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Trump’s path to the presidency — and the remaking of the Republican Party

As President Trump formally accepts the Republican nomination for a second term in office, we take a look back at how he went from real estate and reality TV to president of the United States -- and what he has done since then. Yamiche Alcindor reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump rose to power as a political outsider. Now he's running for a second term as the head of the federal government.

    Yamiche Alcindor has the first of two looks at Donald Trump and his path from real estate to the White House.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We are going to make our country great again.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Donald Trump's 2016 campaign promise to make America great again was not a new sentiment in American politics.

  • Former President Ronald Reagan:

    For those who've abandoned hope, we will restore hope, and we will welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But it was a promise that fit the political atmosphere of a divided country. And it propelled the Manhattan real estate developer to the presidency.

    Robert Costa of The Washington Post.

  • Robert Costa:

    He wants to hearken back to a time post-World War II where America was a different world, racially, economically. He believes that the country has lost some of its spirit from that period.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For some Americans, the post-World War II era was marred by racial and socioeconomic strife, of civil unrest and division. Donald Trump lived a much different experience. Author Gwenda Blair:

  • Gwenda Blair:

    They had a chauffeur, usually black, a live-in maid. The kids were chauffeured to their private school. And they really had a semi-insulated life.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Trump's father, Fred, a politically savvy businessman, made a fortune developing low-income housing in Brooklyn and Queens.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    Fred Trump told his kids, his boys, he wanted them to be killers. He — that they had to be winners at all costs.

  • President Donald Trump:

    My father was great. Good salesman. Good builder. He loved to build houses.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Trump patterned his life after his father, but the pressure never sat well with his older brother, Freddy, who died of alcoholism at 42.

    Trump's father and mother, Mary, a Scottish immigrant, were deeply influenced by the 1950s bestselling book "The Power of Positive Thinking." It was authored by their pastor, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    Donald Trump took that message of the power of thinking of yourself as successful, and has made it into a kind of an armor plating, so that, if he did it, if he thought it, if he said it, it is, by definition, successful.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Trump kept that mantra close, as he thrived at military school, despite being shipped off at the age of 13.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    His classmates told me that he was so competitive, he was so determined to win, that he didn't have very many friends.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In 1964, Trump enrolled at Fordham University in the Bronx. He transferred to the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania during the height of the Vietnam War.

    Much of America was divided between pro- and anti-war camps. But as protests rolled across his campus, the same could not be said for Trump.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    Never went to a protest, never went to a demonstration. He was going to be following his father's business, and that's all he cared about.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Trump received several draft deferments that exempted him from military service.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Numerous deferments because of — because of college, and I had a foot thing, and I got a deferment for that. But it turned out that was one — you know, look, that was a rough war.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The deferments allowed Trump to launch a real estate career in Manhattan after college, with the financial backing of his father's company.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    Donald Trump, from the minute that he moved to Manhattan, was interested in becoming big, known, famous.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Everybody. You have never seen such beautiful people or so many beautiful people.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    Every opportunity you could possibly think of, he got his name in the paper.

    So, he went to celebrity hangouts. He went to nightclubs. All three of his wives have been models. He wants to draw attention. He wants to look like the most successful guy in the room.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    His first Manhattan real estate venture, a remake of the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    He couldn't put his name on it. He was furious about that.

    When you got to Trump Tower, which was his second deal, he put his name on that, and he's put his name on everything since then. And he was determined to have his name be literally prominent in New York City, and to have his name in front of everyone.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But controversy around race often seemed to follow. In the 1970s, the Justice Department sued the Trump administration for racial discrimination for the second time.

    Kevin McGruder studies urban history at Antioch College.

  • Kevin McGruder:

    They put a code on the applications of the black applicants, basically to identify them, to set them aside.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Trump responded by countersuing the department for $100 million, claiming libel.

    Trump continued to rise as a cultural figure, inspiring rap and hip-hop for decades with his wealth and fame, photo-ops with elite socialites and celebrities alike, including black icons.

    With banks eager to lend him money, Trump went on a shopping spree in the 1980s.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    And in the course of events, he ended up being about a billion dollars in the hole.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Many of his businesses, including three Atlantic City hotels, closed one by one, often amid bankruptcy claims and unpaid debt.

    Trump himself emerged relatively unscathed. In 1988, he toyed with a presidential run while selling his book "The Art of the Deal" on the Oprah Winfrey show.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I would never want to rule it out totally, because I really am tired of seeing what's happening to this country.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A year later, Trump inserted himself into one of the decade's most notorious crime cases. Five black and Latino teenagers were accused of attacking a white female jogger in Central Park.

    Trump stirred what quickly became a boiling pot over criminal justice and race by taking out a full-page ad in The New York Daily News.

