Transcript

The Choice 2020: Trump vs. Biden

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FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Overnight, growing national unrest.

NARRATOR:

With the nation in crisis—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—mobs have sown chaos in cities across the nation.

NARRATOR:

—this is the story of two candidates forged in their own crises.

JOE BIDEN:

Political pundits said there was no way it could be done.

DONALD TRUMP:

If the city would gather around with us—

NARRATOR:

Personal tragedies.

MALE NEWSREADER:

An automobile accident killed the wife and the baby daughter of Biden—

NARRATOR:

Public controversies.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Trump’s newspaper ads contribute to the city’s racial polarization—

NARRATOR:

Challenges that shaped them.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Anita Hill comes to Washington to tell the Senate—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The Donald is facing an incredible cash crisis—

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

NARRATOR:

And show how they would lead a country now in crisis.

DONALD TRUMP:

Together we are taking back our country!

JOE BIDEN:

We’re in a battle for the soul of America.

AUDIENCE:

America wants to know!

ERNIE ANASTOS:

Welcome to America Wants to Know. I’m Ernie Anastos, and this is the—

In 1992, I hosted a special show in New York where viewers asked a lot of questions about their favorite celebrities. Many, of course, were interested in Donald Trump and what he was like as a young boy growing up in Queens. I managed to catch up with Donald’s parents, Mary and Fred Trump, and ask them, “What was Donald’s favorite game as a child?”

MARY ANNE TRUMP, Donald Trump's mother:

He played Monopoly, yes, indeed. He played with his brother, he played with Robert, but more than Monopoly he played with building blocks—always with building blocks.

NARRATOR:

But Donald Trump’s childhood was much more complicated. Early on, a family crisis, his mother seriously ill.

MARY TRUMP, NieceDonald Trump:

When he was 2 1/2, my grandmother got very ill. Donald, who was at a very, very critical point in his development as a child, was essentially abandoned by her. He may not entirely trust women. He finds it difficult, if not impossible, to connect with them on any deep level because I don't believe he ever was able to with her.

MARC FISHER, Co-author, Trump Revealed:

When you ask him about how she showed her love, he has nothing to say. The complexity of that relationship I think plays out through all of his relationships with women throughout his life, with one wife after another. There's an inability to reach any recognizable level of intimacy.

NARRATOR:

Young Donald had his own crisis: finding his place in a family dominated by his father, Fred, a stern and demanding real estate developer.

TONY SCHWARTZ, Co-author, The Art of the Deal:

I strongly suspect that he had a relationship with his father that accounts for a lot of what he became. And his father was a very brutal guy. He was a tough, hard-driving guy who had very, very little emotional intelligence, to use today's terms.

GWENDA BLAIR, Author, The Trumps:

Donald’s father’s overall message to his children was—and it was a very different message to the boys than to the girls—to the boys was compete, win, be a killer. Do what you have to to win.

NARRATOR:

Inside the family, a harsh game of apprentice: Who would take over Fred's empire?

The first in line wasn't Donald. It was his older brother, Freddy.

MARY TRUMP:

My father was sensitive, he was kind and generous, he liked hanging out with his friends who adored him, and, maybe worst of all, although it's hard to say, he had interests outside of the family business. My grandfather understood none of that.

NARRATOR:

Their father said Freddy wasn't "a killer." He wanted to fly airplanes for a living. Donald thought that was crazy.

MICHAEL KRANISH, Co-author, Trump Revealed:

He could not understand why Fred did not go into the family business and be a builder like their father was. But Fred wanted to be a pilot, and Donald looked at that and said, "Well, that's sort of like being a bus driver. Why would you want to be a pilot?"

NARRATOR:

Donald watched as Freddy was cast out.

MARY TRUMP:

My dad couldn't do anything right, and my grandfather made his life miserable. He was frustrated and he began to realize that he wasn't—it wasn’t going anywhere.

NARRATOR:

His life ended early in alcoholism and poor health.

Through the years, Donald would take a much different path.

