The FRONTLINE Interviews: Trump’s Road to the White House

Kellyanne Conway

White House counselor

When Kellyanne Conway took over as Donald Trump's campaign manager in August 2016, he was down in the polls, and to most observers, a Hillary Clinton win appeared all but inevitable.

Over the next two-and-a-half months, Conway, a longtime GOP pollster who now serves as a White House counselor to the president, helped engineer Trump's comeback. Amid controversies like the release of an Access Hollywood video in which Trump could be heard speaking in vulgar sexual terms about women, Conway developed an Electoral College strategy that contributed to Trump victories in several Democratic strongholds, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In the interview below, Conway looks back on Trump's road to victory, why his populist message resonated with voters, and the mood inside the campaign on election night.

"We always saw that we could do it," Conway says. "We always saw that the problems and obstacles that were dogging Hillary Clinton all along were just not going away."

This is the transcript of an interview with FRONTLINE's Jim Gilmore on Dec. 8, 2016. It has been edited for clarity and length.

Election night, what's the mood around here? What we've been told by other people is that the exit polls come in early and the mood maybe is not so hot. The numbers look bad. What's the mood at the beginning of the night?

The mood of this campaign and of the senior advisers around Mr. Trump was very optimistic for quite a few weeks, because we saw that Hillary Clinton was having an impossible time getting above 44, 45, 46 percent in most of these states where President Obama had carried the state twice with well over 50 percent of the vote. So we saw she had a "47 percent" problem of her own.

Then we also recognized that the enthusiasm and momentum that we pretty much owned by force of the Trump rallies and people just getting excited about his candidacy ... and the fact that he was running on a substantive agenda and a pretty aspirational, uplifting message toward the end, particularly, all that was coming together and smelled like victory.

On actual Election Day, we noticed that the early vote tallies were in--we saw that over the weekend--and we knew we had cut the deficit of early-vote losses in Florida from Mitt Romney's to ours by about 50 percent. Same thing in North Carolina, where we just were in a better position in the early vote than Gov. Romney had been in 2012. So we felt good about the day of vote being able to make up those margins.

Fast-forward to Election Day, all of the positive trends that we saw funneling our way really started to come to fruition after the silly exit polls were gone. The one piece of advice I gave to Mr. Trump early on was ignore the exit polls, because I remember 2000, I remember 2004, where the exit polls said Gore and Kerry were way ahead, so don't even bother voting on the West Coast. Exit polls tend to be overly Democrats because they tend to be overly representative of people who, a, are willing to talk to people at a polling place and tell them what they just did; and b, they also tend to be in densely populated areas. And we did very well with the rural vote, for example, and even the suburbs and exurbs.  ...

The pictures you see of Mr. Trump that night, he's very intent on watching the screen. What was his mood, and how restrained was he?

You know, Mr. Trump is the master communicator and connector. He's got amazing instincts, really unparalleled instincts, and his instinct was to not get overly celebratory before the 270 mark had been reached. We knew as the data team and as the senior team, if we saw certain things happening in a particular county or region, or indeed state, then we knew what we had to make up in the rest of the state, for example, to win the state and its electoral votes.

But in the case of Mr. Trump, he just was cautiously optimistic. He's very humbled by the moment, that he was on the verge of being elected the 45th president of the United States. But until they called Pennsylvania at about 1:36 a.m., until then, he was not willing to declare victory or to be boastful about it. Very intense watching. He's a master deal maker, so he knows it's not a deal until the ink is dry and everything is all in place.

When did you know that it was a victory?

Well, we always saw that we could do it, and we always saw that the problems and obstacles that were dogging Hillary Clinton all along were just not going away. I don't know why they were so unaware of not running a parallel, optimistic, visionary solutions-based message and just going back to the well of negative, mudslinging, cesspool kind of politics. Their paid advertisements, what she and her surrogates were saying out on the stump, was really all negative about Donald Trump, and that didn't work, because people didn't want to hear it. People wanted to know how you're going to affect their lives.

Basically, Donald Trump was talking to the American people, and Hillary Clinton and her surrogates were talking about Donald Trump. You see what prevailed. When we started to see the data all come together, I'd say around Oct. 22, I had said to Mr. Trump on the plane one day, "Are you ready to win?," because we saw all these trends going that way, and we were going to make a run at the rest of the "blue wall" states -- Michigan, Wisconsin.

