And he drags Americans with him to wallow in a slimepool, sowing raging discord and chaos in his wake.
No 2575 Posted by fw, January 29, 2020 —
Under Trump’s rule, a once-proud nation has fallen from grace.
FRONTLINE’s two-part, four-hour documentary series investigates America’s increasingly bitter, divided and toxic politics. America’s Great Divide: from Obama to Trump draws on revelatory new interviews with key political and cultural figures, as well as an unparalleled archive of in-depth broadcast reporting across two presidential administrations, to offer crucial context for the current moment.
This post, Part Two of FRONTLINE’s two-part documentary, examines how Trump’s campaign exploited the country’s divisions, how his presidency has unleashed anger on both sides of the divide, and what America’s polarization could mean for the country’s future.
My repost of Part Two, below, is presented in three parts:
Part 1 — A chronological index to the video to facilitate selective viewing of the video and reading of the transcript;
Part 2 — FRONTLINE’s embedded video; and
Part 3 — A reformatted version of the full transcript
Part 1 — Chronological Index to the Video
TRANSCRIPT — AMERICA’S GREAT DIVIDE (PART 2)
1:44 — October 6, 1980 – Video clip: Donald Trump, 33, asked if he would like to be president
October 6, 1980
RONA BARRETT: For some people, the ultimate goal in life has been becoming the president of the United States. Would you like to be the president of the United States?
DONALD TRUMP: I really don’t believe I would, Rona. But I would like to see somebody as the president who could do the job.
RONA BARRETT: Why wouldn’t someone like yourself run for political office? You have all the money that you possibly need. You’ve accomplished a great deal even though you are only 34. Why wouldn’t you dedicate yourself to public service?
DONALD TRUMP: Because I think it’s a very mean life. I would love, and I would dedicate my life to this country, but I see it as being a mean life. And I also see it that somebody with strong views, and somebody with the kind of views that are maybe a little bit unpopular—which may be right, but may be unpopular—wouldn’t necessarily have a chance of getting elected against somebody with no great brain but a big smile. And that’s a sad commentary for the political process.
2:42 — The nation becomes more divided under presidents Clinton, GW Bush, and Obama
NARRATOR: Over the decades, as Donald Trump watched and waited, the prospect of becoming president would grow, just as the nation was becoming more and more divided.
BILL CLINTON: It is time to heal America.
RONALD BROWNSTEIN, Author, “The Second Civil War”: Bill Clinton ran against brain-dead politics in both parties.
GEORGE W. BUSH: And a leader must be a uniter, not a divider.
RONALD BROWNSTEIN: George W. Bush said he was a uniter, not a divider.
BARACK OBAMA: We are and always will be the United States of America.
RONALD BROWNSTEIN: Barack Obama was introduced to the country saying, “There is not a blue America and a red America.” And each of them, by the end of their presidency, the country was more divided than when they took office.
3:21 — As country becomes more divided, Trump saw his chance to sow seeds of division
NARRATOR: It was in that division that Trump saw his moment.
DAVID AXELROD, Former Obama chief strategist: He was looking for an opportunity, and his opportunity was division. His opportunity was mining resentment, weaponize race. And that’s what he did.
ROGER STONE, Former Trump political adviser: This is a classic case of the time being right for a Trump candidacy. Now you have a level of dissatisfaction with the voters that we’ve never seen before, and they want somebody with the toughness and the independence. And nobody can bully him—he’s viewed by voters as his own man who will tell it like it is whether it’s politically correct or not.
DONALD TRUMP: I am your voice!
NARRATOR: An age of unprecedented anger—
PROTESTER: Go [expletive] cook my burrito, b—-!
CROWD: Shame! Shame!
NARRATOR: Political conflict—
CROWD: No ban! No wall!
CROWD: Jews will not replace us!
NARRATOR: —had arrived.
CROWD: Be strong! Impeach Trump!
NARRATOR: And with it, Donald Trump—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Crazed lunatics, the Democrats—
NARRATOR: —ready and willing to stoke America’s great divide.
CROWD: Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp!
4:37 — 2015 GOP Campaign debate — Fox News’ Megyn Kelly hits Trump over his attitude towards women
2015 GOP Debate
MEGYN KELLY: The biggest event to date in Campaign 2016.
MALE NEWSREADER: —top 10 candidates taking the stage for a prime-time showdown.
MALE DEBATE ANNOUNCER: Businessman Donald Trump.
MEGYN KELLY, Former anchor, Fox News: I had my research assistant research all the candidates who were going to be on stage that night— It is 9 p.m. on the East Coast, and the moment of truth has arrived. —and pull anything interesting or controversial about them, right? Everybody had a binder like this, and Trump had a binder like this, right? [Laughs]
NARRATOR: At the time, Megyn Kelly was a star on Fox News.
MEGYN KELLY: Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular when it comes to women. You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, [Laughter] dogs, slobs and disgusting animals. Your Twitter account has several—
DONALD TRUMP: Only Rosie O’Donnell.
DEBATE AUDIENCE: [Cheers and laughter]
MEGYN KELLY: No, it wasn’t. He knew I was going to hit him on something, and he guessed it would be women, and he got some line worked up. Fine. We forged forward. The convention center was laughing. But I was going to get through the rest of my question. For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell.
DONALD TRUMP: Yes, I’m sure it was.
MEGYN KELLY: Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. [Laughter] Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?
DONALD TRUMP: What I say is what I say. And honestly, Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me, but I wouldn’t do that.
MEGYN KELLY: The way Trump sees media, the way he sees life, is all, “They like me or they don’t like me.”
DONALD TRUMP: We need strength—
MEGYN KELLY: And in that moment I got moved from the “She likes me” category into the “She doesn’t like me.” And I do believe—I believe that night, the anger was real; his anger at me was real that night.
MEGYN KELLY: Thank you all very much. And that will do it for the first Republican primary debate night of the 2016 presidential race. Our thanks to the candidates.
5:50 — Trump uses press to spike the conflict with Megyn; follows up with Twitter attack; and then on phone with CNN
NARRATOR: In his clash with Kelly, Trump was creating conflict just as he’d done as a reality TV star. And afterwards, in “spin alley,” he would use the press to keep it going.
MARK LEIBOVICH, The New York Times Magazine: Donald Trump shows up as if he needed this hit of adrenaline before he went home to New York.
DONALD TRUMP: You guys OK? Don’t hurt yourselves.
GABRIEL SHERMAN, New York Magazine, 2008-17: It was like mosquitos to a lantern on a summer night. I mean, the entire national press corps descended.
MARK LEIBOVICH: People were being trampled and camera equipment was flying all over the place, and I’d never seen a scene like this. I mean, I’ve seen many media stampedes, but nothing like that.
MALE REPORTER: What’s you history with Megyn?
DONALD TRUMP: I think Megyn—I think Megyn behaved very badly, personally.
MALE REPORTER: The question about women. You didn’t like that?
DONALD TRUMP: No. I thought it was an unfair question. They didn’t ask those questions of anybody else, and I thought it was an unfair question. But you know what—
NARRATOR: It was just the beginning.
MALE REPORTER: Are you going to call Roger Ailes about it?
NARRATOR: At 3:40 in the morning, he lit up Twitter.
MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]: Wow, Megyn Kelly really bombed tonight. People are going wild on Twitter! Funny to watch.
MALE CNN ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news—
NARRATOR: On the phone with CNN, he went farther.
DON LEMON: What is it with you and Megyn Kelly?
DONALD TRUMP: She starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions. And, you know, you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her—wherever. But—
MEGYN KELLY: Trump recognized that it was a good storyline, and he kept fuel going under that fire, because he knew some portion of his audience loved to see him challenging a powerful woman, never mind a woman at Fox. And so he accurately deduced that this would drive his numbers up with some segment of his base.
8:33 — Steve Bannon has Breitbart “hammers’ go after Megyn Kelly nonstop
NARRATOR: Trump had a powerful ally in the attack on Kelly: the right-wing website Breitbart and its leader, Steve Bannon.
STEVE BANNON, Former chairman, Breitbart: Fox has chosen a side. It’s so evident in that debate that they’re there to kneecap Donald Trump, OK? They’re there to take him out. And that’s when we go, OK. We run 20 stories on Megyn Kelly. I get Tony Lee and Matt Boyle, my two hammers. They go right after Megyn Kelly. We’re going to Alinsky her, right? We’re going to cut her out from the—cull her out from the herd and just hit her nonstop. That’s when all war broke out. That’s when Breitbart—that’s when you had to choose sides.
NARRATOR: In taking on Fox, Bannon and Trump were inciting the kind of conflict Breitbart’s readers thrived on.
MALE VOICE [reading Breitbart comment]: She is a low-life [expletive]. Everyone stop watching Fox altogether.
MALE VOICE [reading Breitbart comment]: We need to chop her off at the knees. Do not watch the troll next week, period.
STEVE BANNON: If you looked at our comments section, [Laughs] these things were getting 10,000 to 15,000, 20,000 comments.
MALE VOICE [reading Breitbart comment]: Megyn’s the type for a quickie in the men’s room.
STEVE BANNON: The whole Trump, all the Pepes, all these Trump guys were pounding in here.
MALE VOICE [reading Breitbart comment]: Megyn Kelly needs to be put in her place, fast and hard. By all of us. It’s why we like Trump to begin with!
MEGYN KELLY: It was scary at times. And Breitbart kept lighting the fire, over and over. And you know, I had, and have, three young kids, really young kids, and the security threats were escalating. And we were doing everything in our power to convey to them that they needed to stop. It was one debate question, just one debate question! And he handled it fine! You know, he did. So get off of it! They couldn’t have cared less.
10:10 — Roger Ailes, head of Fox News, capitulates to keep Breitbart viewership; Trump/Bannon emerge as winner of scumbag politics
NARRATOR: Roger Ailes ran Fox News. Ruthless and powerful, Ailes was a force to be reckoned with.
STEVE BANNON: Ailes calls me up and says, “You’ve got to knock off these stories. She’s crying; she’s all upset. She’s getting death threats.” I go, “Sounds like a personal problem.” I said, “We’re not backing off. We’re going to put more stories up tomorrow.”
MALE VOICE [reading Breitbart comment]: If Kelly can’t take the heat, go back to the kitchen.
MALE VOICE [reading Breitbart comment]: Trump should commission a statue of Ms. Kelly on her knees and place it in front of Trump Tower.
NARRATOR: Under the onslaught, Ailes eventually backed down. He needed Breitbart, Bannon and Trump more than he needed Kelly.
MEGYN KELLY: Roger definitely felt that he had to keep that sort of Breitbart wing of the viewership onboard; that they were at risk thanks to Trump’s attacks on me and Fox in the wake of that debate. And he definitely wasn’t going to lose 30% of the viewers as this man, who by August of 2015, we knew was the likely Republican nominee. He didn’t want that guy to be driving a division between Roger and the viewers.
NARRATOR: Trump had won. And it was a sign of what was to come—brutal, divisive, anything goes.
STEVE SCHMIDT, Former GOP strategist: What Republican voters were looking for was strength. And in that moment, here’s what voters saw. They saw a generation of Republican politicians who kowtowed to Fox News, who genuflected. Then they saw somebody take on Fox News, and Trump won. He broke Fox News. In the steel cage death match of Republican politics in that instant, Donald Trump became king.
12:09 — Comedians use Trump as punchline in their routines of “resistance by ridicule”
NARRATOR: But across the political divide—
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: For comedians, Donald Trump has been the gift that keeps giving, but for everyone else, he’s the gift that keeps on giving women the creeps. [Laughter]
NARRATOR: From the coastal entertainment capitals—
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: I know everyone’s all up in arms about comments I made about Megyn Kelly. I was not referring to hormones or menstruation, period! [Laughter]
NARRATOR: A kind of resistance by ridicule.
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: Come on, Trump, if you’re going to say something offensive, just come out and say it. [Laughter]
NARRATOR: Trump as a punchline.
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: Trump insults more women by 6:00 a.m. than most people do all year, [Laughter] but the reason—
12:56 — Meanwhile, back on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, Trump cultivates his growing populist base
MALE NEWSREADER: Donald Trump is back on the road campaigning in Iowa—
MALE NEWSREADER: So far Trump’s political campaign—
NARRATOR: As Donald Trump embarked on his presidential campaign, he doubled down on what his opponents found offensive.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Trump leads the field at 18—
NARRATOR: He exploited simmering divisions to fuel his political rise.
