Phil Ruffin knew Donald Trump was going to become president of the United States two months ago, no matter all the bad publicity then.
He saw the evidence with his own eyes. He described it Thursday morning in a phone interview from Las Vegas, at the same hour that his best friend was sitting with President Obama in the White House discussing his transition to power.
Ruffin, the Wichita native and billionaire who owns the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, has called Trump his best friend and business partner for close to 15 years now.
Here’s how he knew:
They went to Lake Tahoe together two months ago.
“There was a big crowd of people to see him at the airport,” Ruffin said. “Lots of people at the airport, wanting to see him.”
“Then all the way, from the airport to Lake Tahoe, the roadway was lined on both sides with people just wanting a glimpse of the guy. It was like that for a long way on that road.
“I finally turned to him,” Ruffin said.
“ ‘You’re not the pope, Donald,’ I said. ‘So I can’t figure out why all these people want to see you.’
“That’s when I knew,” Ruffin said. “Hillary wasn’t getting crowds like that. Donald was filling stadiums.
“I had told him not to do this.
“ I told him not to run for president.
“I thought it was impossible.
“ ‘It’s a hundred-to-one shot you’ll win,’ I told him.
“So in the car to Tahoe, I told him, ‘I think you’re going to be president, Donald.’
“He fooled everybody.”
Ruffin was with Trump at the New York Hilton Midtown hotel on Tuesday.
Ruffin, 81, was sitting in a wheelchair, nursing a hip he’d broken a month and a half ago when he slipped on his 4-year-old daughter’s toy while getting up in the dark.
At the Hilton on Tuesday, the night was quiet at first.
“But after Florida came in for Donald, the place was a madhouse,” Ruffin said.
And now that that chapter is over:
“Everybody needs to calm down. We’re all going to be fine,” Ruffin said.
“All those worries people have about him – he’s fine,” Ruffin said. “He’s going to be just fine. He’s going to do a good job, for you, for everybody.”
Trump and Ruffin have shared friendship, business deals, and a lot of laughter for almost 20 years now.
Trump was best man when Ruffin married Oleksandra Nikolayenko at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in 2008. Melania Trump and Oleksandra have shared tips and conversation about raising babies. They all spend time together. It’s fun; Trump is a warm and witty companion, Ruffin said.
Ruffin has heard about the protests, the anger, the fear that bad things are going to happen to people now.
“Calm down,” he said. “Take a deep breath.”
He says Trump is smarter and more nuanced than Democrats and critics thought.
That much ought to be obvious now, he said. Trump defied all odds.
“I should have bet on it,” said Ruffin, the casino owner.
“We’re going to have lower taxes, and lower taxes is a good thing,” Ruffin said. “It’s good for me; it’s good for you. Don’t you want lower taxes for you?
“Here’s what else: Companies are going to stop leaving the United States. They leave now because they face having to pay 35 to 40 percent in taxes, and go to places where they have to pay only 10 percent.
“He’s going to fix that. He’s going to lower corporate taxes. That’s going to keep jobs here. Companies are going to start being more hesitant about leaving the United States now.”
But what about things Trump has said?
“I’ve known him for close to 20 years now, and I’ve been with him a lot, and I never heard him say a racist word once in that time,” Ruffin said. “He’s not a racist of any kind. That’s a bunch of malarkey the Democrats tried to pin on him. It’s not true.
“But now we’ll find out what will really happen.
“He’s going to get us better trade deals. He’s smart. And he has Republican majority rule in the Senate. And the House. And he’s going to give us a conservative Supreme Court, and that’s a good thing.
“So he’s going to be able to get things done.”
Beyond that, Ruffin said: “The people have spoken.
“And they chose him.”