We knew that the polls had been double-digit deficits in those states previously, and we started to see them tighten, so we went back into the field in each state, deployed some paid advertising, deployed a lot of digital ads. The fact that this campaign decided to go 50 percent traditional paid advertisements like on television and 50 percent online, Google, Facebook and the like, was really remarkable. It was a huge risk, and it's the kind of entrepreneurial, scrappy, gritty risk taking that has always defined Donald Trump in his career.

Talk about that just a little bit. Donald Trump, a lot of people say that this election, this campaign was fought like no other campaign ever before, and everything was done differently. His attitude toward polls--in the beginning there were no polls; the attitude toward paid television ads; the attitudes about how to work with, use the media. Talk about that and where that came from and why that worked.

I just don’t look at people as voters, I look at them as consumers first.”

When I describe Donald Trump's victory as "historic," people immediately dissent and say, "Ronald Reagan got this in his re-election, and this one got that." That's not the point. The point is this is historic for the reasons you just mentioned, just that he's an unconventional candidate who used very unconventional methods to be elected president of the United States. And it's a lesson to all of those who are stuck in the stale, shopworn mode of operation in our politics, really ignoring what is the digital phenomenon across our country, ignoring the fact that there's a difference to voters between what offends them and what affects them, and voters most often will vote according to what affects them.

... [We saw] his great instincts in saying: "Let's do more rallies. Let's go to bigger venues. Let's go back to places where I've been but where the local media were good to us, even though the national media aren't so good to us. Let's go to uncomfortable places, or let's go to places that aren't swing states, like Baton Rouge, Louisiana." You don't ask, "Is Louisiana a swing state?" You just see there are people in need there. They're victims of the hurricane.

He went to Flint, Michigan. He went to the black churches in Detroit, in Cleveland. He was willing to go down to Mexico and accept the invitation of the Mexican president, something Hillary Clinton did not do. ... I think he sets the tone and the content for the rest of the team in terms of being resourceful and doing things a little bit differently.

Also, I just don't look at people as voters; I look at them as consumers first. I want to know who they are situationally, not just demographically. So if you felt that you in a union household were being targeted by Hillary Clinton when she said, "I will put the coal industry out of business, mark my word," well, steelworkers heard that, and pipe fitters and many other people who are either direct stakeholders in the economic system or surrogate thinkers for those who are stakeholders, and they did not like that kind of promise from Hillary Clinton, and they ended up supporting Donald Trump.

But they're situational voters based on their employment and the type of household income they have. They also situationally, if you feel like you've been negatively affected by the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, chances are you were going to vote according to that regardless of your gender or your race or your geography, where you live or how you vote in the past. You're a situational voter according to the health care law, and we tried to tap into that. I think the Hillary camp was just putting people in different demographic boxes.

And when you heard the "deplorable" quote by Hillary, what did you think, and what did people around the campaign think?

I was just stunned that somebody would think so little of her fellow Americans and say it in the comfort of a Wall Street fundraiser. I thought the irony was really delicious. I saw it on Twitter first by a fairly liberal journalist who broke the news story who had been in the room. Good for her. I just could not believe it. I re-tweeted it, and I re-tweeted that she should apologize and that she's characterizing Americans as being certainly less than her and beneath her.

She used the word "deplorable," but then she also said "irredeemable," and that bothered people just as much, if not more, because we, of course, believe that people are always redeemable. But the idea that she looks down on folks like that, it was really her Mitt Romney 47 percent remark moment.

Then she tried to backtrack. She apologized, but she apologized for the quantification of it, not for the actual sentiment behind it. That was really an inflection point for her campaign. It was Sept. 9; it was late on a Friday night. Two days later, she collapsed in front of her van on 9/11. But it was really the "deplorables" and "irredeemable" comment that made people feel--it harkened back to Sen. Obama, when he was running for president, saying "folks who bitterly cling to their guns and their god and their religion." It really defined the difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the us versus them, the elites versus the rest of us. And we found out in this election, haven't we, that there are a lot more of them than there are of us.