ROBERT COSTA, Moderator, “Washington Week”: Trump has told me that he believes the country was already divided; that if he is just confrontational and a fighter, that people who feel aggrieved in the country will rally to him. It’s an entirely unconventional approach to the presidency, to rally your own base and to not really try to unite the country.
NARRATOR: And in arena after arena, Trump cultivated his growing populist base.
SAM NUNBERG, Former Trump campaign adviser: He loves the energy and he loves the adoration that he gets from those rallies. It’s a critical tool for him, these rallies, to keep that connection.
NARRATOR: He called them “the forgotten.”
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, Former Trump campaign adviser: The iconic forgotten man or the forgotten man and woman is somebody that’s been left out of the system. There’s a rejection of elitists and a rejection of intellectuals and certainly a disdain for the media, because those people feel that they’re being looked down upon.
14:18 — Crowd frenzy at Trump rally – Chants, Anger, Confrontation, Ridicule, Bluster, Threats, Vulgarity, Divisiveness…
CROWD: Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!
NARRATOR: Trump sensed what the crowds wanted.
DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to have such a strong military that nobody, nobody is going to mess with us. Nobody!
DONALD TRUMP: We are led by very stupid people.
DONALD TRUMP: We can’t beat ISIS—give me a break.
MATT BAI, Author, “The Argument”: He loves to arouse passion and emotions; it’s the thing he’s best at; it’s the thing he cares most about, is sort of provoking emotion. And all the fire he was getting from the crowds was about immigration.
DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to drive the cars over the illegals! Build the wall! Build the wall!
CROWD: Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!
WESLEY LOWERY, The Washington Post: It spoke to real worries and frustrations that had been coaxed and had caramelized over the course of a decade across America, where white Americans were truly convinced they were losing their country, and the only opportunity they had to stop it was to elect this man who says he was going to do something about it.
CROWD: Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!
DONALD TRUMP: We are going to start winning big leagues.
MEGYN KELLY: Trump sounded like them. There was an authenticity to him that I think they connected with. He would drop an F-bomb; he said the P-word on the air about Ted Cruz one time! I was in Iowa, like, “Oh, my God, did he just say that rhymes with ‘wussy’?” [Laughs] I mean, this happened, right? And I think there’s a swath of the American public that—look, it’s not like they love vulgarity. But they just loved what they felt was his authenticity and his willingness to throw a punch, which they felt was on their behalf.
CROWD: Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!
15:58 — By playing to supporters’ resentment at Washington, Trump captivates the media
NARRATOR: He spoke directly to their resentment at Washington, at the elites. Us versus them.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: He saw what that forgotten man and woman was going through in the United States right now. “I’m the avatar of your anger. If you elect me, I’ll literally be an orange wrecking ball at the barricade known as the swamp, and I’ll knock that barricade down for you.”
DONALD TRUMP: But I want the cameras to span the room. Go ahead, fellas. Watch, they don’t turn them. They don’t turn them. They don’t turn them. Go ahead, turn them. Look, turn the camera, go ahead. Turn the camera, ma’am, turn the camera. You with the blonde hair, turn the camera, show the room, go ahead. They don’t turn ’em. What about—hey, you in the center, why don’t you turn your camera? Show them how many people come to these rallies. Turn ’em. Go ahead, turn ’em. Go ahead.
JUDY WOODRUFF, Anchor, “PBS NewsHour”: Cable news was so fascinated with Donald Trump that they were putting him on the air almost every day. Every one of his rallies made great television, and the news media jumped on that and gave him a lot of airtime.
DONALD TRUMP: And you know we’re in—look at all those live television feeds. It’s always tough. Every time I speak they put me on live television, so I have to make different speeches. These guys go around, they make the same speech hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times, nobody cares. It’s true! It’s true.
MARC FISHER, Co-author, “Trump Revealed”: He was looking out at the camera bank and he could see the red light on the camera, and that meant that he was live on CNN—
DONALD TRUMP: You have CNN live, you’ve got them all, and—
MARC FISHER: —or Fox or one of the other networks. And he said that what he tried to do in those rallies was say whatever it took to keep the red light on.
DONALD TRUMP: Now if you like the media, give them a big hand, and if you don’t, give them a big boo. [Boos] I had a feeling.
JAMES PONIEWOZIK, TV critic, The New York Times: Donald Trump running for president is a plane that crashes every day. There is news as long as he’s talking. There’s news even if he isn’t talking, because who knows what he might say?
WOLF BLITZER: Once again, we’re still awaiting Donald Trump’s arrival at this South Carolina rally—
JAMES PONIEWOZIK: And so you have things like CNN just showing the empty podium where he’s ready to get on stage.
ERIN BURNETT: Breaking news, we are awaiting Donald Trump. He will speak live any moment—
JAMES PONIEWOZIK: That empty podium is now news—
WOLF BLITZER: Stand by. You’re going to hear Donald Trump live—
JAMES PONIEWOZIK: —because it tells you, if you wait long enough, something crazy might happen again.
FEMALE CNN NEWSREADER: We’re awaiting Donald Trump to take the stage. This is out of Tampa, Florida—
FEMALE CNN NEWSREADER: Breaking news, Donald Trump about to rally thousands of supporters—
FEMALE CNN NEWSREADER: ―live pictures that we’re bringing to you. This is from a Donald Trump rally about to get underway in Tampa—
FEMALE CNN NEWSREADER: All right. We’re awaiting the arrival of Donald Trump at a rally in Virginia Beach. These are live pictures right now as the crowd—
18:58 Trump’s message catches fire with white supremacists, Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and Trump spurs them on
NARRATOR: And as the months wore on, Trump’s message caught fire with a more sinister crowd.
MALE PROTESTER: Go [expletive] cook my burrito, b—-!
KATY TUR, NBC News: The anger only increased as it got farther along.
MALE PROTESTER: Go [expletive] make my tortilla, motherf—–! And build that [expletive] wall for me! Trump! I love Trump!
KATY TUR: It became completely acceptable, it became OK to come to a Trump rally and wear a shirt that says “Hillary Clinton is a C–T.”
ROGER STONE: The campaign is continually dogged by a small and vocal number of white supremacists, Klansmen, neo-Nazis.
NARRATOR: Roger Stone was a longtime political adviser to Donald Trump. He has since been convicted of lying to Congress.
ROGER STONE: This isn’t a very large group of people, but they’re very vocal. And they attach themselves to Trump.
GABRIEL SHERMAN: Trump, whenever there was a moment to draw a line between himself and these extreme parts of the voting bloc, he refused. And I think, without question, the only way you can interpret that is that he was going to use these groups to try to build this coalition.
NARRATOR: As anti-Trump protesters showed up at his rallies—
DONALD TRUMP: There’s the guy. Totally disruptive, throwing punches.
NARRATOR: —Trump had no boundaries.
DONALD TRUMP: I love the old days. Do you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks. I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you. Ah, it’s true.
ALEC MacGILLIS, ProPublica: You start seeing these really ugly moments at the rallies, with protesters, some of whom are non white protesters, getting treated very violently by his supporters, Trump himself seeming to incite his supporters to go after protesters.
DONALD TRUMP: Knock the crap out of him, would you? Just knock the hell out of him. I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise. I promise.
NARRATOR: Trump was pouring fuel on the flames of division. His brand of politics and American anger were becoming one and the same.
MATT BAI: He did not create this moment. He did not create the ugliness. He did not create the Twitter social media universe. He did not create the xenophobia, the nationalism, the backlash against globalism and global crusades. He did not create entertainment politics—politics as a form of reality show television. He created none of this. He is its pure manifestation, the absolute logical endpoint of a bunch of trends in American life. I think he is its beneficiary, 100%.
21:50 — Chatter reflects polarization in America – Comedians, talk of Russian interference, Black Power, Blue (Police) Power, Race, Guns…
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: New poll has 87% of Republicans supporting Trump. The other 13% are currently standing on bridges looking vacantly into the distance. [Laughter]
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: Critics say the poll was unscientific, because even science can’t explain how Donald Trump is still in the lead. [Laughter]
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: It’s Six Flags on stage. He’s like a president and an amusement park all rolled up into one. [Laughter]
NARRATOR: Donald Trump wasn’t the only one who seized the opportunity to exploit the nation’s division. Vladimir Putin did it, too, using a cyberattack to strike at the fault lines of American democracy.
GREG MILLER, Author, “The Apprentice”: The effectiveness of this interference from Russia depends on a couple things. It depends on the polarization of politics in America. There were divides, and Russia was pushing out material that exploited those divides, that broadened them, that called attention to those divides.
NARRATOR: Posts on black power.
MALE VOICE [reading online comment]: Staying woke, uplifting our people.
MALE VOICE [reading online comment]: We are proud to be black and stand for our community.
NARRATOR: On Southern pride.
MALE VOICE [reading online comment]: The Confederate flag represents heritage, not hate.
MALE VOICE [reading online comment]: Join our fight to save Southern heritage!
NARRATOR: Russian attacks played into deep-seated fears—
MALE VOICE [reading online comment]: If I win, Clinton wins!
NARRATOR: —exploiting both sides on the most divisive issues.
MALE VOICE [reading online comment]: Stop police brutality!
MALE VOICE [reading online comment]: Blue Lives Matter!
MALE VOICE [reading online comment]: It’s time to get rid of parasites!
MALE VOICE [reading online comment]: I’ll keep my guns, freedom and money.
MALE VOICE [reading online comment]: White kids chant N-word in school bus.
CHARLIE SYKES, Former conservative radio host: And that’s when I realized, “Uh-oh, things have gone too far.” There was a tipping point that took place. And I think the Russians didn’t create that tipping point, but they exploited it. They saw the fissures of division, they saw these pivot points, and they went right for them.
23:45 — Trump only too happy to sow discord and chaos by encouraging Russians to go after Hillary
NARRATOR: Trump, himself sowing discord and chaos, encouraged the Russians to continue their attack and target Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
DONALD TRUMP: I will tell you this: Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.
PETER BAKER, Co-author, “Kremlin Rising”: I think that they started their operation to intervene in the election with the idea of simply sowing discord and weakening the United States as a country by doing so. It only later became a mission to actually specifically elect Donald Trump.
MALE VOICE: [Speaking Russian]
NARRATOR: To help Trump, the Russians spread fake news about Hillary Clinton.
FEMALE VOICE: [Speaking Russian]
STEVE SCHMIDT: Vladimir Putin certainly has our number as a country. He understood how easily Americans could be turned against each other with Facebook. What Facebook does is obliterate the ability to tell the lie from truth, where what is real, what is fake, is not discernible and not knowable. And the consequences of that for a democratic republic are frightening at best to think about.
FEMALE RT NEWS ANCHOR: —record that Mrs. Clinton—
25:10 — Trump weighs in on speculation about Clinton’s health, signaling an ugly new low in American politics
NARRATOR: One particular conspiracy theory was aired in America by a Russian propaganda network, RT.
FEMALE RT NEWS ANCHOR: Various theories about her health caught on.
NARRATOR: Exaggerated and questionable stories about Clinton’s health.
FEMALE RT NEWS ANCHOR: Under a microscope are Clinton’s falls, coughs and head motions.
FEMALE REPORTER: And have you talked about—
FEMALE REPORTER: —Sen. Warren—
FEMALE REPORTER: Did you talk about vice presidential possibilities with Sen. Warren?
HILLARY CLINTON: You guys have got to try the cold chai.
FEMALE RT NEWS ANCHOR: This video filmed in June went viral and started a slew of rumors that Clinton may have had a seizure.
JAKE SULLIVAN, Former Clinton campaign adviser: We were watching stories about Hillary Clinton appearing on Russian propaganda websites like Russia Today and Sputnik.
MALE RT NEWS ANCHOR: A Democratic front-runner has been forced to refute rumors of her deteriorating health, maybe—
JAKE SULLIVAN: And then somehow ending up in very similar form in the right-wing media ecosystem of the United States—Breitbart and InfoWars, even Fox News.
BRET BAIER: What was once a concern voiced in whispers is now getting mainstream attention. We’re talking about Hillary Clinton’s health.
SEAN HANNITY: Some have said it’s like a mini-seizure. What does it look like to you?
