Read by Peter Berkrot
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Let Trump be Trump: The Inside Story of His Presidency is the ultimate behind-the-scenes account of how he became President of the United States.
Donald Trump was a candidate, and now a president, like none that have come before. His startling rise to the White House is the greatest political tale in the history of our republic. Much has been written about this once-in-a-millennial event but all of those words come from authors outside the orbit of Donald Trump.
Now, for the first time, comes the inside story.
Written by the guys in the room-two of Trump’s closest campaign advisors-Let Trump Be Trump is the eyewitness account of the stories behind the headlines. From the Access Hollywood recording and the Clinton accusers, to Paul Manafort, to the last-moment comeback and a victory that reads like something out of the best suspense novel, Let Trump Be Trump pulls back the curtain on a drama that has mesmerized the whole world-including the palace intrigues of the Mooch, Spicer, Preibus, Bannon, and more.
By turns hilarious and intimate, Let Trump Be Trump also offers a view of Donald Trump like you’ve never seen him, the man whose success in business was built not only on great skill but on loyal relationships and who developed the strongest of bonds with the band of outsiders and idealists who became his team because they believed in him and his message.
Written by Trump’s campaign manager, the fiery Corey Lewandowski, and Dave Bossie, the consummate political pro and the plaintiff in the famous Citizens United Supreme Court case who helped steer the last critical months of the Trump campaign, Let Trump Be Trump is destined to be the seminal book about the Trump campaign and presidency.
Donald Trump’s chances of winning are approaching zero.
—WASHINGTON POST, OCTOBER 24, 2016
Donald Trump Stands a Real Chance of Being the Biggest Loser in Modern Elections
—HUFFINGTON POST, OCTOBER 27, 2016
Our final map has Clinton winning with 352 electoral votes.
—LOS ANGELES TIMES, NOVEMBER 6, 2016
DONALD J. TRUMP couldn’t have struck a more perfect tone in acknowledging his victory on election night. It’s hard to imagine what one might say in accepting a job at which so many were counting on you to succeed and so many others never wanted you to have in the first place. We’d like to think Americans of all political beliefs felt a little bit of optimism for our great country after President-elect Trump made his acceptance speech. In part because of the media coverage, it was one of the most bitter, contentious presidential elections in recent memory.
Yes, Donald Trump had said things typical politicians would never have said, but what needed to be said about the Washington establishment’s failure to stand up for the people they were elected to represent. He certainly hadn’t minced any words about his opponent, Hillary Clinton, just as she hadn’t about him. But that night, at that moment, it was important to the country to see Mr. Trump the same way we had seen him for the last two years: gracious, respectful, and speaking to and for all Americans, Republican, Democrat, and Independent—the Americas who have been forgotten for too long. President-elect Trump was gracious in thanking Hillary Clinton for her service to our country and asking Republicans and Democrats for their help and guidance.
Anyone who knows Donald Trump the way we do knows he was sincere during those few moments onstage, and even his critics praised his acceptance speech. Even the self-deprecating part about the “few people” who didn’t support him was pure Trump. But more than anything else, he was at that moment humbled by the honor that had been bestowed on him by a country he truly loves, confident in his abilities and the miracles possible when the free men and women of this great land work together to achieve greatness.
That was the Donald Trump America saw in the first hours of November 9, 2016, after Hillary Clinton had conceded the election. The twenty-four hours leading up to that moment were another story altogether.
At around one o’clock in the afternoon on Election Day, Dave Bossie left the campaign’s war room in Trump Tower and made the five-minute walk to 30 Rock to do an interview with Hallie Jackson on MSNBC. Jackson had asked him where he was most concerned. “It’s not a concern,” he said. “We just have our path to 270.” Over and over he had told interviewers that week that Trump’s gateway to the presidency ran through North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, and Florida. On Jackson’s show he sounded knowledgeable, confident.
But on his way back to Trump Tower he was just trying to keep straight the thoughts that flared in his mind. He had been talking to the campaign’s state directors all day, people like Mike Rubino in Virginia, Scott Hagerstrom in Michigan, Eric Branstad in Iowa, Bob Paduchik in Ohio, Susie Wiles in Florida, and David Urban in Pennsylvania. All key battleground states. All giving him anecdotal reports like, “It’s raining in Cleveland” or, “The turnout is low in these precincts” or, “They have machine problems in Philly” (no surprise there).
In one moment he was sure Trump would win. In the next, he thought we didn’t have a chance.