Take us back to election night. Can you tell us the story about the telephone call from Hillary's people?

Yes. ... We were in the 14th floor war room for quite a while. I was on the phone with Mr. Trump at around 9:00 p.m. and we were going through some of the early returns. And I said: "Why don't you just come down? Everybody would love to see you." He came down, and his family filed in, and it was exciting, because he stayed there for the next three, three and a half hours, just watching the screens and enjoying that extended moment with his campaign team.

We're a small team, but we're very committed, and all the young people, many of whose first foray into politics of any type was this presidential campaign--so they're one-for-one. We had a great team. It was exciting for them to be with their candidate on election night.

Then we went up to the residence at some point, some of us, and Mr. Trump went back, and he was fine-tuning and adding content to his victory speech since it looked like that would need to be ready and perfected, and indeed delivered. But he decided not to leave to go to the New York Hilton, where his supporters had been waiting for hours and hours for him to arrive. He decided not to do that until the race really looked like it was called, and ... the presidency was his.

At 1:36 a.m., indeed the AP called Pennsylvania, and we knew that was the 20 electoral votes we needed, having protected our core four of Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina and Florida. In addition, as we were leaving, we saw on the TV John Podesta popped up and addressed the Javits Center crowd that was there in their $2 million set, and we understand champagne corks had already been popped, and he said: "There will be no further comment tonight. Go home. We'll talk to you tomorrow." So it just seemed like Hillary Clinton was not going to concede a race that she had just lost.

We went to the New York Hilton anyway. We were backstage. Mr. Trump decided we would do there what we had done there, which is wait for the returns to finish. He had his statement ready, and lo and behold, our communications director, Jason Miller, held up and said, "AP just called," and I said: "Just called what? Which state?" And he said, "The whole race." And we were just euphoric. Don Jr. picked me up and put me in the air. He and his wife, Vanessa, were right there. I looked down, and my phone was ringing. And, in fact, Chris Christie's son said, "Kellyanne, your phone is ringing." And I looked down, and it said Huma Abedin ... And she said, "Secretary Clinton would like to speak with Mr. Trump." I said, "Right now?" She said, "If he's available." I said, "He's available."

I said, "Sir, Secretary Clinton," and he took my phone, and he had a very nice exchange with Secretary Hillary Clinton, who congratulated him on winning and conceded the election to him, both very important in light of the recount that was later lodged and in light of many of her supporters not being able to accept the election results.

Our communications director Jason Miller held up and said, ‘AP just called,’ and I said, ‘Just called what? Which state?’ And he said, ‘The whole race.’”

... I want to take you to the escalator moment, the announcement, how you viewed it. The fascinating thing about that announcement is there was so much he stated at that point that he continued to build on throughout the campaign. He was ridiculed, laughed at by a lot of the establishment and the media. But when you were seeing it, ... what did you think?

When Donald Trump descended that escalator on June 16, 2015, I knew it would be something big, because he's something big. He's the biggest personality in any setting, and he's much smarter than people give him credit for. It was a great example of both of those on full display.

He came down with his wife, Melania, his family in tow, and he commanded the moment. I've known him for a number of years. I knew he was serious about running in 2016 because he had relinquished The Apprentice, and it was one of the many things that he does that he really, really loved doing. It was the number one show for a long time, and he truly enjoyed being the host of The Apprentice. So I knew when he had relinquished hosting The Apprentice back to a different network that he was serious about running for the president.

I always told him something his wife told him, which I think is even more important than hearing from a consultant, that you'll never know what people really think of you as a presidential candidate until you actually run, because they can't transport him into that moment until he transports himself. And indeed, if they see that you're serious about it, they'll be serious about you. And they were.

He announced on June 16. Six weeks later, the first Republican debate, Aug. 6, 2015, the Fox News debate in Cleveland, Ohio. Donald Trump took center stage among 10, 12 other Republicans, and he never lost the number one spot the entire election cycle. That's just remarkable in a field of such heavyweights, and that's just remarkable when you compare it to the previous Republican presidential-nominating contests, where eight different people, seven or eight different people, had had the number one spot in Iowa, if not nationally, at some different time. He never lost the number one spot the entire time. Became the nominee, became the president.