MALE FOX NEWS GUEST: It could be a post-concussion syndrome. You know, your balance is off, you’re dizzy all the time, your memory is off.
NARRATOR: It was invented, overblown, but it didn’t matter.
ALEX JONES: The fact is she’s out there giving speeches every day and has to cancel them having these coughing fits.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: New questions tonight about Hillary Clinton’s health.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Good evening. It was a dramatic moment that’s already being watch and rewatched.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: The episode this morning is raising more questions about her health.
MALE VOICE: [Speaking Russian]
FEMALE VOICE: [Speaking Russian]
NARRATOR: And the candidate made the most of it.
DONALD TRUMP: And she can’t make it 15 feet to her car. Give me a break, give me a break. Give me a break!
NARRATOR: As the fake news spread, conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes saw how it hardened the divide.
CHARLIE SYKES: I’ll tell you what my experience was in 2016, that the flood of these misleading or outright false stories was increasing. In the past, I’d always been able to push back on my audience and say, “OK, you understand this is not true. This is not the case. There are not bodies stacked up in the Clinton library, and here’s the source of all of that.” By late 2016, though, I was no longer able to do that. People were not willing to accept the corrections. And Donald Trump is counting on this, and this does fundamentally change our politics.
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: [Laughter] Not sure why Trump would openly ask Russia to spy on Americans, but I’m sure he has his treasons. [Laughter]
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: Donald Trump is asking Russia to hack our former secretary of state— [Laughter]
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: A man running for president just asked Russia to hack Americans… [Laughter]
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: Donald, your party wants you to appeal to the red states, not The Red State. [Laughter]
28:24 — But a tabloid crisis over Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” remark reveals just how low Trump is prepared to stoop
NARRATOR: Using conflict and outrage, Donald Trump had galvanized an angry base and won over the reluctant Republican establishment. But a tabloid crisis would test how much they would take and how far he could he go.
STEVE BANNON, Former Trump campaign CEO: That day we’re up on the 25th floor conference room, and it’s Friday afternoon, about 2:00. And all of a sudden, Hope Hicks shows up outside the glass thing and she’s giving me the signal. So I step out, and I go out, and I read this thing. She’s got this transcript. And she’s like, about to cry. She goes, “Oh, this is terrible.”
NARRATOR: Breitbart’s Steve Bannon had signed on as the CEO of Trump’s campaign.
STEVE BANNON: I said, “What are you so upset about? What is this?” “The Washington Post is going to publish this story in an hour.” And I go, “What’s so bad about it?” And she goes, “Well, look it! He says, ‘I’m going to grab them by the p—y.'” [Laughs] And I go, “Oh, maybe I haven’t focused on that.” So I look down, I go, “Oh, OK, OK.”
DONALD TRUMP: —I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs just in case we start kissing.
NARRATOR: Bannon, Hicks, a top aide, and other members of the Trump team watched it online.
DONALD TRUMP: You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Hey, when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.
DONALD TRUMP: Grab ’em by the p—y.
BILLY BUSH: [Laughs]
DONALD TRUMP: You can do anything.
STEVE BANNON: [Laughs] Like, whoa! Boom, that thing hits. And we’re sitting in the conference room. And on video-–I didn’t quite realize it was audio and video-–in video it’s pretty powerful. So everything shuts down.
MALE CNN NEWSREADER: Donald Trump caught on tape, in his own words, vulgar words, boasting about being able to grab women by their genitals and get away with it because he’s a star.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, Former Trump campaign manager: So after the “Access Hollywood” tape, our poll numbers took a hit, and some national polls had us down to 35% and her at 48%. That’s with one month to go exactly.
KATY TUR: In the audio you can hear Trump talk about a married woman he tried to have sex with and how he behaves with women that he’s attracted to.
MEGYN KELLY: The Trump campaign is in full damage control mode following the troubling story— I thought that was probably it for Trump. It was stunning. I mean, it was stunning just to hear, you know, a major party nominee talk that way about any group, never mind my own, right? Women. It was jarring. It was very jarring.
MALE NEWSREADER: The Trump camp has swiftly launched into disaster mode.
MALE NEWSREADER: A big, big development in this campaign as it comes to—
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, Former Trump campaign adviser: This was the October surprise; had the ability to take down a campaign. And the internal discussion amongst the campaign, some were “You need to apologize immediately,” and some were “You need to double down.”
31:07 — At Steve Bannon’s urging, Trump agrees to sit front and center at press conference with “women Bill Clinton assaulted” to show Trump will never admit to a mistake
NARRATOR: A damage control team gathered: Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, Kellyanne Conway, Bannon.
STEVE BANNON: You know, it’s Rudy and Christie and all the traditional politicians are saying it’s over and you’ve got to—Trump’s going around and saying, “Give me your percentage.” and “What do I do?” And they’re all like, you know, “0%, 20%.” I go, “It’s 100%.” And he goes—I said, “Listen, they don’t care. This is locker room talk. They don’t care about vulgarity or anything like that. They care about they’re losing their jobs, they’re losing their country. They see their country going away from them.”
NARRATOR: The Republican establishment began to defect.
STEVE BANNON: [Laughs] He’s in a bad mood, OK? Now we’ve got a full revolt. Pence is nowhere to be found; he’s not out there saying–-he gives—we get a letter from him. Paul Ryan’s out of the campaign. McConnell’s out, because they thought they were going to lose the Republican Party. They thought every woman in America will never vote for a Republican again, right, because this guy’s a barbarian.
MALE NEWSREADER: This is a political disaster, no doubt.
MALE NEWSREADER: Donald Trump’s campaign, its worst crisis ever.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, “PBS NewsHour”: You see so many Republicans denounce Trump, even though he is the Republican nominee and there’s not going to be someone else to emerge. The Republicans are basically saying, “Whatever. Give it to the Democrats.”
NARRATOR: The traditional rules of politics called for an abject apology.
DONALD TRUMP: I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not. I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them.
NARRATOR: But then he would reframe the crisis on his own terms: “us versus them.”
DONALD TRUMP: Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.
CROWD: Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!
NARRATOR: And soon the base let him know they had gotten the message.
CROWD: We want Trump! We want Trump! We want Trump!
STEVE BANNON: There’s literally this mob down there. And he goes, “Look, there’s my people.” Trump just walks out there!
MAN IN CROWD: Here he is! Donald! Donald! Woo-hoo!
NARRATOR: They were on his side. They liked the conflict, the fight.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: He will never apologize. He punches and then he punches harder and then he doubles down and he refigures and then he punches again. He is never someone that’s going to say, “I made a mistake” or “I apologize.” He will never back down.
NARRATOR: And the very next day, just before the presidential debate, Bannon had a plan to keep the conflict going.
STEVE BANNON: We didn’t tell anybody. Trump didn’t know about it. We’re in the presidential suite at the hotel, walk up, and Trump, as often would do, would kind of lean back and almost close his eyes, and I said, “OK, here’s what we’ve got. [Laughs] We’ve got Paula Jones and all the women that Clinton assaulted. Then you’re going to sit in the middle. We’re going to open the door, and they’re going to come in, and we’re going to f—ing hit ’em, OK?” And he—and I’m sitting there, I’m making my pitch, right? He goes—I go, “What do you think?” He goes, “I love it.” [Laughs]
NARRATOR: They spirited him down the freight elevator, put him in a conference room and opened the doors to an unsuspecting press corps.
KATY TUR: Next thing I know—and no one in the press knew this was happening—there was a press conference with all of Bill Clinton’s accusers right before the debate.
DONALD TRUMP: These four very courageous women have asked to be here, and it was our honor to help them.
KATY TUR: There was widespread shock. Nobody had it beforehand.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me, and Hillary Clinton threatened me. I don’t think there’s any comparison.
NARRATOR: They were allegations the Clintons had long denied, but it didn’t matter to Bannon and Trump. They were sowing more chaos.
JAMES PONIEWOZIK, Author, “Audience of One”: What’s the point to all of this? It doesn’t make Donald Trump or what he was caught on tape saying any better, but it just creates a lot of confusion and chaos.
MEGYN KELLY: Even though it felt dirty, and you felt kind of gross when you watched the whole thing unfold, it was effective. It reminded all of us that the woman who would go into office if he lost was no saint either. Not Hillary herself, necessarily, but her husband—and with her enabling, really, it must be said.
DONALD TRUMP: Thank you all very much. We appreciate it.
MALE REPORTER: Mr. Trump, do you touch women—women without their consent? Mr. Trump—
MALE REPORTER: Why did you say you touch women without consent, Mr. Trump?
PAULA JONES: Why don’t y’all ask Bill Clinton that? Why don’t you’ll go ask Bill Clinton that? Go ahead. Ask Hillary as well.
STEVE BANNON: It was perfect. And that got us momentum. That gave us the velocity, that gave us the muzzle velocity to kind of drive home in the last, you know, five, four or five weeks of the campaign.
MATT BAI: It was a show. First of all, it took some of the attention away from Trump. What he’s really good at in a fight is muddying the waters, muddying the truth, muddying the focus to the point where everybody just says, “Eh, it’s a wash.” He’s done this with the media for years. “They say this about me, I say this.” People don’t trust the media, people don’t trust Trump. He knows that in the end they kind of throw up their hands and say, “You deserve each other.” And that’s fine with him.
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: [Laughter] If the president thing doesn’t work out, I would love to see a reality show where Donald Trump and Billy Bush just travel around the country in a bus. [Laughter]
FEMALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: “Take a Tic Tac and grab them by the p—y” is the closest thing to a plan Donald Trump has described this entire election. [Laughter]
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: Yeah, I don’t think that’s what Donald Trump’s advisers meant when they told him to reach out to women. [Groans]
BRET BAIER: The Decision Desk has called Pennsylvania for Donald Trump.
37:10 — On election night, Trump’s divisive campaign paid off with narrow victory
NARRATOR: On election night, Trump’s divisive campaign paid off.
BRET BAIER: This means that Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. The most unreal, surreal election—
NARRATOR: The base, energized, narrowly put him over the top.
BRET BAIER: —in an Electoral College victory that virtually no one saw coming a year ago, a few months ago—even a month ago, even yesterday.
MEGYN KELLY: Whoa, everyone got this wrong. I mean, 1% of the pollsters and the prognosticators called this, and everyone else was wrong. And this is a huge story.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: What Trump are we going to see tonight?
MALE NEWSREADER: Donald Trump has broken the rules—
DAVID AXELROD: There was a kind of prejudice against Trump, a kind of incredulity in the parlors of Washington and New York and Los Angeles. Somehow this guy who was so coarse and so blatantly exploiting race and division could actually win.
MALE NEWSREADER: —how unpredictable the new terrain here in Washington is—
MALE NEWSREADER: He’s come to Washington to change Washington—
WESLEY LOWERY: It speaks to how deeply divided our nation is: that you have two candidates receive tens of millions of votes, a race that’s separated by just a handful of votes in a handful of states. They care about Donald Trump. They like that guy. They want him to be the president, and they want to beat the Democrats. Crooked Hillary.
MALE NEWSREADER: The creation of a new reality. It’s going to—
MALE NEWSREADER: —caught a political earthquake, an unraveling of the system or even a revolution—
MALE NEWSREADER: A President Trump is very much a wild card.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: I don’t think any of us thought he was going to win. When he wins, if people are being brutally honest, there was a level—a large measure of disbelief.
MALE NEWSREADER: Is this our new normal? Is there reason for concern?
MALE NEWSREADER: —the sheer unpredictability of a President Donald Trump.
DAVE BOSSIE, Former Trump campaign adviser: Even for him, it was a little of an overwhelming feeling to see yourself be elected president of the United States and realize that you’re going to be the next commander in chief, the next leader of the free world. It’s a humbling, humbling thing.
MALE NEWSREADER: 2016 changed the face of American politics forever.
NARRATOR: After a polarizing campaign, he would need an acceptance speech to signal to the country, to an anxious Wall Street and the world—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —a case of disruption coming to Washington—
NARRATOR: —what kind of president he would be.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: I remember calling him on his cell phone when the futures were down. Bloomberg was reporting that stock futures were down 600 as a result of his victory, and I remember saying to him, “Hey, we’ve got to put some stuff in there that are sensitizing to the markets, to let people know things are going to be OK.”