MARY TRUMP:

He wanted to avoid my father's fate of abuse and humiliation at the hands of his father. He took that lesson to heart.

NARRATOR:

He was determined to live up to his father’s ideal: Be "a killer."

But he was also tempestuous, impulsive, and at 13, his father sent him to military school.

RUDY GIULIANI, Fmr. mayor, New York City:

He must have said, "This kid’s going to grow up in a tough world, really tough world. If I want him to succeed, he’s going to have to be tough."

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN, Author, TrumpNation:

He talks about it as almost this rite of passage. He said to me that when he arrived at the military academy, for the first time in his life someone slapped him in the face when he got out of line.

NARRATOR:

It would be a five-year lesson in how to be a bully.

MARC FISHER:

Donald Trump yelled at his classmates. He pushed them around. He even used a broomstick as a weapon against classmates who didn't listen to him when he told them what to do.

SANDY McINTOSH, ClassmateDonald Trump:

All of us were part of this culture of you beat on kids when they didn’t do the right thing.

HARRY FALBER, ClassmateDonald Trump:

You got hit. You may have gotten slammed against the wall. You were put in—you got put artificially into fights.

MARC FISHER:

He became a leader of the cadets. He became one of the student leaders who had a number of kids under him in the dormitories, and he ruled the dormitory life with an iron first.

NARRATOR:

Inside that brutal world, Donald had found his place.

GWENDA BLAIR:

His mother told me that he was never homesick. He loved it. He loved all that stuff because it was also really competitive. Other kids didn’t really like him all that much. He wasn't that popular because he was so competitive. He was always looking for the edge. But it was an environment that he thrived in.

NARRATOR:

With his father and mother by his side, Donald graduated. He'd become a killer, learned the power of bullying to get ahead, a method he’d carry into the future.

YOUNG MALE WITH A STUTTER 1:

—hope to peach—teach PE.

YOUNG MALE WITH A STUTTER 2:

—two sisters.

YOUNG MALE WITH A STUTTER 3:

Well, my―father is very strict.

MALE FILM NARRATOR:

Among the many causes of retarded speech are low intelligence, hearing loss, emotional conflicts, poor methods of the teaching of talking by the parents, brain injury and many others. For example, a child may stutter as he comes out of the early stages of retarded speech.

NARRATOR:

Joey Biden's crisis was stuttering.

JOHN HENDRICKSON, The Atlantic:

He came of age in another time in which people weren’t as open about disorders or disabilities or setbacks, when the common prescription was "buck up, deal with it."

NARRATOR:

Dealing with it. A rough-and-tumble childhood in Delaware. His father, a car salesman, fallen on hard times. For little Joey, Catholic school, nuns.

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS, GQ Magazine:

He had an assignment he had to memorize, and he had to stand up and deliver it in the classroom.

NARRATOR:

The words were in front of him: "Sir Walter Raleigh was a gentleman.”

VALERIE BIDEN OWENS, SisterJoe Biden:

When Joe read it, it went "Sir Walter Raleigh was a gentle man." "Say that again?" "Sir Walter Raleigh was a gentle man." And this went on three times.

JOHN HENDRICKSON:

He said "gentle man" instead of "gentleman." And the nun said, "Mr. B-B-B-B-B-B-Biden, what’s that word?" And this is a person in a position of authority. This is a person who’s meant to protect you.

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS:

It was so embarrassing and so enraging that Biden walked out of the room. He walked out of the school. He walked all the way home.

NARRATOR:

Joey’s mom, Jean, marched him back to the school to confront his teacher.

VALERIE BIDEN OWENS:

The sister starts telling how disrespectful Joe is. And my mother, "Stop." She said, "Just tell me. Did you make fun of my son?" "Well, I—" "Sister, did you make fun of my son?" "Well—" And my mother said, "Well, I’ll answer it for you. You sure in hell did. And if you ever, ever, ever do that again, I’m going to come back and I’m going to knock your bonnet right off your head. Do we understand each other?"

MALE VOICE:

Stuttering is a fear problem. The person feels fear, shame, guilt, tension. He's always worried about what might happen. He might get into a situation, not be able to say his name, or the telephone rings and he can't answer it.