Early on, when you were still working with Cruz folks, when did you understand that the message that he was putting out there was really being received, that everybody was wrong about him and that, oh, my God, this guy could go for it?

There were three things about Donald Trump that just were unignorable almost from the beginning, and all through the summer of 2015. One, he had locked arms with his supporters early on in a way that when he was being attacked, they felt they were being attacked, and that led them to be incredibly loyal. They basically super-glued themselves, soldered themselves to Donald Trump. No matter what they heard or what he said or what was done to him, about him and for him, they were going to stick with him. And indeed, they were going to vote for him in those primaries.

Second, Donald Trump showed a gift, an attribute, that those of us around him daily should try to--and I've tried to--replicate, which is you become impervious to the naysayers and critics. Otherwise, you'd just curl up in a ball under your desk. You just become impervious to everyone saying you're not this, you're that; you're that, you're not this. That sort of steels you, because then, a, they can't get you, and b, your supporters say this guy is serious, and he's tough, and he can take a punch.

Third, Donald Trump gave voice and visibility to issues that everybody else was ignoring. This man took illegal immigration through a different lens, and he took an issue like trade, where nobody was talking about it, it didn't even appear in anybody's polling at the time, and he articulated it in a way that made people feel that he was going to put American works, Americans, American allies and America herself top of the list; renegotiate those bad trade deals, bring those jobs back from Mexico and China, build a wall, have Mexico pay for it, be a sovereign nation with borders again.

He basically said to the American people: "We talk about illegal immigration, and it's only through what's fair to the illegal immigrant. What about what's fair to the American worker? What's fair to the economy? What's fair to everyone else?" So he articulated items in a way that I think only a successful politician--excuse me, a successful businessman and nonpolitician truly could.

What the Trump campaign looked like in those early days, a lot of people talk about it: "I went to the campaign and Hope Hicks was there and [Corey] Lewandowski was there."

From the beginning.

Yeah, what was it like, those early days?

Well, in those early days, you had a very small staff right here on what was the fifth floor was the campaign office. They were loyal, and I think that that--the early lifers, as you would call them in the campaign, who were here from day one really mastered the art of putting Donald Trump where he was best, which was in these big rallies, these huge settings in swing states, in front of the people.

That allowed us to build on that when I got here a month later, because Donald Trump does best when he's with the people. He can take his message directly to the American people and cut through the noise or through the silence, whatever the case may be. It was a masterful way of doing it, ... because it was low-cost; it was high-energy. You'll recall that Donald Trump got a ton of earned media coverage, free coverage for weeks and months at a time.

People thought they were covering something really unprecedented and unbelievable, but voters would actually go and watch the whole speech. They'd pull it up on YouTube; they'd tune in the whole time, and they would listen to the substance of his speech. They would listen to him talk about the veterans and the police officers and why we have to replace Obamacare and how to renegotiate bad trade deals into better trade deals and how to defeat radical Islamic terrorism and all of that. They would hear the specifics even as others were ignoring the specifics.

When you got here, take us to, if you will, whatever you can tell us, your first meeting with Donald Trump about you coming onto the campaign. What was it like? What did he say? What did you see that the campaign maybe needed?

... I came onboard the campaign on July 1 as a senior adviser and a pollster, part of the polling team to the campaign. I worked really hard and basically took it on almost as a full-time job. Everybody here was incredibly busy just doing different things, and I found myself more and more invited to meetings he had or policy roundtables. Certainly he wanted me on TV and on the radio quite a bit on his behalf.

So as that relationship grew, my relationship with different areas of the campaign grew, he decided on Aug. 12 that he wanted some[thing] more and different. And on that day, he asked me, "Can you run this thing?" And I said I could. "You probably need one more person in the C suite, if you will, because at that late stage in the campaign, you need to share responsibility, frankly, and have two different people manning two different kinds of operation." And that's what we did.

