Apr 4, 2024 - Politics & Policy
Column / Behind the Curtain

Behind the Curtain: How Trump's mind works

Photo illustration of Donald Trump as a DJ wearing headphones and spinning vinyl records.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Trump thinks, talks and acts like no other politician in our lifetime. There's a Rosetta stone that demystifies how his mind works, his closest friends tell us: his Mar-a-Lago Spotify playlist.

  • At his oceanside retreat in Palm Beach, Trump controls the surround-sound stereo system on the breezy dining patio with his big iPad and its Spotify list. Regulars jokingly call it the "Deejay T" performance.

Why it matters: To those who know him best, Trump spinning through his golden oldies provides a telling lens into his style on much bigger stages. It captures his obsession with a few familiar hits — controlling the volume, never changing.

The backdrop: Whether Trump's in office or out, there's an unchanging patio scene at Mar-a-Lago. The regulars all know each other, and feel free to drop by Trump's table.

  • There's sometimes a velvet rope next to Trump's chair. But it more signifies his throne of honor than keeping anyone away. Members tell him how great he's doing. He'll often show them a printout of a poll that shows him as the greatest.
  • The hotelier in Trump is very proud of the dinner buffet. He pushes the specials.

But it's the musical ritual that really captures Trump:

1. He alone controls the volume. Most nights when he's home, he walks downstairs to the ground floor of Mar-a-Lago. Like clockwork, the crowd rises in applause, greeting the guest of honor — and sometimes complimenting his ear for music.

  • Trump shakes hands as people pass his table near the front. After dinner, he'll open his iPad and play the hits. Sometimes it's so loud that people have trouble talking. He marvels at the sound quality filling the garden.
  • The same is true at his campaign events. He has no interest in switching topics, tone or volume. He's wholly content controlling the same playlist.

2. The songs stay the same. At Mar-a-Lago — and on the patio of his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey — the music is always "big names and songs people recognize," a member of his inner circle tells us.

  • It's Trump's golden oldies: "Phantom of the Opera" ... "Jesus Christ Superstar" ... and Elvis, including "Suspicious Minds." Plus "Hello" by Lionel Ritchie ... Guns N' Roses' "November Rain" ... and the duet by James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti, "It's A Man's Man's Man's World."
  • Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" is a favorite. REM snuck in a couple of weeks ago. Elton John's another favorite.
  • At Bedminster, Trump even kept the tunes spinning (wearing a "Make America Great Again" baseball cap) the night he learned of his first federal indictment, in the classified documents case, the N.Y. Times reported.
  • His campaign rallies and interviews are no different. The playlist rarely shifts: The election was stolen ... The "deep state" hates him ... Build the wall ... Biden is senile ... and true oldies: "Lock her up!" Unlike other politicians, he doesn't pivot or mix up his speech topics very much. That's why his rallies often feel like reruns.

3. His excitement never fades. He seems like a kid with a new toy every time he turns on that iPad. It feels like the first time he's heard or shared the crooning of Sinatra or the life-hard-lived edge of Cash.

  • Same at rallies. He has been playing the same tunes for eight years and never tires of it — even when others beg him to change the station or follow the teleprompter.

4. It'll never change. One friend, explaining the Spotify spectacle, said Trump's brain is a series of "titanium tubes" filled with a specific set of grievances, crowd-pleasing lines and taunts.

  • The pipes are impenetrable. No matter the topic or tune, you always end up stuck in one. He's the same in interviews: No matter what you ask, Trump often simply opens one of the tubes and riffs.

The bottom line: One of Trump's playlist favorites is the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want." But, most nights, Trump's trusty iPad grants his every wish.

  • Click here for a sample Trump Spotify list, as conjured by Axios' Noah Bressner:
  • Watch our Instagram reel for visuals:
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