  • Kevin McGruder:

    The headline of the ad encouraged New York state to bring back the death penalty and to support the police. That had nothing to do with real estate.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Trump never apologized when the five men were exonerated.

  • Kevin McGruder:

    The Central Park five ad says that he has an understanding of racist stereotypes in the American story, because that's what that fit into. And he really rode that momentum.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Trump continued to tease presidential runs, identifying as a Republican and later as a pro-abortion Democrat.

  • Larry King:

    Are you a Republican, Donald?

  • President Donald Trump:

    I'm a Republican, yes.

    In many cases, I probably identify more as a Democrat.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    His business image rebounded under a wildly popular prime-time show.

  • President Donald Trump:

    This is a tough one. You're fired.

    I'm looking for the apprentice.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In 2011, he launched another presidential bid. This time, he grabbed headlines by questioning President Barack Obama's citizenship, promoting the already discredited notion that the president was not qualified to serve.

  • President Donald Trump:

    People have birth certificates. He doesn't have a birth certificate.

    Now, he may have one, but there's something on that, maybe religion. Maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don't know.

  • Kevin McGruder:

    He was able to take — quote — "foreignness" of a Kenyan parent, and project that onto Barack Obama.

    And what that does is, it fits into a long tradition of nativism within the United States.

  • Robert Costa:

    Some people raised concerns, to be sure, but no one said then, Mr. Trump: You can't be part of this party if you're going to take that view.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The campaign ended early, but Trump had already carved out a place for himself in the Republican Party to launch a 2016 presidential bid.

  • Kevin McGruder:

    So, in 2016, Donald Trump begins his campaign by using race, this time against Latino people.

  • President Donald Trump:

    They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. I will build a great, great wall on our Southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.

  • Kevin McGruder:

    He's appealing to them from that racist trope.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    : One pivotal moment in the 2016 race, less than a month before Election Day, a tape surfaced of Trump bragging about grabbing women by their genitals.

  • President Donald Trump:

    And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But Russian-hacked e-mails from Hillary Clinton's campaign manager and other Democratic staffers dropped 30 minutes later.

    A bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee now says Trump allies directed the release by WikiLeaks. At the time, Trump brushed his comments off as locker room banter. Some members of his own party called for him to step down, but he refused.

  • Robert Costa:

    This has been the entire approach of President Trump, to always deny, to go after his own accusers, to skewer them whenever possible.

    The fact that he was able to win election despite "Access Hollywood" and despite many Republicans being unsettled by that entire episode proved to President Trump that he didn't need anybody's help or guidance, that he could have total control of the Republican Party and win the presidency, essentially, in his view, on his own.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    By election night in 2016, president-elect Trump's transformation of the Republican Party was near complete. His promise to make America great again would soon be tested.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will hear part two of the story of Donald Trump tomorrow night.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Before President Trump formally accepts the Republican nomination for president tonight, we want to take a look at his campaign promises and his three-and-a-half years in office.

    Yamiche Alcindor has the second in our two-part series.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're going to make America great again.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On the 2016 campaign trail…

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're going to drain the swamp.

  • Audience:

    Drain the swamp!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    … the reality TV personality promised change.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Repealing and replacing Obamacare.

    We will terminate NAFTA.

    We're building a wall.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Governing proved to be another matter.

    Robert Costa of The Washington Post:

  • Robert Costa:

    This was a total outsider who comes in without any political experience, any experience in government, and he tries to be the disrupter.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In a historic move, President Trump filed for reelection on his first day in office. The campaign never ended.

    As protests flared across the country, he continued to stoke tensions over immigration and race at rallies.

  • President Donald Trump:

    And I have taken decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Using Twitter, he attacked opponents, fired staff and issued new orders that eventually included directing the military to ban transgender service members.

  • Audience:

    Build that wall! Build that wall!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As the president clashed with Democrats and the press, he tightened his control over the Republican Party.

  • Robert Costa:

    There is perhaps no president in modern history who has made sure that the Republican Party is always following him as much as possible, is at times in his image.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Republicans in Congress ceded power to the president at nearly every turn.

  • President Donald Trump:

    It's always a lot of fun when you win.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But they were securing conservative goals, from tax cuts to a complete remaking of the country's courts, including two Supreme Court appointments.

  • President Donald Trump:

    There's another major promise I have kept to the American people. I have nominated a fantastic justice to replace the late, great Justice Scalia. His name is Judge Neil Gorsuch.

  • Robert Costa:

    That became the glue that kept the Trump world with the Republican world. They may not like him personally. They may be appalled by his conduct. But, at the end of the day, he's coming through with policy wins for them.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In foreign policy, President Trump had success in pushing some allies, especially in Europe, to share more defense costs. He also publicly criticized their leaders and slapped them with tariffs.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Thank you very much. It's fantastic.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But with authoritarian leaders, he struck a more conciliatory tone, pursuing deals that often never materialized.