39:56 – Post-election, Trump initially test-drives a “conciliatory tone”
NARRATOR: But Steve Bannon didn’t want things to be OK. He went to work on a speech that would emphasize division—give the base what it wanted.
STEVE BANNON: And I start working on, like at, you know, 1:00, 12:00, 1:00 in the morning. It was go to Washington and we’re going to burn out the permanent political class. We’re going to take a torch to the enemy, OK? That—it was fire-breathing.
NARRATOR: But having won, Trump wavered. He would sound uncharacteristically conciliatory.
PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division—we have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.
STEVE BANNON: You never see the Trump victory night speech ever replayed, because it’s just not Trump. It’s not a—it’s kind of like, let’s have a group hug.
DONALD TRUMP: For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, [Laughter] I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.
STEVE BANNON: I said, “No, no, no, no, we didn’t win an election to bring the country together. It’s not time to bring the country together. It’s time to take on the elites in this country, take the torch to ’em. Hit ’em with a blowtorch.”
DONALD TRUMP: I love this country. Thank you. Thank you very much.
SEAN SPICER, Former RNC chief strategist: I saw him, not only then, but after he returned to Trump Tower that night. And the weight of election, the processing of recognizing what was about to happen, was clearly going through his mind at the time. You could see how profound the moment was.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: I think there was a little bit of shock there, a moment of vulnerability. He said he was literally going to act more presidential than Abraham Lincoln. We laughed, but he meant it seriously. He was going to dial back on Twitter, dial up on presidential nature, if you will.
NARRATOR: In his next public appearance it was toned-down Trump again. In the Oval Office, no sign of the brutal divisiveness that had gotten him there.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, I just had the opportunity to have an excellent conversation with President-elect Trump.
DAN BALZ, The Washington Post: To see the two of them in the Oval Office was kind of the final moment of, “How in the world did this happen? And what have we just gone through?”
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Been very encouraged by the, I think, interest in President-elect Trump’s. I believe that it is important to all of us—
BEN RHODES: Trump is totally disinterested in the gravity of the job he’s walking into. Just doesn’t care.
NARRATOR: Ben Rhodes was one of Obama’s closest aides.
BEN RHODES: I think for Obama it was like a gut punch. Obama’s seeing this meeting as an opportunity—”I need to tell him about all these things—how health care works in this country, North Korean threat, what’s going on with Iran.” And Trump is totally disinterested in any of this. Didn’t even care.
NARRATOR: In front of the cameras, the reality TV star smiled and tried out his new role.
DONALD TRUMP: We were just going to get to know each other. We had never met each other. I have great respect. The meeting lasted for almost an hour and half. And it could have—as far as I’m concerned, it could have gone on for a lot longer.
MICHAEL KRANISH, Co-author, “Trump Revealed”: The Donald Trump who came to the Oval Office on Nov. 10, two days after Election Day, seemed like a very different Donald Trump. He spoke very respectfully of President Obama, who he had questioned whether was a legitimate president to the birther issue. But here he was saying he greatly admired President Obama. So for someone who’s just heard Trump talk on the campaign, it seemed like an out-of-body experience.
DONALD TRUMP: And I look forward to being with you many, many more times in the future. Thank you, sir.
BARACK OBAMA: Thank you, everybody. We’re not—we are not going to—
MOLLY BALL, The Atlantic, 2011-17: And there was an idea, for a brief moment, that he was about to pivot; he was about to be “presidential.” He would show us all that he was capable of uniting America and speaking to everybody at once.
44:35 — But before long, the anger, resentment, conflict returned, triggered by meeting with James Comey re “the dossier”
NARRATOR: But before long, the anger, resentment, conflict that had put Donald Trump in power would return. It erupted after one decisive meeting.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —showdown at Trump Tower between the president-elect and top intelligence—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: President-elect Trump is about to get all of the details from U.S. intelligence officials.
NARRATOR: That day the powerful leaders of the intelligence community arrived at Trump Tower. They came, evidence in hand, to convince the president-elect the Russians really had interfered in the election.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —all setting the stage for what could be a day of fireworks here at Trump Tower.
SUSAN GLASSER, Co-author, “Kremlin Rising”: He came to identify the question of the Russian intervention in the election as a questioning of his own election as president. And so he, from the very beginning, refused to treat this in a way that I think any other president would have, which is as a serious attack on the U.S. and its election integrity, but chose to view it in very personalized terms.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: The officials say they’ll present him with classified materials that proved Russia—
NARRATOR: And it only got more personal. After the briefing, FBI Director James Comey spoke to Trump privately.
MATT APUZZO, The New York Times: Comey pulls the president aside and he tells him, “Hey, listen, I need you to know that there’s this— what we now call ‘the dossier.’”
NARRATOR: The dossier: unverified and sensational allegations prepared by a former British spy, partially paid for by the Democrats. It was political dynamite.
MALE VOICE [reading from dossier]: Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years.
JANE MAYER, The New Yorker: It’s full of things that may be able to allow the Russians to blackmail him. It has information about him involved in perverted sexual acts.
MALE VOICE [reading from dossier]: —to exploit Trump’s personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable “kompromat” (compromising material) on him.
NARRATOR: After the meeting, the president-elect was furious.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Co-author, “Russian Roulette”: Trump is talking to his top aides, and he views this as blackmail. “It’s a shakedown,” he tells them. His assumption is that Comey is giving this to him to show him that he’s got something on him.
NARRATOR: Then news of the briefing leaked.
MALE CNN ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER: CNN has learned that the nation’s top intelligence officials provided information to President-elect Donald Trump—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: There’s the controversial move by BuzzFeed last night, publishing a dossier sources—
NARRATOR: Before long, the entire dossier was online.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —but they have been detailed by numerous media outlets, including BuzzFeed, The New York Times and CNN—
NARRATOR: Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon told the president-elect he knew what was going on. Bannon himself had used Breitbart to wage harsh right-wing attacks. Now, Bannon said, the mainstream media was going after Trump.
STEVE BANNON: This is what scumbags the mainstream media are and how gutless they are. BuzzFeed—BuzzFeed, the standard of excellence in journalism in our country-–prints the dossier with the link. And I said, “Here it goes.” Because then The New York Times, The Washington Post, it’s bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. They’re reporting that this was given to the president, right?
NARRATOR: He wasn’t even president, and already Trump was under siege.
HOWARD KURTZ, Author, “Media Madness”: The president-elect must have concluded that the press was going to be an adversarial, confrontational force, even before he took office, and that the press had sources that could undermine him—sources that knew what he was doing, even if he was privately meeting with the FBI director. I think that set the tone for what was to follow.
48:32 — In response to media frenzy over the dossier, Trump launched into “attack mode” against the “fake news” media
NARRATOR: Now it was back to what Trump did best. At a press conference the very next day, he gave his base what they had come to expect: He attacked.
DONALD TRUMP: I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake, out.
J.D. GORDON, Former Trump campaign adviser: He expressed his frustration. He knows it’s a setup. He knows it’s a plot to destroy him and people around him.
DONALD TRUMP: And that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it’s a disgrace.
JOHN CASSIDY, The New Yorker: Trump, I think because of the dossier and the leak of the dossier, was so furious that he just came out and lashed out at everybody. And I think that sort of set the tone for the entire administration, to be honest.
DONALD TRUMP: That information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public.
JOHN CASSIDY: I think that was a signal to everybody, certainly to me and the rest of the media, that this was the Trump we were going to get in the White House; that it wasn’t going to be any sort of a reset. It was going to be the angry—the same Trump that was out there on the campaign trail.
JIM ACOSTA: Can you give us a question?
DONALD TRUMP: Go ahead.
NARRATOR: Trump made it clear the press was the enemy.
JIM ACOSTA: Mr. President-elect, that you are attacking our news organization—
DONALD TRUMP: No, not you. Not you.
JIM ACOSTA: Can you give us a chance?
DONALD TRUMP: Your organization is terrible.
JIM ACOSTA: You are attacking our news organization—
DONALD TRUMP: Your organization is terrible. Let’s go.
JIM ACOSTA: Can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir? Sir! Can you state—Mr. President-elect, can you state categorically—
DONALD TRUMP: Let’s go. Go ahead. Quiet. Quiet. Go ahead. She’s asking a question; don’t be rude.
JIM ACOSTA: Mr. President-elect, can you give us a question?
DONALD TRUMP: Don’t be rude.
JIM ACOSTA: You’re attacking us.
NARRATOR: He then deployed a weapon designed to undermine the media: a catchphrase.
JIM ACOSTA: Can you state categorically—
DONALD TRUMP: You are fake news. Go ahead.
JIM ACOSTA: Sir, can you state categorically—
CHARLIE SYKES: It was really extraordinary watching Donald Trump take “fake news,” the term “fake news,” and adopt it as his own critique of the media. He has created this alternative reality that allows him to dismiss or discredit anything that is negative while pushing his own narrative.
DONALD TRUMP: But I will tell you, some of the media outlets that I deal with are fake news more so than anybody. I could name them, but I won’t bother, but you have a few sitting right in front of us. So they’re very, very dishonest people.
DAN BALZ: He used it as a way again to divide the country, to energize his supporters and to cast himself as somebody who is under siege by an establishment or an elite whose interests are counter to the people who elected Donald Trump. And frankly, very effectively done.
DONALD TRUMP: It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen.
FRANK LUNTZ, GOP pollster: He’s a brilliant marketer. And he knew that with the drop in credibility of the media, and the increase in skepticism and cynicism from the public, that he was able to get away with much more. He was able to say things that no other president had said and to be able to challenge the press directly.
DONALD TRUMP: That this fake news was indeed fake news.
JIM ACOSTA: Sir, you did not answer—sir, you did not answer whether any of your associates were in contact with the Russians. Sir, you did not answer—you did not answer whether any of your associates were in contact with the Russians. Can you categorically deny that did not happen, sir? Can you categorically deny that did not happen, sir?
51:44 — Day of, and day after his inaugural, crowds of protesters rally in opposition to Trump
FEMALE NEWSREADER: The world is watching our country today—
MALE NEWSREADER: Trump is set to become America’s 45th president today.
NARRATOR: As he took the oath of office, Donald Trump made no pretense of seeking unity or healing. He spoke directly to his base.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
NARRATOR: He framed the conflict: “us versus them.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs.
RONALD BROWNSTEIN: He very much made accentuating the divide part of his campaign strategy, and even more incredibly, part of his governing strategy. I think he is the first president who arrived explicitly understanding, and even seeking to speak only to his base.
NARRATOR: But that very day he would be confronted by the other side of the divide.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —people of this crowd were waiting for, and they got their moment, and I have to tell you, we are just passing Trump Hotel; we did pass protesters, so you could hear the din of the people chanting—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: We are next—right across the street from the hotel. There is a huge group of protesters combined with supporters, and they’ve been very vocal, and we’ve seen a few flare-ups.
MALE NEWSREADER: It looks like they’re going back to the car—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: So, Lester, there is a change of plans now, I believe. He is back in his vehicle.
NARRATOR: It was a sign of the anger also deepening on the left. The mood that day went from peaceful protests—
PROTESTERS: Trump and Pence are fascists! Trump and Pence are fascists! Trump and Pence are fascists!
NARRATOR: —to standoffs to violent provocation.
MALE RIOTER: Light it up!
NARRATOR: By the next day, hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters overwhelmed Washington.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Today, the resistance will be televised live from Washington, D.C.—
MALE NEWSREADER: One of the largest single-day protests in American history, speaking out against Donald Trump just one day after he took office.
PROTESTERS: We want a leader, not a tweeter! We want a leader, not a tweeter!
JUDY WOODRUFF: The day after the inauguration, there were more people who showed up on the National Mall in Washington for the Women’s March than there had been the day before, when a new president was inaugurated.
PROTESTERS: Pence sucks, too! Pence sucks, too!
DAN BALZ: When you had the Women’s March and the hundreds of thousands of people out in the streets—
FEMALE PROTESTER: Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!
DAN BALZ: —in Washington, in cities around the country, in places around the world, there was an energy created by his election; that energy began to course through the political system, and you could see that with the Women’s March.