But on that day I told him, I said: "What's going on? Because you're running against the most joyless candidate in presidential political history, and this place is starting to seem like it." And he said, "No." And I said, "I looked at the polls." He said, "The polls." And I said: "I looked at the polls, and we're losing. But you don't need to lose; you should be winning. If this race is a referendum on her, you win. But right now, it's a referendum on you. And if it's a referendum on you, then 90 percent of the media coverage is about you, 90 percent of her campaign is about you, and she escapes scrutiny and liability, really, for the things she's done, the things she's said and the candidate she is and is not."

Secondly, I told him, "I looked at the map and the key counties," and [I said] that there were a couple of different paths to 270, but we'd have to really start focusing there, cut down on these rallies and fundraisers in states--I mean, unless they were really big and really important--in states that weren't swing states. Maybe someone else can go and handle the fundraiser. Maybe we can move the rally to a state where it was actually a swing state.

There were a lot of senior-level campaign hands here working on the schedule, which is very unusual. And the reason we did that was because it was incredibly important to decide where to deploy our two greatest assets, Mike Pence and Donald Trump.

So we did that. And I'm a data person. I have no artistic skills whatsoever, but I know data, and I know math, so having a campaign manager who's also a pollster is probably a great idea for Donald Trump, because he loves the polls, and he appreciates and understands and absorbs the data, and then applies his gut instincts to things as well and became the president.

I said, ‘What’s going on? Because you’re running against the most joyless candidate in presidential political history and this place is starting to seem like it.’”

The data-driven aspect of the campaign, how important was it? Those last 10 days of the campaign, starting with the [FBI Director James] Comey letter, really, but how you guys understood what was going on better than the Hillary people. The fact that you went to Michigan and to Wisconsin and to Pennsylvania, what was going on, and what did you guys decide, and why?

... Things seemed to be changing. And again, Hillary Clinton could not bust through this 46 or 47 percent ceiling that she had in these states that President Obama carried twice that were 50 percent. A state like Michigan, Obama beats Romney by 10 points in Michigan, a place where Romney's father was the governor. His parents are buried in Michigan; it was his home. And Obama wins Michigan over Romney by 10 points. It sounds crazy for us to go there.

But we do a poll, and we're within three, two or three. I think it was two and a half or three; said, OK, well, that's worth going. That's worth returning there, running some paid advertisements and beefing up our digital outreach and data program there. And we did that. And we put Donald Trump and Mike Pence there more, and it paid dividends.

Also, I can't just sit around as a campaign manager where Hillary Clinton starts with 244 or so electoral votes and just hope and pray she doesn't get the next 26 and become the president. We had to go and dip into her cache of votes in the so-called blue wall. That's the way you win this thing.

We had been returning to Pennsylvania for quite a while. Pennsylvania was what I call our reach state. It was known as Republicans fool's gold, never quite works out. They think it will because it's got a tradition of day-of voting. The only early voting there is really absentee, and it's about 10 percent. So we knew if we can run the tables on Election Day, we would win Pennsylvania.

But we kept sending Mr. Trump there and Gov. Pence and Ivanka Trump, Melania Trump, Tiffany Trump. Everybody went there. Surrogates went there on their own. And it started to go our way. We were managing our deficits, the national Republican deficits in the collar counties around Philadelphia. We were running the tables in the western part of the state, and we were really cracking into the "T" part of Pennsylvania, [the central part of the state].

We thought if this message is resonating in Pennsylvania and Ohio, let's try it out in Michigan and Wisconsin. It helped that our running mate, Gov. Mike Pence, is a sitting Rust Belt governor, so that we're not telling people, "Hey, we're parachuting in there; we're one of you." He is one of them, and we understand those concerns in that area.

... It was my job to be disciplined and make sure we weren't chasing every new, promising statewide poll. But at the same time, the ones that had stickiness and consistency and looked like they had opportunity where the undecided voters seemed more like Trump voters than Hillary voters, we took a chance and went there.

After the convention, the polls were not as good as they were. In October, a couple things happened. The tape comes out, and that's certainly not a wonderful point. ...

This is the Access Hollywood tape?

Access Hollywood. What were you thinking about how it could hurt the campaign?

After the Access Hollywood tape, our poll numbers took a hit, and they took a bigger hit than Hillary Clinton's poll numbers took after Jim Comey's letter. It's an important point to make, because I know that Team Clinton is blaming many things and many people for their loss, chief among them Jim Comey and his letter. But if you go back and look at the polls, it was the Access Hollywood tape that cost us more of a hit in the polls. Some national polls had us down to 35 percent and her at 48. That's with one month to go exactly.