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS:

I was surprised at how often this subject came up during my time with him. It helped me understand that so much of who he is comes back to that—that people are ready to make fun of him, that people will laugh.

NARRATOR:

Bullied, harassed, ridiculed, he was hell-bent on beating the stutter.

JOHN HENDRICKSON:

Biden would stand in front of his bedroom mirror holding a flashlight to his face and he would recite Yeats and Emerson.

NARRATOR:

He kept pushing—against the stutter, the bullies—and it paid off.

FRED SEARS, FriendJoe Biden:

People liked to be around him. He really had a presence. You knew him when he walked in. He was a little taller than most and in very good shape. He was a star football player on their team.

NARRATOR:

Joey Biden found another way to fight back: politics.

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS:

In high school he’s president of his senior class. Honestly, that’s when he gets a taste for it. The stutter is still part of him during his senior year in high school, where he has to introduce his family at the—at graduation, and he has to stand up there and not stutter and say this publicly. And he does it.

CROWD [chanting]:

We want Joe! We want Joe!

NARRATOR:

In the crisis of stuttering, a life method: persevere. Just push through.

JOE BIDEN:

Medical research to confer—to conquer devastating diseases like cancer—

—not the end in and of—um—themselves.

The UAW took ex—credible cuts in their future.

JOHN HENDRICKSON:

Many people would say Biden’s stutter is among his most visible weaknesses, if not number one. But it’s also a source of his strength. It’s also the main source of his grit and his determination to just be there competing.

MALE NEWS ANNOUNCER:

This is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

WALTER CRONKITE:

Good evening. For seven months, New York City has teetered on the brink of financial disaster.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Another piece of New York fell by the curbside today for who knows how long.

NARRATOR:

By the 1970s, New York City was in crisis.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—employees as part of the struggle to keep the city from going bankrupt.

KEN AULETTA, New York Daily News, 1977-93:

New York City suddenly comes apart. The city for the first time was losing population, as well as jobs, and losing its economic base.

DAVID MARCUS, Miami Herald, 1985-86:

New York was in tatters then, but there were opportunities everywhere you looked. The New York City of the early 1970s was made for someone like Donald Trump.

NARRATOR:

In that crisis, 25-year-old Donald Trump saw a chance for personal gain. He was struggling to make a name for himself, break out of his father’s shadow.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO, Author, The Truth About Trump:

Donald from a very young age wanted to exceed his father and go into Manhattan and be the success that his father hadn’t been in terms of notoriety and fame.

NARRATOR:

Trump took his shot. It started with a run-down hotel near Grand Central Station.

MARC FISHER:

The old Commodore Hotel was in such sorry shape that it had boarded-up windows; it had rodents all over the place. It was one of the markers of New York’s sorry decline. And Trump saw this as a grand opportunity.

MALE NEWSREADER:

In New York City, the rate of unemployment is much higher than it is nationally.

NARRATOR:

It was an enormous gamble, but with the city on the brink—

MALE NEWSREADER:

And so the city continues to stagger beneath the weight of its multiplying fiscal problems—

NARRATOR:

—Trump believed New York was desperate enough to pay him to transform the hotel.

DONALD TRUMP:

If the city would gather around with us, we can produce, with a lease guaranteed by the state of New York, a New York City lease—

NARRATOR:

But he was new to Manhattan; he needed a guide. He found Roy Cohn.

ROGER STONE, Fmr. Trump political adviser:

Roy, who was a rough-and-tumble fixer—Democrat, power within the Democratic power structure in New York City, close friend of Mayor Abe Beame, close friend of Carmine De Sapio, the boss of the Manhattan Democratic Party—I think he was like Donald’s ambassador to the world of Manhattan.

NARRATOR:

Cohn had been disgraced for leading McCarthy-era witch hunts, but Trump saw him as a "killer."