ANDERSON COOPER: There will be a debate about the size of the crowd, these protesters saying that they’re going to have a bigger crowd here today than Donald Trump had of his supporters for his inaugural yesterday. We’ll let that debate play out—
55:25 — Sean Spicer’s famous lie: “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period,” and Kellyanne Conway’s equally famous “alternative facts” defence of the lie, and Trump wouldn’t let go
NARRATOR: The protests, the women, then the breaking point: The news about the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
MALE NEWSREADER: —former President Obama on the left, and Trump’s inauguration, where, there on the right, with far fewer spectators.
MALE NEWSREADER: —literally from the exact same vantage point showing a big difference in the size of the crowd—
MALE NEWSREADER: There were big holes in the crowd, so those are the comparisons right there.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —paling in comparison to President Obama’s—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Take a look at that exact same image from today; we saw a lot fewer—we saw fewer people.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Visually, at least? It was smaller—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: I think it’s safe to say there was light turnout.
JAMES PONIEWOZIK, TV critic, The New York Times: Donald Trump is a TV guy. He has always been concerned with his ratings and with numeric values of winning versus losing. So the notion of having a smaller crowd than somebody else just eats at him.
NARRATOR: On their first day in the White House, press aide Cliff Sims saw Trump’s frustration up close.
CLIFF SIMS, Former Trump aide: Within the first five minutes that I’m in the building, there’s this kind of crisis moment. There was a lot of reporting that the inaugural crowds for him were not as big as the inaugural crowds for Obama. That is the equivalent for Donald Trump of a schoolyard fight, so they were really coming after him, [Laughs] hitting him where it hurts.
PETER BAKER, The New York Times: And he starts insisting, “That’s not true. We have the biggest crowd ever.” He tells Sean Spicer, his press secretary, “You go out there and tell them that.” And it sets the tone. It sets the tone from the beginning: This is not about healing; this is not about bringing people together.
CLIFF SIMS: Sean, first day on the job, is thinking to himself, “Here is my chance to show I’m tough. I’m going to punch back 10 times harder than they hit us. Let’s figure out how to do that.” I grab a computer, start pecking out a statement.
NARRATOR: This was the statement they drafted. Almost every fact about the crowd size was wrong.
CLIFF SIMS: We were so caught up in the moment, and Sean’s trying to impress the president, and I’m being told facts that end up not being true, which we didn’t vet properly. Sean was basically marching out to his own death there.
SEAN SPICER: Good evening. Thank you, guys, for coming. I know—
CLIFF SIMS: At least his credibility’s death.
SEAN SPICER: Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.
CLIFF SIMS: And only a fool would have gone out there kind of half-cocked the way that we did. And we were those fools.
SEAN SPICER: This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe. Even The New York Times—
STEVE SCHMIDT: When he goes out and says, “This is the biggest crowd size ever”—
SEAN SPICER: —a misrepresentation of the crowd—
STEVE SCHMIDT: —what he’s saying in essence is, “What’s true is what the leader says is true.” The obliteration of the line between truth and the lie is fundamental to grasp because it’s so elemental to a functioning democracy. And the degradation of those institutions is a weakening of our system.
MALE INTERVIEWER: Did you lie on his behalf?
SEAN SPICER, Former Trump press secretary: No.
MALE INTERVIEWER: Never?
SEAN SPICER: No. There were plenty of times when—look, your job, you may not go full-on, but I don’t think—that’s—you’re—I think I—the job of the press secretary is to articulate what the principal wants articulated, not what you want. You’re not there to call balls and strikes and interpret. That’s what you guys should be writing and covering instead of sowing division about tweets and false narratives. I will see you on Monday.
MALE REPORTER: What’s your reaction—
FEMALE REPORTER: Sean? Women’s March—
MALE REPORTER: How about the Obamacare changes?
FEMALE REPORTER: You can’t say no one has numbers and then say—
MALE REPORTER: Women’s March bigger than Trump’s inaugural?
DAN BALZ: What we learned in those first days of the Trump presidency was the degree to which Donald Trump was going to insist on trying to write the history of his presidency the way he wanted to; that if you spoke for Donald Trump, you had a constituency of one, and that was Donald Trump.
KELLYANNE CONWAY: What it——you’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving—Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point remains—
CHUCK TODD: Wait a minute. [Laughs] Alternative facts?
KELLYANNE CONWAY: —that there’s—
CHUCK TODD: Alternative facts? Four of the five facts he uttered. The one thing he got right—
KELLYANNE CONWAY: Hey, Chuck, why—hey, Chuck—
CHUCK TODD: —is Zeke Miller. Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Look, alternative facts are not facts; they’re falsehoods.
MATT BAI: I mean, the obvious impact is that it’s created a tremendously dangerous, unstable force in American life, where people don’t know what to believe. People have been told they’re right not to believe the things they are told by credible sources. The president of the United States has contributed mightily to an environment where people believe what they want to believe, and that is going to have long-term repercussions.
NARRATOR: Trump didn’t let it go. The fight over crowd size resonated with his base and the “us versus them” war he was waging.
MALE REPORTER: Just before we leave, the president tells us he wants to show us just one more image.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: One thing this shows is how far over they go here. Look. Look how far this is. This goes all the way down here, all the way down. Nobody sees that. You don’t see that in the pictures. But when you look at this tremendous sea of love—I call it a sea of love—it’s really something special.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It really did become emblematic of what the Trump presidency was to be, in that nothing was accepted at face value. It was kind of a warning sign that not to take your eye off this ball, because it’s going to be different from now on. And it has been.
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: [Laughter] He’s focused on the size of his crowds, the size of his ratings, the size of his hands, the size of, well, everything, and— [Laughter]
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: Either that’s a lot of empty space or that crowd is even whiter than I thought. [Laughter]
FEMALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: You just couldn’t see Trump’s crowd because they were wearing polar bear skins. [Laughter]
1:01:50 — Trump’s first acts as president stoked conflict, appeased his base, starting with Travel Ban against 7 Muslim countries
NARRATOR: Trump’s first acts as president were also meant to stoke conflict.
REINCE PRIEBUS: Next is an executive order minimizing the economic burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act pending repeal.
NARRATOR: He signed a raft of executive orders on some of the most divisive issues in American life and politics.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Trump’s advisers have teed up more than 200 possible executive orders for the new president to consider—
NARRATOR: On Obamacare.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Another executive order, and this one is associated with Obamacare—
NARRATOR: The environment.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: He’s speeding up environmental reviews and approval—
NARRATOR: Immigration and the border wall.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —sign an executive order to begin building the wall on the southern border.
BEN SHAPIRO, Editor-in-chief, The Daily Wire: I do think that they wanted to have a flurry of activity at the beginning to demonstrate that Trump is what he said he was. He’s not going to wait. He’s not going to take his time. He knows what to do, and he’s going to fix everything. He’s going to set the world right, immediately.
STEVE BANNON, Former Trump chief strategist: The message is, “It’s a crisis; we’re at work, and we’re driving this. Donald Trump’s president of the United States. Now comes the hour of action. There’s been enough talk.”
NARRATOR: Steve Bannon kept a list on his office wall of the promises that the president was trying to deliver on.
CLIFF SIMS: People talk all the time about everything that Trump does politically is a base play, and Steve Bannon being the example of the one who encourages him to, you know, “Let’s play to the base. Let’s play to the base. Let’s play to the base.” They feel vindicated that 2016 showed that if you energize a sliver of the country that that can be more powerful than kind of having this, you know, more even-keel message that we’re going to appeal to a little bit of everyone. Steve Bannon I think rejects that premise, and he says that I’m all about energizing this sliver. And that that’s the way to win.
NARRATOR: The most explosive executive order, crafted to create shock and awe, was aimed at blocking people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
CHARLIE SYKES: Everybody understood what the travel ban was designed, in fact, to do. They understood the symbolism; they understood the message that it sent to his base. And what they were saying was, “Promise made, promise kept.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: “Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” It’s big stuff.
NARRATOR: The reaction from the other side was immediate: more outrage.
MALE NEWSREADER: A scene of outrage at JFK Airport in New York, where two men—
MALE NEWSREADER: Protests all across the country, reaction from around the world after the president signed his executive order—
MATT BAI: As a symbolic issue to his base and to his opponents, as a marker in American life and in the American political debate, when we moved into an entirely different, dark kind of period, I think its significance is hard to overstate.
MALE NEWSREADER: Swift reaction from around the country—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —now protests, outrage and backlash from President Trump’s refugee ban.
WESLEY LOWERY: These actions that Trump does to appease his base and to excite his base have incited the resistance against—
PROTESTERS: No ban! No wall! For all!
WESLEY LOWERY: The travel ban is one of the most important days in the Trump presidency, not just because of the policy itself and what it says about us as Americans, much less the people themselves, who are now imperiled, unclear if they could come to the United States, but it was the thousands of people rushing the airports.
MALE NEWSREADER: In Seattle, police actually dispersed some crowds with pepper spray. It was a day of high drama—
WESLEY LOWERY: It was the day when it felt like democracy may be crumbling at its seams—
PROTESTERS: No bans! No walls! Sanctuary for all!
WESLEY LOWERY: —and what might still be here when we wake up in the morning? There’s going to be 7,000 people at LaGuardia and at DCA and at Dulles? Are they going to start storming the gates and seizing refugees from TSA agents?
PROTESTERS: Right now! Let them go! Right now! Let them go!
REP. CHARLIE DENT, R-Pa., 2005-18: It struck me that this administration was going to be a lot different than any other we had seen; that they were simply not going to abide by any type of process; that there was a certain amount of spontaneity and impulsiveness about the way this administration was going to operate.
CROWD: The people united will never be divided! The people united will never divided!
FEMALE NEWSREADER: The president will meet with more Republicans in Congress.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: President Trump will meet with conservative leaders to talk about health care today—
1:06:00 — Next on Trump’s hit list – Obamacare – “Repeal and Replace” sparked angry opposition
NARRATOR: He had incited conflict with the travel ban, and now he would move on to another polarizing issue: Obamacare.
REP. TOM COLE, R-Okla.: The Republican Party had for three elections in a row run on the repeal of Obamacare. So I think that there was a sense that, “Hey, we owe our electorate; they put us here for this reason.”
NARRATOR: To get it done, Trump would rely on Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican establishment.
STEVE BANNON: In the sequencing of repeal and replace, and that’s where the establishment and Ryan says, “I got this. We voted 50 times—50 times—to repeal this. This is something we own. We know this better than anybody.”
MALE NEWSREADER: President Trump met earlier this evening with members of the Freedom Caucus to discuss—
NARRATOR: But like the travel ban, Trump’s effort was immediately mired in angry opposition.
FRANK LUNTZ: There’s still half of America, which is a significant percentage, that did not vote for Trump, did not vote for Republicans in Congress and did want to repair Obamacare but didn’t want to dump it. And when you start with the most contentious issue, what are you going to get?
JOSHUA GREEN, Bloomberg Businessweek: All around the country you had these hugely energized town halls, and legislators would go home and get screamed at by constituents who were terrified they were going to take away their health care.
REP. DAVE BRAT, R-Va., Tea Party, 2014-19: I had the Resist movement and the protesters around the building. The problem is Obamacare has just collapsed.
TOWN HALL AUDIENCE: Boo! [Shouts]
DAVE BRAT: There’s just a huge reaction. I had town halls with people in churches swearing and lobbing F-bombs at the pastor, if that helps set the tone. I’d try to finish sentences on health care, etc., whatever. Folks are just, “Brahh.”
PROTESTERS: Read our questions! Read our questions!
DAVE BRAT: That’s what we were facing, right? People were saying, “You’re going to take away health care for millions” and “Brahh, boo!” you know—[Laughs] so, it was hard to have a rational dialogue. Still is.
PROTESTERS: Shame on you! Shame on you!
SUSAN DAVIS, NPR: They were kicking a hornets’ nest of millions of Americans who are now terrified that they could lose their health insurance coverage.
MALE TOWN HALL SPEAKER: —and take the billionaires’ money and give it to that woman! Here!
SUSAN DAVIS: It just created an environment that I also don’t think Republicans were really politically ready for.
MALE TOWN HALL SPEAKER: —single-payer, run by the government? Oh, yeah, it’s got problems, but it’s also got elections, and you’re going to find that out in 2018!
MALE NEWSREADER: What Trump has done is he’s made Obamacare popular. Obamacare—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: The reality is that Obamacare is very popular right now.