    China has yet to live up to the president's much-touted trade deal. but he renegotiated other trade deals that he railed against on the campaign trail, like the North American Free Trade Agreement.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I'm going to repeal it and replace it.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    When it came to domestic policy, the president and his Republican-controlled Congress never repealed and replaced President Obama's signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act, as the president had campaigned on.

    His own party blocked the effort.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As for candidate Trump's promised border wall, Mexico never paid for it. Less than five miles of new wall has been built three months before the 2020 election.

    The president did use his executive powers to grind legal and illegal immigration to a near halt. Along the way, he continued to hammer his message.

  • Robert Costa:

    This is a president who does not aim to unite when it comes to race. He welcomes, at times, division, and he sees division as a way to underscore his own political standing with his core voters.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In August 2017, white supremacists protesting the removal of a Confederate statue clashed with counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

  • Protesters:

    Jews will not replace us!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Kevin McGruder studies race and urban history at Antioch College.

  • Kevin McGruder:

    There was a Nazi element to that. It was an anti-Semitic element, too.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    One self-described neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd, killing a 26-year-old counter-protester named Heather Heyer.

    In his initial response, President Trump declined to outright condemn the neo-Nazis.

  • President Donald Trump:

    And you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

  • Kevin McGruder:

    To suggest that those are good people from a president of a country that the Confederacy fought against, it's mind-boggling. But it's equally mind-boggling that he was able to do it, and with no real consequence politically.

  • Paul Ryan:

    I have had some candid conversations with him about this, especially during that time. I have had some very candid conversations. So, I do really believe his heart is in the right place.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president struggled with other crises. A mass shooter who targeted Latinos at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, echoed President Trump's own rhetoric around an invasion of immigrants. He killed 23 people.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    While the president escalated his race-based attacks, he campaigned on investments in historically black colleges and Opportunity Zones in low-income areas.

  • Robert Costa:

    He has found himself in hot water often throughout his presidency.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president also faced a series of investigations, including a two-year special counsel probe into whether his campaign worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Seven of the president's associates were convicted.

  • President Donald Trump:

    This ridiculous hoax, this witch-hunt.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As the 2020 election neared, President Trump sought to dig up dirt on his political opponent former Vice President Joe Biden. That sparked his impeachment in the House of Representatives.

  • Robert Costa:

    His phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was ultimately what prompted his impeachment.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I have done things wrong, but this is what the end result is.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    With all but one Senate Republican behind him, Trump avoided conviction and removal from office.

  • President Donald Trump:

    It was called no collusion, no obstruction.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As the nation's debt skyrocketed, the stock market, on an upward trend since the Obama administration, broke records, with unemployment at a historic low.

  • Christian Kessler:

    Trump just needs to continue to talk up the strong U.S. economy.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president's supporters celebrated.

  • Karen Levesque:

    He's done a phenomenal job with the economy. My stocks have never been higher.

  • Vice President Mike Pence:

    It's just been three years of promises made and promises kept.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Then the country plunged into a crisis, the coronavirus pandemic. As America reeled, the president struggled to respond.

  • President Donald Trump:

    It's going to disappear. One day, it's like a miracle. It will disappear.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Unemployment skyrocketed, amid closures, as America suddenly faced an economic and public health catastrophe.

  • Robert Costa:

    He's seen himself as the victim of the pandemic politically.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Then came the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer.

  • President Donald Trump:

    He will not have died in vain. But we cannot allow the righteous cries of peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Peaceful protesters took to the streets in all 50 states, demanding racial equality. Looting also rocked some cities.

    On a private call with governors, the president demanded a military-like response.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You have to dominate. If you don't dominate, you're wasting your time. They're going to run over you. You're going to look like a bunch of jerks.

  • Kevin McGruder:

    It distorted what actually happened, and it never acknowledged why they were out there to begin with, at a time when the nation needed somebody to hear those complaints.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Protesters toppled and graffitied statues, including Confederate leaders and America's founding fathers who owned enslaved people. The president defended those figures.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We must protect and preserve our history, our heritage, and our great heroes.

  • Kevin McGruder:

    When you say "our heritage," what he means is the heritage of white Southerners who identify with the Confederacy and its goal to break away from the United States.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The effort seemingly a means to please his most ardent supporters. Republicans largely stood behind the president.

  • Robert Costa:

    The legacy of President Trump's first term is an outsider who wanted to build a wall, who wanted to connect with his base and fight with every critic, but, along the way, got Republicans many things they wanted.

    It was for many of Republicans the bargain of a lifetime, but it will have consequences for years to come.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Win or lose in November, President Trump has already remade the Republican Party in his image.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, Yamiche, for that second part of a two-part look at the life and the record of President Trump.

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