NEW YORK — Donald Trump says the chances that he will launch a third-party White House run will "absolutely" increase if the Republican National Committee is unfair to him during the 2016 primary season.
"The RNC has not been supportive. They were always supportive when I was a contributor. I was their fair-haired boy," the business mogul told The Hill in a 40-minute interview from his Manhattan office at Trump Tower on Wednesday. "The RNC has been, I think, very foolish."
Pressed on whether he would run as a third-party candidate if he fails to clinch the GOP nomination, Trump said that "so many people want me to, if I don't win."
"I'll have to see how I'm being treated by the Republicans," Trump said. "Absolutely, if they're not fair, that would be a factor."
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called Trump earlier this month asking him to tone down his controversial rhetoric. More recently, the RNC rebuked him for saying that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is not a war hero. Trump didn't apologize but has since said that the 2008 Republican presidential nominee is a war hero.
Trump told The Hill that the GOP establishment in Washington dislikes him because he's not part of the political class.
"I'm not in the gang. I'm not in the group where the group does whatever it's supposed to do," he said. "I want to do what's right for the country — not what's good for special interest groups that contribute, not what's good for the lobbyists and the donors."
The real estate magnate has upended the Republican presidential primary, with recent national polls showing that he is leading the 16-candidate field. Many in the party's establishment, pointing to his inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants and McCain, say that Trump is badly hurting the GOP brand.
Yet he is connecting with a significant chunk of GOP voters. And despite criticism from party leaders and other presidential candidates, Trump appears fueled by controversy.
His office, which has a stunning view of Central Park, is filled with family photos, golf trophies and sports paraphernalia.
At various times during the interview, Trump pointed out that he isn't a politician. But the reality TV personality has politician-like skills, answering questions he wants to answer and driving the conversation to where he wants to take it. Trump doesn't shy away from eye contact, and while prone to complaining about reporters, he is comfortable in his own skin.
The 69-year-old, of course, is no stranger to the media, and on Wednesday he complimented his questioners while also urging them — on more than one occasion — "to be fair."
He insisted that his remarks about McCain and immigration have not and will not hurt him, and pointed to several recent polls to make his point.
Not surprisingly, Trump is a big fan of polls now.
At one point, he whipped out a survey that he had inside his suit pocket, and later he called on an aide to print out the latest poll numbers showing him leading former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R).
"I'm surprised that I'm this high," he said.
Unlike former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) four years ago, Trump is not predicting victory. He won't utter the former Speaker's famous "I'm going to be the nominee" statement, saying that would be "presumptuous."
He attributes his rise to being frank with voters.
"I'm not surrounded by all sorts of pollsters and PR people," Trump said. "I speak the truth. Our country is in big trouble, and I know how to turn it around."
"Competence" and "leadership" are what voters are looking for, he says.
While some of his Republican rivals, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, must do well in Iowa, and others are looking to New Hampshire, including Bush, Trump doesn't see his path to victory as state-specific. And he was tight-lipped on how he's preparing for the Aug. 6 Fox News debate, which will only allow for the top 10 candidates by poll standing to appear on the stage.
"I've got a lot of knowledge having to do with government. For the debates, I'll work on that," he said. "As far as the debate is concerned, these politicians debate every night. That's all they do is talk. I don't do that. I do other things. I'm a job creator."
He said he'd appoint judges to the Supreme Court with a "conservative bent," praising Justice Samuel Alito and criticizing Chief Justice John Roberts.
"Jeb Bush was the one that pushed Roberts through his brother, and Roberts gave us ObamaCare," Trump said. "Roberts was a terrible choice. We wouldn't be talking about ObamaCare right now if we didn't have Roberts."
He spoke favorably of setting term limits in Congress without offering specifics and didn't rule out endorsing congressional candidates in 2016. Trump did not show his hand on whether he might endorse a primary challenger to McCain, who has one such competitor in his Arizona race.
Trump said he agreed with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in opposing President Obama's trade policy.
"You know the funniest thing about Bernie Sanders? The one thing we agree on is trade," the billionaire said with a smile. "He knows the country is ripped off. And I know the country is being ripped off. The difference is that I can do something about it and he can't. He'll never be able to negotiate with China."
Trump said that despite his tough talk about China, he'd be able to have a working relationship with its leaders. To accentuate his point, Trump brought The Hill six floors down to note that the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China rents space in his building.
"They just renewed their lease and you know why? They love Trump," he said.
He said that Sanders is a sort of "duplicate" of liberal favorite Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who he said has pushed Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for 2016, to the left.
"She's had a huge impact on Clinton," Trump said. "Hillary is going way left, and I sort of laugh because I know Hillary very well. … The interesting part about Hillary is that her donors are all the hedge fund guys and the business guys and the real estate guys. And they're all saying, 'Do you think she means it?' And I say, 'Of course she doesn't mean it — you know her.' "
Trump has long said he loves his job of striking deals and making money. But now that job is on hold as he attempts to become the 45th president.
Trump says he's enjoying running for commander in chief, though he knows it's early in the game.
"It's very hard for a very successful person to run for political office — especially for president," he said, after asking for business cards. "I get that now more than anything."