And the Access Hollywood tape, I think that Donald Trump did a few things brilliantly. First, he apologized and meant it. He came right down here and videotaped an apology that he wrote and he said he was sorry; he's not that person; here's why he's running; here's why he'll continue to be in the race. And the next day was the day before the second debate. We were here in the Tower preparing for the debate, and the next day we got right on the plane and went to that debate where Donald Trump did a great job, frankly, won the debate against Hillary Clinton.

He won the debate in part because he showed up and he was impervious to the naysayers and critics who were all trying to push him out of the race. These are people who didn't want him to run to begin with, and they would be totally vindicated if in fact he ended up getting out of the race and was never president because they said he never could be president and she absolutely would be president. That was just one more way of making that come true with some pixie dust and a wave of the wand.

Voters don't look at things that way. Voters have this wise discernment between what may offend them and what actually affects them. ... There was no rhyme or reason as to how some people reacted. And you saw that writ large across the nation.

But if I were the Clinton team, I would have had Hillary go out there and denounce it and discourage people from voting for Donald Trump and demean him, and then I never would have talked about it again, and they did the exact opposite. They were like a dog with a bone, never letting go of it, and they just kept going back to that, ... like insisting to America, "Here is who you are and what you care about and what you should vote on and nothing else," whereas why people were voting was very clear the whole time. It was in front of everyone: everyday affordability, health care security, choice in education, choice in health care, defeating terrorism, standing up to people around the world, being America first, not being some kind of globalist, but being America first, protecting American workers, renegotiating bad trade deals, being a sovereign nation that actually has borders and protects its own people.

The list goes on and on. That's what people vote on. That never changed. And the idea that the Clinton campaign was going to look America in the eye and say, "Oh, I know you need a better-paying job, but you should really care about this."

And the tactic during that second debate of bringing out the Clinton women and the interview beforehand, was there a lot of debate in the campaign whether that was the thing to do at that point or not?

The most important thing about Bill's women coming to that second debate is that the focus [became about] how Hillary Clinton had treated them--she was the one running for office--how has she treated, how had she and the people who worked for her, presumably at her direction, treated Paula Jones, who ended up getting $850,000 from Bill Clinton to settle a civil sexual harassment suit. I mean, the last time I didn't sexually harass someone here I didn't also give them $850,000. But it's the way she treated them. It's the way she treated Juanita Broderick. It's the way she treated Kathy Shelton, a 12-year-old rape victim in Arkansas whose life and inside organs were destroyed by that rape by a man, a grown man, and Hillary Clinton defended him, got a plea deal for him. ... It was the way she had treated Kathleen Willey. So [why] this was important is that she would demean and shame and name and blame those women, and it certainly rattled them, and it certainly reminded Americans that this woman who said, "I've been fighting for women and children my whole life," hadn't been fighting for all women and children.

When you and Steve Bannon came on, things seemed to really turn for the better. [Newt] Gingrich I know had said that you guys had chemistry with him; you allowed him to be who he was. What was the importance of the partnership that you had with Steve Bannon? What were you guys doing that you think really did work and really did bring you eventually to those final days, which were surprising in how things had turned?

The most important thing that the management of the campaign and senior aides can do with Donald Trump is to allow Donald Trump to be Donald Trump. It sounds very simple. He is a complex man with very simple ideas, meaning make America great again, build that wall, renegotiate bad trade deals, create more jobs, bring jobs back from Mexico and China, give everybody a fair shot, rail against political correctness, give us health savings accounts, more choice in health care, more choice in education, keep the terrorists at bay and put them on notice that there is a new sheriff in town who intends to stop them and their savage ways. So if you let Trump be Trump--and in doing that, I saw things in Donald Trump that I thought fit beautifully with a successful presidential candidate that maybe hadn't been tapped into ...

The rallies that were so important--I mean, the story you told before about the fact that you said it was a joyless campaign and what do you want to do? His answer, as it's been reported, is that he wanted to do more rallies. Why were the rallies so important? What was the energy he was getting? What was misunderstood by the press and others about the importance of those things and how the message "Make America Great Again," how it was f being heard by a huge percentage of people that the media was not and the pollsters were not tied into?

A centerpiece of Trump's success in winning the White House were his rallies, and those were his idea. He wanted more rallies. He wanted to go to more stops. If you work for Donald Trump, you don't have to get white-knuckled and wring your hands around: "Do we go to Michigan and Wisconsin today, or do we do North Carolina and Florida?" It was: "We'll do all four. Oh, and we'll add Minnesota, because the new poll says that we're about two points, three points down."

That's great. I know Secretary Clinton took five days before the last debate, and the media said: "How brilliant. She'll be so prepared. Wow. That's incredible." And the voters are like: "What is she? And what is she talking about? What's going on?" For him the rallies kept him consistently and ubiquitously within the wingspan of the electorate, the national electorate everywhere, and it got him decent local media coverage almost everywhere he went. That's important, because that's something that is totally missed by the national media who are covering the campaign, [who] are insisting this campaign is about things it was not, whereas the local media would cover it fairly, and the local media viewers and readers would get truly excited that he had come to them.

It also gave him an opportunity to lay out his specific substantive policy solutions. It just did. Ten-point reform plan for the Veterans Administration and him standing up and saying: "Look, folks, this is easy. We have to respect our veterans. If we don't respect and care for our returning veterans, who are we as a nation?" He made it bigger than just the VA problem that President Obama and Secretary Clinton own. He made it bigger. He appealed to people's sense of what's right and wrong, their patriotism, the fact that we can do something about this; we don't want to be embarrassed as a nation. That he would talk about creating 25 million new jobs over 10 years and unleashing energy so that we respect the fact that energy is beneath our feet and off our shores, coal and shale.

And he would have his five-point plan to defeat radical Islamic terrorism. He would go out and talk about how to repeal and replace Obamacare and replace it with what. The 10-point immigration reform plan. So people saw this. He did that all through rallies and through appearances, and people got excited. Really the rallies are what demonstrated to people that he was not running a typical political campaign but he had created a movement, and it's a movement in which you could be a member.

A lot of people talk about the conventions and the comparison of the two conventions. Very, very different messages. And the media and folks that called it would say that the Democrats had a very upbeat [convention], lots of stars, lots of Hollywood folks and presidents and first ladies, and the Republican Convention was a little dour. It was the message that things are really a problem in America. But you guys saw it differently. Why was the message received so well? The Republican Convention, what did you think was going on as it was happening?

Let's be fair, and let's be frank. When you describe the "media," you're describing a very large number of people who did not want Donald Trump to be the president and expected and wanted and tried to make reality Hillary Clinton would be president. So the descriptions of the conventions, to me as somebody who was at both of them from stem to stern, could not be more different than what you felt and saw in the hall.

The idea that the Democratic Convention was aspirational, uplifting because you had superstars there, it made the nominee seem small. She gave the seventh best speech at her own convention. She was eclipsed by a sitting popular president, a sitting popular first lady, a former president who also happens to be her husband, these celebrities, these real-people-from-the-heartland stories. To say that there was an optimistic, aspirational message when Hillary Clinton and others referred to Donald Trump more than almost anything else, they were trying to make it a referendum on Donald Trump. Everything was negative toward Trump. And if you polled Americans right now and asked them what was the message of the Democratic Convention, if you asked them what was Hillary Clinton's message in her campaign, I think you would hear crickets, and that's a [serious] point: If the message is just Donald Trump is this and Donald Trump is that, ... that's not a message. That's a defensive, nasty, gutter, political-gutter kind of campaign to wage. And it backfired, frankly. It really backfired.

I think people were expecting a Democratic candidate who succeeded Barack Obama, President Obama, particularly a female, to have a more uplifting, aspirational, visionary message.

After the conventions, Hillary Clinton gets a good bump out of her conventions, and then she disappears, and I think if you look back at August, pretty much when we were taking over the Trump campaign, if I were the Clinton team, I would regret taking so much time off and just her not being so public. It was kind of like she is in hiding. It's like, where is Hillary? She is at fundraisers, but where is she? Why isn't she with the people? I just believe it was a mistake, because we saw that people loved when the candidates were with them. It made them feel special. It was an opportunity to be part of something at no cost where you have got the donors always paying whatever people wanted, whatever they wanted just to have access.