By late afternoon, it looked like the latter. In the war room, on the fourteenth floor of Trump Tower, a space that had once housed the set for The Apprentice, it was all hands on deck. Ivanka, Don Jr., Don Jr.’s wife, Vanessa, Eric, and Eric’s wife, Lara, were working the phones. Our communications team, led by Hope Hicks, Jason Miller, Jessica Ditto, and Boris Epshteyn was heroic. People such as Bryan Lanza, Kaelan Dorr, Clay Shoemaker, Chris Byrne, Steven Chung, Andy Surabian, Cliff Sims, and others, some of whom had been with the campaign since the beginning, were calling top-five radio shows in key markets such as North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio. During the campaign, the Trump children did scores and scores of interviews, and on Election Day they did one right after the other.
“Go out and vote for my father,” they said.
“Hurry, before the polls close!”
The truth was, some on the campaign were already jumping ship. The Friday before the election, Sean Spicer, then the chief strategist for the Republican National Committee and a campaign adviser, called a meeting at RNC headquarters in which his team gave tier-one network reporters its predicted totals for the Electoral College vote. The information was strictly on background and under embargo. In that meeting, the Republican data team said that Donald Trump would get no more than 204 electoral votes, and that he had little chance of winning any of the battleground states, and that even dead-red Georgia was a toss-up. On the record, Spicer and the RNC’s chief of staff, Katie Walsh, did several network and newspaper briefings just before the election in which they downplayed the race at the top of the ticket and instead talked about the importance of down-ballot races and the improvement in the RNC’s ground game. But Spicer was so convinced of a Trump loss that he was actively petitioning networks for a job the week before the election. In the coming months, a lack of loyalty would split the new administration in two. The actions of Spicer and other RNC staff helped widen that divide.
Because of these actions, Mr. Trump never fully trusted the RNC team.
By five o’clock on election night, though, something close to panic had set in in the war room. That’s when the candidate himself took to the phone. When Jason Miller joined the campaign as communications adviser, and Paul Manafort was still the campaign’s chairman, the two would come up with lengthy briefing notes for Trump’s radio interviews containing information like “This guy’s located in X city or market and has been the show’s host for X number of years, and he has an X-thousand-person listenership.” Trump would look at the paper and say, “What the fuck is this? I don’t need all this. Just give me a phone number and tell me who to call.”
In any traditional campaign, with any traditional candidate, a staffer would call the radio producer and say something like, “Hold on for Mrs. Clinton in three minutes.” But not with our candidate.
“Hi, this is Donald Trump,” he said into the receiver. “Let me speak to the host.” And that’s what he did in the war room, call after call. Some of the producers didn’t believe him. “No, you’re not,” they said. “Yes, I am,” Trump would say. It would have been hysterical if the presidency of the United States hadn’t been on the line. Things were upside down. And they only got worse.
Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, Donald Trump’s first campaign manager was steaming. It was the last place Corey R. Lewandowski wanted to be. For the first time in living memory, both presidential candidates were spending election night in New York City. Hillary Clinton’s campaign was headquartered at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the far west side of Manhattan, while Donald Trump’s campaign war room was in Trump Tower. The Trump campaign had booked the New York Hilton Midtown on Sixth Avenue for its after-party, while Hillary and Bill took a suite at the Peninsula Hotel, just a little over a block away. But CNN, in its infinite wisdom (as Corey likes to say), had decided the best place for Donald Trump’s former campaign manager to broadcast his election-night commentary from was the CNN studio in Washington.
Corey Lewandowski’s relationship with Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, was good but colorful. And though CNN and Zucker feigned outrage at some of the things Corey did while he was working for the network, including catching a ride on Trump Force One, the 757 with TRUMP emblazoned on the fuselage, while the rest of the press corps languished behind, they were mostly thrilled with the information that only he had or could share with their viewers. That access had helped provide Anderson Cooper with an interview with Melania Trump days after the Access Hollywood tape turned the Trump campaign upside down.
But on election night, of all nights, Zucker wouldn’t let Corey go to New York, where he longed to be more than anywhere in the world. He wanted to be with the team, his team, which he never really left.
In the CNN studio, when the early numbers indicated that the election was going to go as the mainstream media predicted, the cable news anchors and commentators were having a good time at Corey’s expense, both on camera and off. No matter how much the Wolf Blitzers, the John Kings, the Jake Tappers, and the scores of reporters from other networks professed their evenhandedness and their unbiased approach to covering the election, the truth was they almost unanimously wanted Trump to lose. Some disliked the candidate intensely. Many disliked Corey because he worked for Trump. Later in the evening, the political commentator Van Jones would call Corey “a horrible person.”
