Donald Trump climbs into the back of his black luxury 2011 Cadillac Escalade SUV. It's a bit like "the beast" President Barack Obama sometimes is ferried about in, but without the armor.
"Could you turn a little air conditioning on?" Trump asks his driver, who answers with a quick "yes sir."
Trump is hot in more ways than one.
He has just finished speaking to a standing-room-only crowd at Treasure Island. He teased more than 900 rowdy Republican activists, saying he would make those urging him to run for president "very happy" when he announces his plans by June.
He also has just trashed U.S. trade policy, foreign policy and economic policy.
"I speak from the heart," Trump said in an exclusive interview, summing up why he has risen in polls.
He is leading Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, in a new national poll but still lags behind Romney in Nevada.
Trump also acts from the gut, which prompted him to relentlessly push the "birther" issue that appeals to the GOP fringe until Obama last week released his long-form birth certificate to prove he was born in Hawaii.
He's the compelling curiosity of the 2012 campaign so far.
How to explain the Trump bump?
"I think it just goes to how weak the GOP field is," said David Damore, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "Here's somebody who can attract a crowd. People like the outlandish. And he's saying a lot of things that a lot of hard-core conservatives want to hear. He doesn't mince words."
OK, but why would a billionaire businessman and reality TV show star give up the good life to run for president, knowing he'll be flayed by opponents and media examining every bankruptcy, every utterance and every one of his several marriages?
"The reason I would really consider running -- not that I want to -- is because this country is in such poor shape and we have such pathetic leadership," said Trump, 64. "It's not just not good; it's pathetic."
The Review-Journal conducted the interview Thursday night inside Trump's SUV as he rode across the Strip from Treasure Island to Trump tower, the 24-carat gold-flecked hotel with condos, the tallest residential building in Las Vegas at 620 feet.
Here are excerpts from 12 minutes of Trump unplugged:
Q: Do you know how hard it is to win a presidency?
Trump: Very hard.
Q: What makes you think you could win?
Trump: Well, right now, I'm leading virtually every poll, and people are very surprised by it because it's not my profession. I'm not a professional politician, although I've dealt with politicians all my life. But I do have a great feeling for this country, and I've been proven to be a great businessman. I mean, I've made great deals. And this country needs great deals. We're a debtor nation. We're in nothing but trouble. We owe money that will never be paid back based on the current leadership.
Q: Do you have a pollster?
Trump: I don't need pollsters. You know what my poll is? It's my brain. My poll is my brain.
Q: You suggested the U.S. should take Iraq's oil.
Trump: I don't know, maybe that's not popular for all I know. Maybe people don't like my statement about Iraq. We won the war. To the victor go the spoils. And maybe it's the old-fashioned way. You don't win a war and you leave. You win a war, and you stay and you take the oil. You give oil to Iraq, by the way. You give them more than they're getting right now. You make sure they have plenty of oil. You help them rebuild their country. We have nothing but money, because the oil is so tremendous, the amount of oil. You help them.
Q: The U.S. takes ownership of the oil?
Trump: Absolutely. At a minimum, you reimburse yourself for the trillion five ($1.5 trillion the United States has spent so far in Iraq) and you pay back the soldiers that were wounded, a couple of million dollars apiece. And the soldiers who were killed, you pay the families at least $2 million apiece at a minimum."
Q: You say you're getting lots of support and you're drawing crowds.
Trump: What you saw (in Las Vegas), that's no different than any place else. What you just witnessed, that is no different than what happened yesterday in New Hampshire. That's no different than what happened at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) when I went to Washington. People -- the public, is very smart. They're tired of being ripped off. And every nation in the world is ripping off the United States. And if we stop that, we can have a great country again. We can have a thriving country with jobs again. People are tired.
Q: Is the birther issue over?
Trump: My most important issue has always been jobs, economic development, energy, oil. That's what I'm really good at. I brought up the birther thing because I thought it was really inappropriate of him not giving his birth certificate. I assumed he was probably born here, but I didn't want the word 'probably.' My strength has always been the economy, and that's what I'm best at. What I will do best is China will not be ripping us off for long, believe me. OPEC will change their ways very, very quickly.
With the birther thing, I brought it up very strongly. I got him to do what nobody else could do. There's a case of great negotiation. I've gotten great credit. And so I'm very proud of that. What I really want to get down to is economic development and jobs, because that's what I do best. And so, I'm very proud of what I've done on the birth certificate.
Q: You seem to be a Ross Perot- or Sarah Palin-like contender, who just attracts attention.
Trump: I'm not running as an independent (like Perot). ... I like her (Palin) and I really like what she's saying about me. She has been treated very, very unfairly. I like a lot of the candidates or potential candidates. I like Mike Huckabee very much. I don't know Romney. I like Michelle Bachman. (Former Minnesota Gov. Tim) Pawlenty, who I haven't seen, he's said some very nice things about me. It's very hard for me to hit people hard when they're saying such nice things about me. They're all saying such nice things about me. It's easier when they don't.
Q: Who would you like as a vice presidential running mate?
Trump: I don't even think about it, because it's so far off. I don't like to get into that whole thing. I like to go day by day. But we have tremendous support. There are people who are saying that in the history of politics nothing like this has ever happened.
Q: How is this historic?
Trump: I'm not a politician. I'm running against senators and governors and a president.
Q: How would you compete against Obama's plan to raise $1 billion for his campaign?
Trump: I'll put up a lot of my own money, but I always want people to have an investment in the campaign. I think that's very important. You know, when I do a job with people, I like them to invest in the job if they're going to be a partner. And when I do a job with big institutions, they always like me to invest in it, even though they're putting up most of the money.
Q: If you run will you release your financial records to the public?
Trump: Well, if I run I have to release how much cash I have, my assets, oh yeah. It doesn't bother me.
Q: What about your tax returns?
Trump: Well, you don't have to release taxes, but I would think about it at some point. But I would certainly release cash balances, values and things like that. I would actually be very proud to, because I've built a great company.
Q: When will you decide whether to run and why?
Trump: I'm going to make a decision prior to June. The reason I would do it is because I love the country. I love what I'm doing, but I love the country. And the country is not going to be the country for very long if these same people who are grossly incompetent continue to run it.
Q: What do you want voters to think of when they think of Trump?
Trump: Success and victory, for the country, not for me, for the country. I'm going to put all of my abilities, if I decide to run, into the country, not into myself anymore. And I'll do a great job.
Contact Laura Myers at lmyers @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.