What was the role of, since we're on the media, of nonmainstream media groups, Breitbart News, other sources of news that became important for especially supporters of the president-elect as alternative sources of news and information?

... Alternative media has been a wonderful source for successful Republican campaigns and really the conservative movement over a number of different cycles now. I mean, talk radio and the Internet, and just going around the mainstream media, 90 percent of whom either voted for and/or gave money to ... Hillary Clinton this time and certainly Barack Obama before that. So it's been talk radio, the Internet, blogs. I think authors, people on certainly alternative media on TV, [have] really been a very important tool for this campaign but also for other successful campaigns in 2010 and 2014 in these off-year elections, because that's where people were talking about the ills of Obamacare. That's where they were talking about the unfairness of our tax system. That's where they were talking about how terrible and inequitable it is to trap a kid in a failing school because of where he lives. That's where they were talking about the need to get tougher on ISIS and terrorism. That's where they were talking about the need to just stop this political correctness that is infecting our schools and our religious institutions and the way we live and our media consumption.

That was a very important place, too, because it's David versus Goliath. It's us versus them on a different level, frankly. As a way to get the message out, those platforms already existed; they have existed for many years, but Donald Trump was a great candidate for some of those platforms like talk radio and some of the websites, because he gave content. He talked about illegal immigration and the way they had been doing it for years, that the question is not just what is fair to the illegal immigrant. What is fair to the American worker? What is fair to ask of an employer, just enroll and E-Verify and wash your hands clean and not be vigilant about what you just enrolled in?What is fair to the local economy? What is fair to the local resources that are strapped in some places?

He talked about issues the way many had already been talking about issues.

The Comey letter: quick question. Did you break the news to Mr. Trump when that news came through the wires? Do you remember how he found out?

He was--that was Friday, Oct. 28. He was on the road; I was here.

Tell the story.

On Oct. 28, maybe 1:00 or 1:30 p.m. Eastern when the Comey letter news broke, Mr. Trump was on the road; I was here. I'm sure we all saw the news at the same time, made sure that we had seen the news at the same time, and it just struck us as, "That's why a majority of Americans think that Hillary Clinton is not honest or trustworthy." It also struck Mr. Trump as some level of vindication, because you had Jim Comey in July saying: "We're not going to prosecute her. Oh, but by the way, I'm going to give this big statement on live TV about," frankly, that she lied and misled people and didn't follow protocols and how sloppy that was, if not completely disingenuous and illegal. Then two days later, under oath, in front of the House of Representatives, Jim Comey continues as the FBI director to lay out a whole list of illegal activity that he was accusing her of or lies she said: It wasn't one device--it was many devices; there was classified information; she was told not to do that server and went ahead and did it anyway; it was breaching protocol; nobody else had done that the way she had done that.

That was a remarkable display, and what was different here is that I guess Jim Comey felt he had found something new and different and that he would take a look at it. But scapegoating Jim Comey for what he did on Oct. 28 would really be looking past two very important facts. Fact number one: The polls started tightening the week before. I went earlier and told you about Oct. 22 and me telling Mr. Trump: "You're going to win. Are we ready to win? It means a lot of different things if we win. Here is how we're going to win. If everything stays the same, the undecideds are going to break toward you, because the undecided voters are very decided about Hillary Clinton." She represented the status quo. She would not be a change from the same old, same old, and they didn't much trust her or like her, and none of that was budging.

But the Comey letter came a week after the polls started tightening, including that ABC News poll which went from us down 12 to us down 1 in that same week on the day of the Comey letter. The second thing is Hillary Clinton has had eight years since she lost the last time, if not decades since she has been plotting to be president of the United States, to come up with a message that actually resonates and would have been so strong. Her bond and her connection, her messaging with the American people would have been so strong that there is no Comey letter, there is no incident, there is no circumstance, there is no unforeseen anything that would get people away from her. Much like what happened with Donald Trump, his supporters got there, and they never left. Hers were much more fluid, because they just were uninspired.

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