Corey, however, didn’t give a fuck what they thought.
All he cared about were the returns and winning.
At exactly 5:01 p.m., Dave was in his office when his BlackBerry rang. On the line was Chris Vlasto, a senior producer at ABC. Dave and Vlasto’s relationship went back over twenty years. They knew each other from the Clintons’ Whitewater and campaign-finance investigations, when Vlasto was the producer of an investigative news team and Dave was the chief investigator for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.
“Are you sitting down?” Vlasto asked.
“Oh boy,” Dave said. “This can’t be good.”
“No, it’s not. You guys are in for a long night.”
Vlasto had the early exit numbers that the consortium of news networks—the Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and NBC News—had collected. The consortium followed eleven battleground states, including Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Trump was down in eight of the eleven states by five to eight points. The news was devastating. A kill shot.
You just don’t come back from spreads like that, Dave thought. There just weren’t enough votes out there to come back from five to eight points down.
Dave wrote the numbers Vlasto gave him on a piece of copy paper on which he had previously scribbled some precinct turnout numbers from Cuyahoga County, Ohio. He then left his office and walked down the internal staircase to the fifth floor, where the campaign’s Election Day war room was located. In Trump Tower, going from the fourteenth floor to the fifth floor means traveling only one level. The missing numbers have something to do with either the height of the lobby or real estate value—take your pick. On five, he ran into Stephen K. Bannon, the campaign’s CEO and strategist, who had just come out of the inner war room, a smaller, private data and troubleshooting office for senior campaign staff.
“What’s up?” Bannon asked.
Dave had just finished reading Bannon the numbers when Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner walked over to them. Dave started from the beginning and began reading the numbers to Jared. Then Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee’s chairman, joined the huddle. For privacy, the group went out to the balcony that overlooked Fifth Avenue. There, Dave began to read the dismal numbers for the fourth time, but this time something struck him as odd. According to the consortium’s exit poll numbers, Trump was down seven points in Colorado.
Jared called his father-in-law in the residence and tried to soft-pedal Vlasto’s numbers.
“Melania,” Mr. Trump called to his wife, “Jared says we’re going to lose.”
Mr. Trump then snapped his flip phone closed and tossed it across the room and onto the bed. “What a waste of time and money,” he said.
At 5:34, Dave received an email from Vlasto with the early exits he had requested. He scrolled down to the bottom of the page where there were two footnotes describing what the asterisks next to some of the numbers meant. One asterisk signified a “partial phone and exit poll.” Two asterisks meant “all phone and no exit poll.” Colorado was one of the states marked with two asterisks. Colorado votes 100 percent by mail-in ballot. There was no way to have accurately polled people who mailed in their ballots over the previous days or weeks.
Dave took the sheet and found Jared, Bannon, and Priebus.
“I think these numbers are bad,” he told them.
At around nine o’clock, the boss arrived in the war room on the fourteenth floor and stood in front of a wall mounted with six seventy-five-inch TVs, all showing different networks. The number of people in the room had somehow swelled. There were dozens of pizza boxes piled on the tables. Melania Trump was there, as were the Trump kids. Governor Mike Pence, his wife, Karen, and their daughter, Charlotte, were there. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was there, as was Dr. Ben Carson. Bob Mercer, the reclusive conservative billionaire, was dressed in a dapper three-piece gray suit. Bannon said he looked like Rich Uncle Pennybags, the Monopoly man. Dave’s wife, Susan, and his son Griffin, his nephew Daniel, and his brother-in-law, Scott Hall, were there. They had gotten separated from the rest of Dave’s family, who were over at the Hilton with everyone else. They all closed in around Governor Pence and Donald Trump.
Election Day is the worst day of any campaign. It’s the day when you let go of the steering wheel and leave your destination up to fate. Most people in politics don’t do well when it’s fate’s turn to drive, especially when the car you’re in seems to be headed off a cliff.
The team led by Dave and scheduler Caroline Wiles had the gas pedal to the floor during the last days on the road. From the Phoenix “Trumpmania” event in July 2015 to Grand Rapids on Election Day morning, Donald Trump’s rallies were the driving force of the campaign. But the final swing Dave had built was just a stone killer, three days of crisscrossing the country, doing six events a day, and finally landing in Michigan after midnight on Election Day.
As the boss watched the TVs in the war room, his hopes were falling apart. We were down in Ohio, down in Florida, and down in North Carolina.
