Bette Midler is very determined to not talk about Donald Trump.
“I want to talk about how I was a pioneer! In New York City, with the sustainability movement, with the urban-farm movement, with the green movement, and with the anti-plastic movement,” she says. “I want to talk about how we used to take plastic bags out of the trees with a bag snagger. Really, I started that! Please!”
Midler is standing in the mostly empty Garden Terrace Room at the New York Botanical Garden, dressed in a floral dressing gown with aqua-green silk pajamas for the annual gala of the New York Restoration Project, an outfit she founded 24 years ago that is devoted to preserving parks and green space in the city.
The room is bathed in a pink light. The John Pizzarelli Trio is warming up behind her. Later, Candice Bergen will read a poem in honor of the group’s donors (“Thanks to Diller and Needell our saplings look just doggone swell,” and “So many ways for your amounts / to fill NYRP’s accounts / Direct deposit works just fine / for Peg and Mikey Valentine”), and Midler will be presented with a new rose hybridized in her honor. The guests, including Graydon Carter, Helena Durst, and Amy Goldman Fowler, will join the Grammy Award winner in a sing-along of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.”
But Trump is inescapable, especially for Midler. Check out her Twitter feed, where although there is the occasional missive on behalf of NYRP or going plastic-free, it is far more filled with verses dedicated to Mitch McConnell and the denizens of the West Wing:
It was that Twitter feed that recently got Midler more attention in the political press than, well, ever before. A friend sent her a widely debunked meme of Donald Trump saying in 1998, “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.”
“It sounded so real,” she says. “I just posted it without thinking because it was so real. It was the best textual impersonation of Trump I have ever seen.”
She took it down after the quote was revealed to be fake, but not before Donald Trump, in Britain where he was solemnly marking the occasion of the 75th anniversary and being Donald Trump, tweeted, in the middle of the night London time in response:
“You know what, it is none of my business. I don’t care what he does at 1:30 in the morning,” she says now. “But I was surprised. I think a lot of people were very surprised. If in their mind’s eye they could see him up till 1:30 in the morning reading his briefs that is one thing — but I don’t think he was reading his briefs.”
The two go back a long way, mostly hating each other. She once called him “the architect of ruination of the West Side” and suggested he be strapped to the roof of a car like Mitt Romney’s dog. He called her “extremely unattractive,” but said he also couldn’t say that because it wouldn’t be politically correct, and once rendered judgment on a performance of hers at the Oscars thusly: “Bette Midler sucked.”
It didn’t have to be this way. Midler once went to Trump’s apartment for a birthday party with her husband 15 or so years ago. She wouldn’t say whom the birthday party was for. “I couldn’t figure out what it was all about. It was only three people — the honoree and his wife and him, and I thought, What kind of birthday party is this?”
But that was in the past. And so was her Twitter battle with Trump — which “was what, like two weeks ago?” she wonders aloud.
She wants to talk about how she came to New York in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake, and found she couldn’t believe the state into which the city had sunk.
“This is supposed to be the richest city in the world, the grandest city in the world. Why does it look like this? I said, I am not going to live like this. There is a standard below which I will not sink. I am going to clean it out myself if no one is going to help me. I used to go out with my housekeeper, who actually never forgave me!”
Her group got the city involved when they pulled a car out of the Hudson River across from Fort Washington Park in a photo op with the mayor. Afterward, the city said, “Just do whatever you want,” so NYRP took over more than 100 community gardens and cleaned up a bunch of the city’s neglected parkland.
And that mayor, of course, was Rudy Giuliani, which brings Midler back to Trump.
“He seemed much more relaxed [back then]. He just seemed like a more relaxed, warmer guy,” she says. “But politicians are a different breed of people. You are not really sure what their agenda is. And this is a problem. They can say one thing to you right to your face and turn around and do another thing.”
And then Midler walks away, saying she is done talking about Trump. On Twitter the next day though, she is back at it, calling Trump “a short-sighted little man” who was obsessed with Barack Obama, and offering the following verse: