WATCH: Inside the Night President Obama Took On Donald Trump

September 22, 2016
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by Patrice Taddonio Assistant Director of Audience Development

It was April of 2011. For weeks, Donald Trump had been fanning the flames of the “birther” movement and attacking President Barack Obama on television — demanding that Obama produce his birth certificate, implying that he was not born in the United States, and questioning both his religious identity and the legality of his presidency.

But on April 30, the tables were turned. Trump was the recipient of President Obama’s jokes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner — and Trump political adviser Roger Stone tells FRONTLINE in The Choice 2016 that the dinner was a turning point for Trump.

“I think that is the night he resolves to run for president,” Stone says in the opening scene of FRONTLINE’s two-hour documentary on Trump and Clinton, which premieres on Tues., Sept. 27 at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST on PBS stations nationwide.

“I think that he is kind of motivated by it: ‘Maybe I’ll just run. Maybe I’ll show them all,’” Stone adds.

Stone isn’t the only Trump surrogate to tell FRONTLINE that Obama’s mockery that night was a motivating moment in Trump’s journey from flamboyant businessman and reality TV star, to the Republican presidential nomination.

“I thought, ‘Oh, Barack Obama is starting something that I don’t know if he’ll be able to finish,’” says Omarosa Manigault, a former Apprentice contestant who was at the dinner that night, and is now Trump’s director of African-American outreach.

“Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump,” she adds. “It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, whoever disagreed, whoever challenged him — it is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.”

Go inside that night in the opening sequence of The Choice 2016, FRONTLINE’s highly anticipated dual biography of Trump and Clinton from veteran filmmaker Michael Kirk and his team, premiering the night after the first presidential debate. ­­Drawing on dozens of interviews with people close to the candidates, the documentary tells the in-depth story of what makes both Trump and his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, tick — from their childhoods and school experiences, to their tumultuous careers in the public eye.

And it dives deep into the worldview that shaped Trump’s reaction that night at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, one in which sources interviewed for the program say redemption and revenge are intertwined: Trump learned from his father that there are two kinds of people, winners and losers, and he learned from his mentor and lawyer, Roy Cohn — once an adviser to Sen. Joseph McCarthy — that when someone hits you, you need to hit back harder.

“Donald dreads humiliation and he dreads shame, and this is why he often attempts to humiliate and shame other people,” author Michael D’Antonio tells FRONTLINE. “This is a burning, personal need that he has to redeem himself from being humiliated by the first black president,” D’Antonio adds in the final moment of the film’s opening sequence.

Since 1988, FRONTLINE’s acclaimed election-year series The Choice has brought viewers in-depth, interwoven biographies of the two major-party U.S. presidential candidates. The Choice 2016 premieres Tues., Sept. 27 at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST on PBS and online. Check your local PBS listings.

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