“Hey geniuses,” the boss said to no one in particular, “how’s this working for us?”
Dave went over and tried to reassure him, echoing the same things that Jared, Steve, and Kellyanne Conway had said. “It’s the early vote and absentee ballots,” he said. The Democrats put all their emphasis there and ignored Election Day. “They cannibalized their Election Day vote.” Though Trump was down significantly in absentee and early voting in North Carolina, the spread wasn’t as much as Romney’s four years earlier. Romney made up the difference on Election Day and came back to win his only battleground state victory. The team was positive that the Trump campaign would do the same, if for no other reason than Hillary’s numbers in the urban areas weren’t nearly as strong as Obama’s. The team had made the same argument to several networks and newspapers over the previous few days. Fox’s political editor Chris Stirewalt was pointedly skeptical. Still, the team was able to convince the network to change its prediction for North Carolina from leaning toward Clinton to a toss-up—or at least it did for a little while. We took it as a small victory, but Fox changed the forecast back to leaning toward Hillary before Election Day.
The boss wasn’t convinced. “Look at the numbers, genius,” he said.
But the numbers had already started to turn. The undercover Trump voters, as Kellyanne Conway called them, the ones who didn’t believe the Left’s propaganda against Trump but who felt isolated by it, were streaming to the polls and finally got their say.
The shift in momentum began as a feeling. Dave called Susie Wiles, Trump’s state campaign manager in Florida, for the twenty-fifth time, or so it seemed. She had overseen setting up a state war room in which every possible outcome could be calculated, based on absentee ballots and early voting. Susie and her team knew the numbers they had to hit in each of the state’s sixty-seven counties. And, going into the election, she was confident that candidate Trump was going to win the state. Vlasto’s numbers had Trump down by five in Florida. As the polls closed, with data collection and analysis, her confidence hadn’t wavered. The margins in the southernmost “D counties,” or Democratic counties, told the story. The narrow spreads in those counties boded well for Trump’s chances.
Dave took the internal staircase to Bill Stepien on the fifth floor. Stepien had been New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s top political aide before Christie fired him over the Bridgegate scandal. He had joined Trump’s team in August as the campaign’s national field director. Along with his deputy Justin Clark and their team, Stepien had worked feverishly on the absentee and early voting results for weeks leading up to Election Day. On Election Day, it was his job to keep track of the results down to the county and precinct level. Jared and Bannon asked Stepien to do a deep dive county by county in Florida. He used the official election results map from the Florida secretary of state and, starting with Key West and Monroe County, began his way north. By the time he and his team reached Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, on the I-4 corridor in the Tampa area, they knew Florida was in Trump’s column.
At the same time, Dave was on the phone with Eric Branstad, the state director in Iowa. With 25 percent of the vote in, Trump was down by forty thousand votes. Branstad ensured him they were right where they wanted to be. “It’s all the early urban and Des Moines area,” he said. “Don’t worry; we’re not going to have a problem.” Dave then called Mike Rubino in Virginia, and the state directors in North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.
The flip seemed to happen in minutes; Trump went from forty thousand down in Iowa to up the same number in the blink of an eye. When he did, the bedrock under Manhattan began to tremble. At 10:21 p.m., the networks called Ohio for Trump and the famous skyline began to shake and sway. At 11:07, North Carolina fell. The island split wide open when Florida tumbled at 11:30.
It was then we sent everyone, except senior staff, to the Hilton.
Around midnight about a dozen or so of us, including Governor Mike Pence, his wife, and their daughter; Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager; Hope Hicks, communications expert; Stephen Miller, Trump’s speechwriter and policy adviser; Chris Christie; Bannon; Brad Parscale, the campaign digital director; the Trump children and their spouses; and the candidate went along with Dave up to the residence on the sixty-sixth floor of Trump Tower. Crammed into the kitchen, many of us watched the results on a tiny TV. We all thought we were going to win but were waiting for Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin to be called. It seemed like an eternity. About one o’clock, Mr. Trump walked into the kitchen.
“Dave, can you believe this?” he said. “We just started this to have some fun.”
“We had some of that, too, sir,” Dave replied.
About two fifteen, we’d moved to the front foyer. It was there at 2:20 when Kellyanne’s phone rang.
“What state are you calling?” she asked the AP editor.
“We’re not calling a state,” he said. “We’re calling the race.”
Dave had the privilege of informing Governor Pence, who was in the living room with Karen and Charlotte, that he was now the vice president elect of the United States.
It took the president-elect, the vice president elect, their families, and the senior campaign staff less than ten minutes to get from the foyer of the residence at the top of Trump Tower to backstage at the Hilton a few blocks away. The Secret Service and the NYPD had the streets blocked off.
Earlier in the week, Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, perhaps with the thought of the Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in 2000 in mind, had emailed and issued what was essentially an ultimatum. Mook said that if they lost, which of course they didn’t expect to do, they would call and concede within fifteen minutes after the AP called the race. But, he said, she would also wait only fifteen minutes for Trump’s campaign to phone before she gave a victory speech. To Hillary’s credit Huma Abedin called Kellyanne just as we arrived backstage at the Hilton.
“Is Mr. Trump available to talk with Hillary?” Huma asked.
“Oh yes,” Kellyanne answered. “He’s very available.”
The concession call was a gracious exchange, Kellyanne told interviewers. Mrs. Clinton was cordial and warm. At 3:00 a.m., the vice president elect and his family took the stage. Mr. Pence thanked the wildly cheering crowd and then announced the president-elect. George Gigicos, the campaign’s advance director, cued the stirring music, and after waiting a few moments to build the drama, President-Elect Trump, his wife, Melania, and the Trump children walked down a staircase and around a long catwalk, a route George had arranged to be reminiscent of Mr. Trump’s escalator ride when he launched his campaign back in June of 2015, and onto the stage. The expression on the face of President-elect Trump was one of pure gratitude. It had always been his connection with the people that fueled him and us during the campaign. Mr. Trump had invited the senior staff to join him. He hadn’t allowed anyone to begin drafting an acceptance speech until we knew victory was assured. He didn’t want to jinx himself. Jared, Ivanka, Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and Kellyanne huddled over Miller’s computer and fashioned a speech just in the nick of time.
As he delivered it, surrounded by family and staff, Donald J. Trump stepped into the history books as the next president of the United States of America.
At four o’clock in the morning, after being onstage for the acceptance speech, Dave walked back with the president-elect and his family to the Hilton’s service elevator, which was big enough to haul grain. At street level, they walked back to the loading dock and to the waiting motorcade.
Instead of riding back to Trump Tower with the boss, Dave wanted to find Susan and his kids. During the campaign, he’d missed the birthday of his daughter Maggie Reagan, and had missed Maggie’s first day of kindergarten. He’d missed his daughter Lily’s field hockey season, Griffin’s fall baseball season, and all of his daughter Isabella’s softball season. He’d missed watching SEC football with his son. He missed Halloween. Now, more than anything, he wanted to kiss his wife and hug his kids. As the motorcade pulled away, Dave stood in the street alone.
The victory party was winding down, and Trump fans in various states of intoxication and euphoria spilled into the street. He found Susan and the kids in front of the hotel on Sixth Avenue. Together they walked a deserted Fifty-Fourth Street toward the apartment Dave had taken for the campaign. Steam rose from the manhole covers. The smell of hotel trash filled their nostrils. A man sprayed the sidewalk with a hose. The scene was like something out of a film noir. For the last ten weeks, Dave had been at the center of a political tornado. It had taken all he was able to give. Now, walking with his family on the desolate street, he took a deep breath that felt to him like his first in months.
It would have been impossible then for Dave, or Corey, to step away from the intensity of election night and see the moment for what it was: the culmination of the greatest political event in the history of our republic. It was certainly the story of the most talented and unique candidate ever. A political phenomenon, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States without having ever run for public office or having even served in government in any capacity. He captured the imagination of a country, dominated news cycles for eighteen months straight, and led a movement like none that had been seen before. If it hadn’t happened before their own eyes, Donald J. Trump’s ride to the White House would have been a story hard for them to believe.
In the pages ahead, you’ll find out why. You’ll be backstage at Trump’s rallies. You’ll fly with us on Trump Force One, and ride along with us in motorcades. You’ll be in the minds and hearts of those who played supporting roles, and you’ll come to see the star of the show in a completely different light. This book is also the personal journey of two ordinary guys thrust into the most extraordinary of circumstances. We tell this story without restraint. Loyalty and the unvarnished truth can coexist. In fact, one doesn’t survive without the other. We speak in one voice, and for no one but ourselves. This story isn’t about us; however, it’s about a candidate like no other and the team that helped propel him to the White House.
And it’s a story that begins where the best long shots are born.
The word “luck” is a very important word—very important. There’s no more important word than “luck.” But you can help create your own luck.
—DONALD J. TRUMP, APRIL 24, 1988
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