with CNN that he enjoyed golfing with Trump.

Trump donated about $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation through his own foundation, according to PolitiFact, and made donations, along with his son, Donald Jr., to Hillary Clinton while she was a New York senator.

But Trump and the Clintons' relationship has turned increasingly hostile since their respective runs for the presidency.

Rick Odell / Getty Images
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Trump and Melania attend an after-party at the Mercedes-Benz Spring Fashion Week on Sept. 10, 2008 in New York City.

Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images
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Trump arrives to speak to the media in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Trump tested the waters for a possible run for the Republican Presidential nomination, and addressed U.S. President Barack Obama's release of his original birth certificate earlier that morning.

For years, Trump has been the most prominent proponent of the "birther" idea. He used the issue to build his political profile, earn media attention and define his status as an "outsider" willing to challenge conventions.

Trump repeatedly continued to question Obama's birth in the years after the president took the unprecedented step of releasing his long-form birth certificate, amid persistent questions from Trump and others.

Trump abruptly reversed course in Sept. 2015 and acknowledged the fact that the president was born in America.

Matthew Cavanaugh / Getty Images
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Trump addresses Miss USA contestants in a conference room in Trump Tower in New York, on May 25, 2011.

Richard Drew / AP
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Trump appears at a news conference to endorse Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as his wife Ann Romney looks on at the Trump International Hotel & Tower Las Vegas on Feb. 2, 2012 in Las Vegas.

Four years ago, Romney and Trump stood side by side, with Trump saying it was a "real honor and privilege" to endorse Romney's White House bid. Romney at the time praised Trump's ability to "understand how our economy works and to create jobs for the American people."

During the Republican presidential primaries in March 2016, Romney lambasted then front-runner Trump, calling him unfit for office and a danger for the nation and the GOP. He urged voters in the strongest terms to shun the former reality television star for the good of country and party, assailing Trump's temperament, his business acumen and his ability to keep America safe.

Ethan Miller / Getty Images
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Trump plays golf at the opening of his Trump International Golf Links golf course near Aberdeen, Scotland on July 10, 2012.

David Moir / Reuters
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Trump and his wife Melania are applauded before a dinner hosted by the Sarasota Republican Party honoring him as Statesman of the Year in Sarasota, Florida on Aug. 26, 2012.

Mike Carlson / Reuters
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Trump speaks at the New York County Republican Committee Annual Lincoln Day Dinner on Feb. 12, 2014 in New York City. Trump said that he would run for New York State governor in 2014 if the state Republican Party supported him without a primary challenge.

John Moore / Getty Images
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Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump attend the ground breaking of the Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office Building in Washington on July 23, 2014. The $200 million transformation of the Old Post Office Building opened as a Trump hotel in Sept. 2016.

Trump's three oldest children, all thirtysomethings, are vice presidents in his real estate empire as well as top advocates for their father in his presidential campaign.

The three of them — there are two more children from his second and third marriages — clearly inherited their father's and grandfather's love of the deal. They're all executive vice presidents, directing development and acquisitions as a team.

Ivanka, 34, oversaw the conversion of the Old Post Office Building in Washington into a luxury hotel.

Gary Cameron / Reuters
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Trump announces his bid for the presidency in the 2016 race during an event at Trump Tower in New York City on June 16, 2015.

"I am officially running for president of the United States and we are going to make our country great again," he said from a podium bedecked in U.S. flags

Trump declared his presidential bid by accusing Mexico of sending people bringing drugs, criminals and rapists, promising to build a Great Wall on the nation's southern border and vowing to end the president's immigration executive action.


Kena Betancur / AFP - Getty Images
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Trump greets supporters after his rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Aug. 21, 2015 in Mobile, Alabama. The Trump campaign moved the rally to a larger stadium to accommodate demand.

Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images
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Trump supporter Mary Margaret Bannister checks to see if his hair is real during his speech in Greenville, S.C. on Aug.  27, 2015.

"I don't wear a toupee. It's my hair. I swear," he told a crowd of 1,800 people in South Carolina.

Trump forcefully defended his hair after the New York Times published a report on his adversarial relationship with Spanish-language media. The opening paragraph of the story described how Hispanic radio host Ricardo Sánchez has nicknamed Trump "El hombre del peluquín," or "the man of the toupee."

Richard Shiro / AP
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The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon and Trump perform the "Trump in the Mirror" skit on Sept. 11, 2015.

Douglas Gorenstein / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
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Trump and his wife Melania arrive to speak to supporters at Trump Tower in Manhattan following his victory in the Indiana primary on May 3, 2016 in New York City.

In a stunning triumph for a political outsider, Trump all but clinched the Republican presidential nomination with a resounding victory in Indiana that knocked rival Ted Cruz out of the race and cleared Trump's path to a November face-off with Hillary Clinton.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images
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Trump delivers his address on the final day of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on July 21, 2016.

Trump formally accepted the nomination of the Republican Party as their presidential candidate in the 2016 election, and told a pumped-up crowd that the nation's security is under threat from immigrants and illegal immigration.

Michael Reynolds / EPA
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Trump holds babies at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado on July 29, 2016.

Carlo Allegri / Reuters
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Trump speaks to an overflow crowd during a campaign rally in Greenville, N.C. on Sept. 6, 2016. 

Evan Vucci / AP
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Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walk away from their podiums at the conclusion of their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on Sept. 26, 2016.

In a combative opening debate, Trump repeatedly cast Clinton as a "typical politician" as he sought to capitalize on Americans' frustration with Washington. Locked in an exceedingly close White House race, the presidential rivals tangled for 90-minutes over their vastly different visions for the nation's future. 

The showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the most-watched presidential debate ever, with 84 million viewers.

Joe Raedle / Reuters
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Trump acknowledges the crowd along with his son Barron Trump and his wife Melania Trump during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of Nov. 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president-elect of the United States.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file
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Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017, outlining his forceful vision of a new national populism and echoing the same "America first" mantra that swept him to victory in November. In his first address as the nation's chief executive, Trump pledged that his inauguration will mark a moment in history when "the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."

"Today's ceremony has very special meaning because today we are not merely transferring power from one president to another or from party to another," Trump said in his speech, surrounded by the very members of Congress and current and former political leaders he was admonishing. "We are transferring power from Washington D.C. and giving it back to you, the people."

"For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost," Trump said. "That all changes - starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you."

PHOTOS - President Trump: Scenes from the Inauguration 

Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images
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