NARRATOR: Trump’s frustration grew as the legislation became bogged down.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —repeal legislation that is twice as popular as the president—
PETER BAKER: The vagaries of the legislative process are lost on him. On “The Apprentice,” you just simply say, “You’re fired,” and that’s the end of it. The idea of working with a legislature is kind of—it’s a mystery to him. And so, “How is it these Republicans can’t get this done? What is it you’re doing, Paul Ryan? You told me you were going to get this done?”
STEVE BANNON: Then “repeal and replace” becomes a fiasco. They’re totally and completely incompetent. They’re not ready to govern. They’re just not ready to govern.
1:09:10 — In Senate vote to replace Obamacare, John McCain gives “Thumbs Down” to torpedo Trump victory
FEMALE NEWSREADER: The Senate is scheduled to vote on the latest version of the bill to replace Obamacare—
NARRATOR: Trump watched as the Senate prepared for a crucial vote on health care reform.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —vote on health care, a vote that’s too close to call at this point.
NARRATOR: The key vote: Republican Sen. John McCain, a longtime Trump adversary.
NEWS REPORTERS: —he is expected to return to Capitol Hill today to cast what is expected to be a “yes” vote on health care.
MALE PRESIDING OFFICER: The clerk will call the roll.
MALE CLERK: Mr. Alexander.
ED O’KEEFE, The Washington Post, 2005-18: It was the most dramatic night on the Senate floor I had seen in all my years up there.
MALE CLERK: Mr. Barrasso.
SUSAN DAVIS: The vote’s ticking away, the vote’s ticking away. And McCain’s on the floor, but he’s not voting.
MALE CLERK: Mr. Blunt. Mr. Booker.
LISA DESJARDINS, “PBS NewsHour”: You saw Mitch McConnell looking more and more unhappy; his arms were closed. And you could tell from the body language on the Republican side that they were very worried.
MALE CLERK: Mr. Durbin.
SUSAN DAVIS: John McCain walks up to where the vote clerks are and he lifts his hand very dramatically.
NARRATOR: McCain, with a thumbs-down gesture, shocked the chamber.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, R-Ariz.: No!
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-Maine: You could hear audible gasps in the chamber, and those gasps of surprise came from both sides of the aisle.
JOHN McCAIN: No!
FEMALE NEWSREADER: In the Senate chambers you could hear the shock: first gasps, then applause.
MALE NEWSREADER: Another devastating blow to Republican senators as an Obamacare repeal fails—
FRANK LUNTZ: Nobody was expecting John McCain to vote no, and the way that he did obviously had ramifications not just in the Senate or in Congress, but in the White House as well. And how it would make everything more difficult because members are fighting with each other now.
DON LEMON: Breaking news right now. The Republicans’ Obamacare repeal failed in the Senate tonight, the vote 49 to 51.
MALE NEWSREADER: The dramatic collapse of the health care effort—
NARRATOR: The president had been watching on television.
SEAN SPICER: We were in the dining room off the Oval Office. There was profound disappointment that we were that close, and that we had spent a lot of effort really believing that we could finally do something when it comes to health care.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Republicans tried and have failed again—
SEAN SPICER: And so it was just huge disappointment.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: We are continuing to follow breaking news on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers dealt a serious blow to the president’s agenda—
NARRATOR: His first major legislative effort went down in defeat.
JOSHUA GREEN: Trump was angry. He was angry because he was failing as a president. All he had to do was click on cable news to see that he wasn’t being portrayed as the winning, swashbuckling, powerful president he wanted to be.
1:11:48 –Trump turns to his base, lashes out against the Republicans, blaming Mitch McConnell
NARRATOR: It was a decisive moment. He would have to unleash his attack politics onto the Republican establishment itself.
ALEX MARLOW, Editor-in-chief, Breitbart: He goes with the corrupt, feckless Republican establishment instincts for the first couple months of his presidency, and it backfires. What other conclusion could he draw other than now it’s time to try some stuff on my own?
NARRATOR: This time he turned to the base, spoke to them directly.
MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]: You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us H-care!
NARRATOR: He targeted congressional Republicans, especially leader Mitch McConnell.
MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]: Sen. Mitch McConnell said I had “excessive expectations,” but I don’t think so. After seven years of hearing “repeal and replace,” why not done?
SUSAN DAVIS: The president’s frustration was not subtle, right? Particularly towards Mitch McConnell. I think he just saw him as a failure.
MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]: Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed “repeal and replace” for seven years, couldn’t get it done.
JOSHUA GREEN: Trump was using the most powerful weapon he has, which is Twitter, to humiliate him repeatedly, to rake him over the coals, to let his followers know, “This is Mitch McConnell’s fault. He’s failed you, not me.”
MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]: Mitch, get back to work and put repeal and replace, tax reform and cuts and a great infrastructure bill on my desk for signing.
FRANK LUNTZ: He’s feeding it. Trump is feeding hostility towards Congress. And that tweetstorm galvanized Trump voters to turn against Congress in a way that I’ve never seen a governing party’s supporters engage in.
1:13:24 — Next on Trump’s target list, a new enemy – the government itself, firing James Comey
NARRATOR: He had exploited division; separated the country into us versus them; and now he would target a new enemy, the government itself, tapping into conspiratorial fears he called “the deep state.”
DAVID URBAN, Former Trump campaign adviser: There is a permanent class of federal employees that don’t necessarily agree or voted for this president and that aren’t thrilled to see him in power. They’re working, internally, against the president.
NARRATOR: Trump’s war with the deep state began with FBI Director James Comey, the man who had delivered the dossier and was investigating Russian election interference. Unable to get him to back down, Trump fired him.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Breaking news: James Comey has been removed from heading the FBI. This is a statement from—
NARRATOR: TV news helicopters were waiting as Comey left the FBI field office in Los Angeles.
MALE NEWSREADER: This was a very closely kept secret here at the White House. I am told only a handful of top advisers—
MALE NEWSREADER: Trump has finally fired FBI Director Comey. This guy—
HOWARD KURTZ: When the president fired Jim Comey there was an explosion, a huge eruption in the media and the country. You started hearing Donald Trump compared to Richard Nixon. This was another Saturday Night Massacre. This was another Watergate.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: The firing of Comey, though, has drawn comparisons to President Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre—
CLIFF SIMS: This is a moment where you really understand the feedback loop that Trump kind of thrives on. “I make a decision, and then I’m able to immediately go and watch the reaction.”
JAKE TAPPER: Stunning news, even for President Trump, who has been known to shock people.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: This is a president using his power to prevent himself from falling under the justice system that we all have to deal with.
ERIN BURNETT: The bombshell announcement, something that was completely unexpected to anyone—
CLIFF SIMS: What are the talking heads saying about this? How is it being framed? How is it being covered by the media?
NARRATOR: Trump would escalate the conflict—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: In a campaign-style rally, a defiant President Trump—
NARRATOR: —rallying his base against the media—
MALE NEWSREADER: Trump back in his happy place tonight in front of a crowd of adoring supporters—
NARRATOR: —the Justice Department and the FBI.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I did you a great favor when I fired this guy, I tell you. I did you a great favor. Look at what’s happened. Look at how these politicians have fallen for this junk. Russian collusion—give me a break!
JONATHAN MAHLER, The New York Times Magazine: It’s basically a kind of divide-and-conquer kind of strategy. And so as long as the country is sort of divided and he has his defenders, he can undermine those who are attacking him.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: People, take a look at the intelligence agencies. Honestly, folks, let me tell you, let me tell you, it’s a disgrace. We’ve got to get back down to business. It’s a disgrace—
JEH JOHNSON, Former secretary, DHS: I was surprised and unsettled that we have a new president who is attacking institutions of his own government, his own intelligence community, his own law enforcement community. These are people who work for him and are sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States. So this was an unprecedented historic situation.
1:16:47 — Trump, as usual, blames others, casting himself as victim; Fox and Breitbart echo his angry tweets
NARRATOR: To his supporters he cast himself as a victim.
MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]: This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!
MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]: There is no collusion and no obstruction. I should be given apology!
MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]: You are witnessing the single greatest witch hunt in American political history, led by some very bad and conflicted people!
NARRATOR: His tweets provided the script for Fox News.
MALE FOX ANNOUNCER: “Fox and Friends” starts right now.
FEMALE FOX NEWSREADER: The president is really mad.
MALE FOX NEWSREADER: He tweeted this out: “As the phony Russian witch hunt continues”—
NEWT GINGRICH: This is a very dangerous witch hunt.
TRISH REGAN: It’s only because I think this is a witch hunt.
SEAN HANNITY: —and put an end to the political witch hunt against President Trump.
JOSHUA GREEN: If you turn on Fox News, if you click on Breitbart, he is this hero victimized by forces who are unfairly attacking him.
MALE CNN ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news—
JOSHUA GREEN: If you turn on CNN, if you open up The New York Times—
DON LEMON: —really looks a lot like obstruction of justice.
JOSHUA GREEN: —Trump is a failing president who’s very unpopular.
SEN. DICK DURBIN, D-Ill.: The president has no one to blame but himself.
JOSHUA GREEN: And increasingly, those two worlds pulled apart. The partisan divide became even deeper than it was in the election, it became a chasm. And in many ways, it’s an unbridgeable chasm.
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: —but he thinks he’s still on the “Celebrity Apprentice.” It was between James Comey and Meat Loaf and, well, [Laughter] the Loaf won again—
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: President Vladimir Putin said today that Russia had nothing to do with the firing of FBI Director James Comey. [Laughter]
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: Comey thought it was a prank and started laughing. [Laughter] But to be fair, that’s also how Trump reacted when he won the election. [Laughter] He was like—
1:18:43 — Things turn ugly when white nationalists demonstrate at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville culminating in death of woman by white nationalist using his car as a weapon
PROTESTERS: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!
NARRATOR: Then, the starkest example of just how ugly it was all becoming.
PROTESTERS: Jews will not replace us!
DAN BALZ: Charlottesville. In many ways, it was the worst moment of the first year of his presidency, because it was so—it was so obvious what a president should do in a situation like that.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: We have breaking news tonight with that “alt-right” white nationalist rally. Take a look at this.
PROTESTERS: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —universities, the torch-wielding white nationalists coming face to face—
MALE NEWSREADER: —a demonstration by white nationalists at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
PROTESTERS: White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter!
JOSHUA GREEN: What you had in Charlottesville was the “alt-right” people, many of them marching in Trump’s name.
MALE PROTESTER: This is Trump’s America!
JOSHUA GREEN: We could see them marching with torches and it looked like something out of Nazi Germany.
NARRATOR: Neo-Nazis and white nationalist protesters were forming, protesting plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee.
DAVID DUKE: Hi, how y’all doin’?
NARRATOR: Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke praised President Trump.
DAVID DUKE: We are determined to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump.
NARRATOR: Also arriving, counter protesters determined to confront the white nationalists.
MALE COUNTERPROTESTER: This is what they represent!
COUNTERPROTESTERS: No fascist USA. No Trump. No KKK. No fascist USA!
WESLEY LOWERY: Charlottesville was a clash between these forces—the forces of these far-right groups and then counterprotesters, folks who say, “Why are there Nazis in our streets? We’re going to get them out.”
NARRATOR: Armed right-wing militia arrived. Hour by hour, the tensions grew.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Violent clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters broke out earlier today—
WESLEY LOWERY: We see time and time again videos of the far-right protesters beating black attendees of the counter protest.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Charlottesville under siege—
MALE NEWSREADER: —as police in riot gear try to restore calm.
NARRATOR: And then, the unthinkable.
FEMALE BYSTANDER: Holy [expletive]! Holy [expletive]!
WESLEY LOWERY: A man drives his vehicle into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer and wounding others. This was an incident that was clearly the tail of these far-right, white supremacist powers emboldened and out of control.
MALE NEWSREADER: Panic and horror in Charlottesville. A car slams into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white supremacy protest—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: A woman was killed when a man drove his car into a crowd, injuring 19 others—
NARRATOR: Trump watched the violence. His response at this explosive moment would be crucial to both sides of the divide.
JONATHAN MARTIN, The New York Times: When this happens, the instinct of most presidents would be heal, unify, mourn. But that’s not what he wants to do; it’s not his impulse. But he has to say something.
1:22:28 — Trump’s off-the-cuff “blame on both sides” at Charlottesville, provokes “firestorm”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But we’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia.
ANNIE KARNI, Politico, 2015-18: He had prepared remarks that he was going to read, condemning the violence in Charlottesville.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.
ANNIE KARNI: The words “many sides” were ad-libbed and added by Trump. They were not in his prepared remarks.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you.
NARRATOR: The ad-lib immediately provoked an uproar.
MALE NEWSREADER: —struggled to shore up the president’s equivocal response to Charlottesville.
CHARLIE DENT: That didn’t go over very well because it was clear that one side seemed to initiate this altercation. It was the nationalists, these white nationalists. They were largely responsible for the violence.
NARRATOR: Arriving in New York City, the president faced a firestorm.
MALE NEWSREADER: When the president won’t stand with you against Klansmen who showed up with guns—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Initially, he didn’t respond explicitly condemning right-wing—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: That’s how neo-Nazis see President Trump. They are clapping for him.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: I think he is making very clear who and what he is.
MALE NEWSREADER: —talks like a white supremacist, it’s likely a white supremacist.
NARRATOR: Some advisers wanted Trump to apologize, but not Steve Bannon.
MALE NEWSREADER: —not a tough call for most politicians, and so if you can’t—
STEVE BANNON: This is where various elements in the White House, in the West Wing, get in his ear about trying to get him to do something that is not in his wheelhouse, not in the way he rolls. You can’t do that. Let Trump be Trump. The nation voted for it. It is what it is. It’s just not—if you try to do it, it’ll be phony and everybody can smell the phoniness.
NARRATOR: Trump kept it going.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me, what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the “alt-right”? Do they have any semblance of guilt?
ANNIE KARNI: He’s so fiery and he’s so angry, and he’s really getting in personal back-and-forth with members of the press.
FEMALE REPORTER: Sir—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, as far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day. Wait a minute! I’m not finished! I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day.
McKAY COPPINS, Author, “The Wilderness”: We saw Trump completely unbound from convention, tradition, even democratic norms, I would say, and just fully speaking his mind in an unfiltered and I think to a lot of people unnerving way.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it, either. And—and—and if you reported it accurately, you would say.
MALE REPORTER: Sir—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me, they didn’t put themselves down as—and you had some very bad people in that group. You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: I’m a reporter who has reported on race for a long time, and I never would have imagined the person in the office of the president calling people who go to a Nazi rally “very fine people.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? Thank you all very much. Thank you.
MALE REPORTER: What about the Nazis who support you?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: It’s probably the first time where the country realizes this is going to get bad. And it is the beginning of a time in America where people realize that America is not just a place where racist ideals can exist, but it’s a place where racist ideals can be fueled by the White House.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: —tremendously positive impact on race relations.
PETER BAKER: He is about division. His presidency is predicated on that. He wants division; he craves it. He enjoys finding seams and driving right into them. There’s no fight he doesn’t want to be part of, and there are plenty of fights he’d like to start. The fight is the goal. It’s—there’s no reward from his point of view in unity. There’s a reward in fighting.
MALE NEWSREADER: President Trump is being criticized by fellow Republicans for being too—
NARRATOR: Some Republicans broke ranks and came out against him.
MALE VOICE [reading Sen. Jerry Moran tweet]: White supremacy, bigotry and racism have absolutely no place in our society, and no one—especially POTUS—should ever tolerate it.
MALE VOICE [reading Sen. Marco Rubio tweet]: Mr. President, you can’t allow white supremacists to share only part of blame.
MALE VOICE [reading Sen. John McCain tweet]: There’s no moral equivalency between racists and Americans standing up to defy hate and bigotry.
SEN. JEFF FLAKE, R-Ariz., 2013-19: I reacted in a way that most of my colleagues did as well: that this was not where a president should be. This was a layup. This was easy. If there’s white supremacy in any form, you condemn it. I mean, that’s the easy thing to do. And he didn’t. And I thought, “Oh, man. That’s really drilling down on the base.”
JUDY WOODRUFF: With that statement it sent a signal to some of the most intolerant elements in the country—in our country, American citizens who are racist—that he was listening to them, that he respected that point of view, that he wasn’t going to walk away from them. And that’s been a lasting message that’s been out there.
1:27:58 — At rally in Arizona, Trump engages in “payback” retaliation against Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake
MALE NEWSREADER: President Trump is holding a Make America Great Again rally in—
NARRATOR: President Trump had been compiling an enemies list—
MALE NEWSREADER: —for a campaign-style event tonight—
NARRATOR: The media—
MALE NEWSREADER: —getting ready for tens of thousands of supporters—
NARRATOR: —the FBI and now Republicans who weren’t sufficiently loyal.
DAN BALZ: If you’re an elected Republican, Donald Trump has made it clear that if you go against him, he’s going to go against you, and you will pay a price for that. And we saw it in any number of individual cases, and it doesn’t take very many of those. I mean, all it takes are two or three of those cases for people to get the message that there is enormous risk if you go against the president.
NARRATOR: One example: Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who had emerged as a Trump critic.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I’m thrilled to be back in Phoenix, in the great state of Arizona.
NARRATOR: As always, Trump would attack, rallying his base against Flake.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They all said, “Please, Mr. President, don’t mention any names.” So I won’t. I won’t!
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, Former Trump campaign manager: It’s about going back to the base to demonstrate how popular it is to be with the president, particularly in Jeff’s own state.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And nobody wants me to talk about your senator, who’s weak on borders, weak on crime, so I won’t talk about him! No, I will not mention any names. Very presidential, isn’t it? Very presidential.
COREY LEWANDOWSKI: When the president of the United States rolls in and you have a rally that has thousands of people in it, Jeff pays attention.
CROWD: Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp!
DAN BALZ: For Donald Trump, everything is about Donald Trump. You’re either for Donald Trump or you are against Donald Trump. And he wants to encourage everybody to see it his way, so he steps into all of these and makes his voice heard and makes his muscle felt.
NARRATOR: It was effective. Flake’s own voters turned on him.
JEFF FLAKE: I think he knew at that time that I was out of step with a lot of the Republican base, that he represented more of their feelings than I did.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will make America great again! Thank you, Arizona, God bless you. Thank you, thank you.
NARRATOR: Flake understood what it meant: His Senate career was over.
MALE PRESIDING OFFICER: The senator from Arizona.
JEFF FLAKE: I decided to pull the pin. None of my colleagues knew it at that point. I told a few of them, “You may want to come to the floor.” But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy. The impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people. In the case of the Republican Party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.
JOSHUA GREEN: I think there was relief among a lot of members of the Republican Party that finally somebody was coming out in the open and saying this, because on some level, this is what most of them felt, and they’d been afraid to say it. They’d been afraid because they were afraid of Donald Trump; they’d been afraid because they were afraid that his base would defeat them in the party primary the next time they were up for the election.
NARRATOR: As Flake walked off the floor, he left the other Republicans with a choice.
DAN BALZ: He’s basically drawing a line: “If we are going to be a successful conservative party, we have got to turn away from what Donald Trump is doing to us and the way he is leading us.” It’s kind of a moment of truth for the Republican Party. What kind of party is this going to be? Who’s going to lead this party?
NARRATOR: But Flake soon discovered there would be no Republican insurrection.
SUSAN DAVIS: There isn’t a rush to stick up for Jeff Flake or side with him. Everyone just kind of stays on the sidelines and wants to stay out of it. When you would talk to someone—”What did you think about Jeff Flake?” “Oh, I didn’t see what you said”; “I missed it”; “I was in a meeting.” There wasn’t much ruminating on his decision.
STEVE SCHMIDT: We have a guts and courage crisis in American politics. We have politicians who go to great effort to get elected to go to Washington, not to fight for great principles or causes but to see who can be the best bootlicker.
NARRATOR: The president had won.
COREY LEWANDOWSKI: Jeff Flake thought he was going to raise his profile to the point where he would have an opportunity to be something bigger than what he is. And what happened? He made a terrible calculation. He went against Donald Trump, who’s a proven winner, and now Jeff is a guy who also used to be a U.S. senator.
MALE NEWSREADER: Breaking news: Two more GOP congressmen announcing that they will not seek reelection in the 2018—
MALE NEWSREADER: —President Trump from two Republican senators calling it quits—
NARRATOR: In time, more than 40 other Republicans would leave.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —of more than a dozen Republicans who decided—
STEVE SCHMIDT: In the Trump era, there’s no room for disagreement. The era where the senators, the members of Congress, asserted their prerogatives, their power, would stand up to a president, seems largely to be over in the United States today.
1:33:31 — Trump’s sweeping tax cut passes, and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, grovel in praise to the “bully” pulpit
FEMALE NEWSREADER: It looks like President Trump is going to get his Christmas wish.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —the most sweeping rewrite of our tax code moves closer to—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —the first legislative win for President Trump—
NARRATOR: Trump’s dominance would culminate in front of the cameras in the Rose Garden.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —the most sweeping tax overhaul in three decades.
NARRATOR: It was a ceremony for the passage of his first major piece of legislation, a tax cut.
MALE NEWSREADER: —a major victory for President Donald Trump—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s really—I guess it’s very simple, when you think you haven’t heard this expression, but we are making America great again. You haven’t heard that, have you?
NARRATOR: One by one, congressional leaders, some he’d previously ridiculed—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Mitch, how about you start it?
NARRATOR: —came forward to praise President Trump.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL, R-Ky.: Well, let me just say, Mr. President, you made the case for the tax bill, but this has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the Trump administration. We’ve cemented the Supreme Court right of center for a generation. You’ve ended the overregulation of the American economy. Thank you, Mr. President, for all you’re doing.
COREY LEWANDOWSKI: What the Republican establishment now know is Donald Trump is unequivocally the leader of the Republican Party. He is the one who sets the tone of what takes place in Washington. He is the leader of our country, both politically and from a legislative side of things.
REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis.: Something this big could have not been done without exquisite presidential leadership. Mr. President, thank you for getting us over the finish line. Thank you for getting us where we are.
SUSAN GLASSER, The New Yorker: Donald Trump has conflated Republican Party loyalty with loyalty to himself to an extreme degree, and has been remarkably successful over the last several years in what amounts to really a hostile takeover of the Republican Party that was actually quite united against him in 2016.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Orrin, say a few words, please?
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-Utah: Mr. President, I have to say that you’re living up to everything I thought you would. You’re one heck of a leader, and we’re all benefiting from it. And we’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen not only in generations, but maybe ever. God bless all of you.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Whoa! Paul Ryan just said, “How good was that!”
DAN BALZ: In essence, this became Trump’s Republican Party. The testimony that people gave there is hard to take back. Orrin Hatch, for example. But McConnell and Ryan and others who gave Trump an enormous amount of credit, that created a unity within the Republican Party that had not existed.
CHARLIE SYKES, Author, “How the Right Lost Its Mind”: This was a fight for the soul of the Republican Party, and Trump won. There’s no question about it. And it’s not so much that Trump took over the Republican Party; it’s that the Republican Party completely capitulated to him. They’re all united in believing that in order to survive politically, and not lose in a primary, they have to stick as close to him as possible. Even when he puts out racist tweets, you cannot criticize him in public. Even when he engages in the most reckless behavior, you cannot break with him in public.
1: 36:57 — The sleazy Brett Kavanaugh’s impersonation of a Trump “us vs them” attack wins him a seat on the Supreme Court
NARRATOR: Trump had brought divisive politics to the presidency, the Congress, and it would even extend to the Supreme Court.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is my honor and privilege to announce that I will nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Supreme Court showdown as Democrats are promising to fight President Trump—
MALE NEWSREADER: The battle is on. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh made the rounds on Capitol Hill—
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Now is the time to fight!
MALE NEWSREADER: Now some Democrats have already come out in total opposition to—
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, D-Conn.: You don’t belong in this building as a justice.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, D-Calif.: Pay attention to this, guys. Pay attention.
TED OLSON, Solicitor general, G.W. Bush: If he’s confirmed he’ll be on the court for 25 to 30 years. That’s six presidential terms. That is a key vote.
PETER BAKER: Trump sees courts as just another political body. You know, he refers to judges, he refers to an Obama judge or a Bush judge or a Trump judge. You know, you might as well put a “D” or an “R” after their names. He doesn’t see judges as being independent figures. He sees them as just an extension of the political battles.
NARRATOR: The nomination was immediately polarizing, igniting partisan warfare in the Judiciary Committee.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, R-Iowa: Good morning. I welcome everyone to this confirmation hearing on the nomination of Judge—
KAMALA HARRIS: Mr. Chairman.
CHUCK GRASSLEY: —Brett Kavanaugh—
KAMALA HARRIS: Mr. Chairman.
CHUCK GRASSLEY: —to serve as associate justice—
KAMALA HARRIS: Mr. Chairman, I’d like to—
NARRATOR: Cable news coverage packaged and projected to each side of the divide.
CHUCK GRASSLEY: You are out—you are out of order. I’ll proceed.
We cannot possibly move forward, Mr. Chairman, with this hearing.
CHUCK GRASSLEY: I extend a very warm welcome to Judge Kavanaugh—
KAMALA HARRIS: We have not been given an opportunity—
SEN. CORY BOOKER, D-N.J.: Mr. Chairman, I appeal to the chair to recognize myself or one of my colleagues.
CHUCK GRASSLEY: You’re out of order.
CORY BOOKER: Mr. Chairman, I appeal to be recognized on your sense of decency and integrity—
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Chairman, if we cannot be recognized, I move to adjourn.
CHUCK GRASSLEY: —the American people—
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Chairman, I move to adjourn.
PROTESTER 1: This is a mockery and a travesty of justice. This is a travesty of justice. We will not go back. Cancel Brett Kavanaugh. Adjourn the hearing.
PROTESTER 2: You should have been a hero! Be a hero! Cancel this hearing! Senator!
NARRATOR: Then, a shocking allegation that would feed the conflict.
MALE NEWSREADER: Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: The woman’s name is Christine Blasey Ford.
NARRATOR: They told him his nominee was in trouble.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —a worst-case scenario for Kavanaugh and his defenders.
NARRATOR: The allegations consumed the nation.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Christine Blasey Ford described Kavanaugh as stumbling drunk at a Maryland house party in the 1980s—
MALE NEWSREADER: Both say they’re willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but that committee has said—
NARRATOR: The Trump strategy: Make it TV drama. Play to the base.
MARTHA MacCALLUM: Tonight, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh breaks his silence for the first time.
NARRATOR: The network: Fox.
BRETT KAVANAUGH: I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter. And the girls from the schools I went to and I—
NARRATOR: The performance, however, was not vintage Trump.
JANE MAYER: Trump’s idea is if somebody ever hits you, hit them back twice as hard. And instead, he’s got Brett Kavanaugh talking about how long he stayed a virgin after he was in college. It was embarrassing and not especially effective.
MARTHA MacCALLUM: Through all these years that are in question, you were a virgin.
BRETT KAVANAUGH: That’s correct.
MARTHA MacCALLUM: And it’s through what years in college, since we’re probing into your personal life here?
BRETT KAVANAUGH: Many years, many years after. I’ll leave it at that. Many years after.
MARTHA MacCALLUM: When you look at how all of this, where all this generated from—
NARRATOR: Kavanaugh decided to hold back.
MARTHA MacCALLUM: —where’s this all coming from?
BRETT KAVANAUGH: I just want a fair process where I can be heard.
MARTHA MacCALLUM: You don’t have any thoughts on what’s—where this is coming from?
BRETT KAVANAUGH: I just want an opportunity, a fair process where I can defend my integrity.
MARTHA MacCALLUM: And you were a virgin.
BRETT KAVANAUGH: That’s correct.
PETER BAKER: Trump wanted him to get out there and fight back. He wanted him to be outraged; he wanted him to show anger and resolve, and this was communicated to Judge Kavanaugh.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: To say that everything that could have gone wrong for Brett Kavanaugh has is an understatement.
MALE NEWSREADER: The impetus is on Judge Kavanaugh. They did not have the votes in the Senate—
NARRATOR: By the time Kavanaugh testified, he had received Trump’s message: launch an “us versus them” attack.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE, D-S.D., Former Senate majority leader: There was only one person that mattered. It wasn’t the committee. It wasn’t the American people. It was the president of the United States watching to see whether that nomination would be pulled. President Trump even noted he was going to be watching the testimony.
BRETT KAVANAUGH: Your coordinated and well-funded effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out. You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never.
JAMES PONIEWOZIK: He gives a performance in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that is basically a Donald Trump impression.
BRETT KAVANAUGH: This confirmation process has become a national disgrace. But you have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy.
NARRATOR: Right out of Trump’s playbook, Kavanaugh made it political—
BRETT KAVANAUGH: This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit.
NARRATOR: —dredging up a name sure to inflame: the Clintons.
BRETT KAVANAUGH: —revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.
JANE MAYER: It has become this completely politicized drama. He turned it into a huge fight between Democrats and Republicans. He’s trying to rally all the Republicans to his side.
BRETT KAVANAUGH: This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, Trump adviser: The president appreciates people who stand up for themselves and for what they believe and don’t allow the politically correct police—or, in this case, accusers—stop them or thwart them or impede them. And the president would tell you, he knows a thing or two about that.
MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]: His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful.
TED OLSON: We’ve taken the idea of judicial independence, judicial neutrality, and we’ve discredited that in the eyes of the American people. What are the American people supposed to think if they watched four days of reality theater, where people are giving speeches and pounding the table and throwing down pieces of paper and saying things like that? It’s very damaging to an institution that I have great respect for, and I hate to see this happen.
BRETT KAVANAUGH: I have to say that I fear for the future.
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: Hashtag “me too.” [Laughter]
FEMALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: It’s never OK to try to rape somebody—not even in high school, [Laughter] not even if you’re totally going to become a Supreme Court justice.
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: —any experts think he has a shot, to which Kavanaugh replied, “A shot? Yeah, I’ll take a shot.” [Laughter]
MALE LATE-NIGHT COMEDIAN: It feels like they’re doing this just to deliver a f— you to Democrats and even more directly a f— you to women, because when this—
1:45:07 — Democrats get revenge by taking over House of Rep in 2018 mid-term election, but Trump humiliates Pelosi and Schumer in post-election showdown
NARRATOR: Soon, across the divide, a gathering storm. Democrats roaring back, taking over the House of Representatives, intensifying the partisanship in Washington.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Quite a dramatic night. Voters have decided on significant—
MALE NEWSREADER: —won the House of Representatives, they have 229—
FEMALE NEWSREADER: Even after Democrats flip the House—
MALE NEWSREADER: House Democrats are already preparing for battle.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: —lawmakers set to use their powerful—
RONALD BROWNSTEIN: You have a Democratic Party that is as dominant as it’s ever been in metro America, a Republican Party that is as dominant as it has ever been in non-metro America. And what this produces is two Americas that are separate not only in their partisan affiliation, but in pretty much everything. Trump didn’t create this—we’ve been heading in this direction for years. But he leaned into it. And everything he has done has deepened this trench.
NARRATOR: Now, a new level of confrontation, up close and in full view of the television cameras.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: OK, thank you very much. It’s a great honor to have Nancy Pelosi with us and Chuck Schumer with us. And we’ve—
PETER BAKER: Trump loves an enemy. So the advantage of the House flipping is now he has one. He has someone to blame other than Republicans if things don’t get done. Wall not being built? That’s because of the Democrats. Immigrants coming over the border? That’s because of the Democrats.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif.: Sixty people of the Republican Party have lost their—are losing their offices—
PETER BAKER: He’s now got this foil that he likes to use in public.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We gained in the Senate. Nancy, we’ve gained in the Senate. Excuse me, did we win the Senate? We won the Senate.
CHUCK SCHUMER: When the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I did. We did. We did win North Dakota and Indiana.
NANCY PELOSI: Let me say this—let me say this. This is the most unfortunate thing. We came in here in good faith, and we’re entering into this kind of discussion in the public view.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But it’s not bad, Nancy. It’s called transparency.
NANCY PELOSI: I know, there’s not transparency—
MATT BAI: He’s carrying on, and Pelosi keeps trying to sort of get it to stop, like, “Do we need to do this in front of the cameras?”
NANCY PELOSI: Let’s call a halt to this. We have come in here in good faith—
MATT BAI: I thought that moment demonstrated for me what he understood about his presidency and the modern presidency that a lot of Democrats and that a lot of Republicans do not. I mean, this is where—Trump understands entertainment. He understands television.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now, and I understand that.
MATT BAI: The best moments of him of his presidency are when he is breaking through the artifice of Washington.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But we have to have border security.
NANCY PELOSI: Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.
MATT BAI: To Pelosi or to Schumer, yelling at each other in front of cameras and the American public is seeing you behave like children, that’s just—it’s humiliating, and it’s beneath the dignity of the office and their offices. But to him, that’s winning, because that’s—that is showing people, “I’m not standing for the stagecraft here.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.
FEMALE AIDE: Thanks, guys. Thank you.
NARRATOR: In the months that followed, the political conflict would escalate.
1:48:24 — LET THE IMPEACHMENT BEGIN
FEMALE NEWSREADER: He pressured Ukraine’s government to assist Trump’s reelection campaign—
MALE NEWSREADER: The president pressured Ukraine’s leader about eight times, eight times—
NANCY PELOSI: Today I’m announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.
NARRATOR: Democrats, activated and angry.
NANCY PELOSI: The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.
MALE NEWSREADER: Democrats are zeroing in on a framework for their impeachment case—
MALE NEWSREADER: A deeply divided moment is playing out in American history as we come on the air.
WESLEY LOWERY: What we know is that our nation has two mobilized movements, that there remains a fundamental fault line in our populace and in our population. We’re not going back to politics as usual.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: An impeachment is the only option.
MALE NEWSREADER: President Trump continues to attack top Democrats Nancy Pelosi and—
NARRATOR: Trump, amplifying “us versus them.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The absolutely crazed lunatics, the Democrats, radical left and their media partners standing right back there are pushing the deranged impeachment witch hunt for doing nothing wrong.
MALE NEWSREADER: President Trump is firing back and drawing widespread criticism for likening himself to the victim of a lynching.
PROTESTERS: Impeach! Remove! Impeach! Remove!
JUDY WOODRUFF: Today there’s just a lack of respect and a willingness to ascribe the worst motives; to assume the other side is not just the opponent, political opponent, but the enemy; the guy who needs to be not just vanquished, but eliminated.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage; they want to destroy our country as we know it. Not acceptable. It’s not going to happen.
CHARLIE SYKES: The damage of this is going to be long-term, and I think it’s going to be very, very deep. What have we been willing to accept that we weren’t willing to accept before? How do we think about each other? How do we think about being an American? How do we treat one another? What are our standards? And that’s—I think the damage is potentially going to be very deep.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: President Trump sending a scathing letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanding she “immediately cease this impeachment fantasy.”
NARRATOR: An historic vote: impeachment.
NANCY PELOSI: Those in favor say “aye.”
HOUSE DEMOCRATS: Aye!
NANCY PELOSI: Those opposed, “nay.”
HOUSE REPUBLICANS: No!
NANCY PELOSI: The ayes have it. The ayes have it.
MALE NEWSREADER: We saw what is a very bitterly divided America on display, virtually every Democrat voting for impeachment—
NARRATOR: A standoff.
MALE NEWSREADER: —every Republican voting against it.
NARRATOR: Feeding the anger, the outrage, the division.
NANCY PELOSI: Those in favor, say “aye.”
HOUSE DEMOCRATS: Aye!
FRANK LUNTZ: We were far more divided in the Civil War, far more divided during the Great Depression. But we’ve always had hope in the future. And that hope, we’re losing it with this division.
MALE NEWSREADER: And all of the debates and all of the hearings hasn’t seemed to budge anybody very much.
FEMALE NEWSREADER: President Donald Trump is impeached. The vote in the House of Representatives—
NARRATOR: And soon, the election.
DAN BALZ: This country goes into 2020 as divided as it’s ever been. It will go through 2020 with one of the most divisive campaigns we’ve probably ever seen. And it is likely to come out at the end of 2020 still divided. And whether the next president, whether it’s Donald Trump for a second term or whoever is the Democratic nominee, whether they can move us past that I think is the biggest single question for the next presidency. And I think based on everything we’ve seen, not just over the last few years, but over the last decade or more, tells us how enormously difficult that’s going to be.
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