DAVID MARCUS, CousinRoy Cohn:

Roy cultivated an image as a bulldog. Nothing, nothing would stop him from tarring opponents or even doing illegal things. His pride and joy was bullying people and bribing people and making deals behind the scenes. He was a fixer. He was a connector.

JELANI COBB, The New Yorker:

Roy Cohn was the master of the dark arts. He was the person who helped shape Trump’s approach to life.

KEN AULETTA:

What he learned from Roy Cohn was never apologize, always attack. Attack the character of your opponents, that they're somehow malicious, that they're somehow doing the devil's deed here. And let the public know that. That was Roy Cohn.

NARRATOR:

Cohn knew just how to get the tax breaks Trump needed to build his hotel.

MICHAEL KRUSE, Politico:

Roy Cohn, because of his unique positioning within New York City at that time, was able to pull certain strings to get tax breaks.

NARRATOR:

New York taxpayers would be on the hook for more than $400 million.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, Author, American Oligarchs:

He's able to set up this deal, which the state bills as a special new program, but isn’t a special new program. It is just a giveaway to Donald Trump, a tax giveaway.

MALE REPORTER:

It’s been a long, hard fight. How do you feel?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I’m very happy and I think the city of New York is going to be very happy.

NARRATOR:

He transformed the Commodore Hotel. With Cohn’s help, Trump had thrived in crisis, used it to his advantage.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The mayor and the governor of New York were among those on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony—

MARC FISHER:

He got it done. He got it done by bulling his way through, by pretending to have more backers than he really had, by pretending that he was actually putting large sums of money into it when he really wasn’t. And the con worked. He got the money. He got the permits. He got it done.

JELANI COBB:

You use deception, you use intimidation. You use all of the tactics that you can find. It is a utterly transactional sense of the world. And "what’s in it for me?" is kind of the founding credo.

GWENDA BLAIR:

One of the things Donald learned from School of Dad and School of Roy was that almost everybody has their price. Whatever—it might not necessarily be dollars, although it often is. It might be some vulnerability that won’t be revealed. But Roy said that almost everyone, there’s a pressure point.

NARRATOR:

It would become Trump’s playbook: Exploit crisis, in business, in life, in politics.

TV ADVERTISEMENT:

Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy for me. Kennedy!

NARRATOR:

Joe Biden also had a role model: Irish, Catholic, good-looking. Joe emulated what he could. Kennedy was drawn to politics; Biden was drawn to politics.

Jack had a photogenic wife and children; Joe had a photogenic wife and children.

The Kennedys had a family compound at Hyannis Port; the Bidens would have a family compound in Wilmington, Delaware.

EVAN OSNOS, The New Yorker:

Joe Biden was always fascinated by the Kennedy mystique. He really saw himself as a natural heir to that tradition.

1972 campaign ad

JOE BIDEN:

I’m Joe Biden and I’m a candidate for the United States Senate. Politicians have done such a job on the people that the people don’t believe them anymore, and I’d like a shot at changing that.

NARRATOR:

But Wilmington was no Hyannis Port.

VALERIE BIDEN OWENS, Fmr. Biden campaign manager:

We, the Bidens, we had no money. We had no power or influence. We didn't know anybody who was a big name who could help us.

JOE BIDEN:

Hi, how are you? Joe Biden's my name.

NARRATOR:

Like the crisis over his stutter, his political start was a struggle.

Behind in the polls, facing a powerful opponent: United States Sen. Cale Boggs, an ally of President Richard Nixon.

TED KAUFMAN, Fmr. Biden campaign adviser:

Joe Biden asked me about getting involved in his campaign. I started off by telling him that there's no way you can win. Cale Boggs was the candidate for the Senate. He'd been a two-term congressman, two-term governor, two-term senator. He's beloved around the state. So I said that you couldn’t win.

CURTIS WILKIE, The News Journal, 1971-74:

"Audacious" is good term to apply to Biden back then. This is a guy who wasn’t yet old enough to hold the seat.

NARRATOR:

It was a time of crisis in the country.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

Peace now! Peace now! Peace now!

NARRATOR:

The Vietnam War had divided Americans—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Opposition to the war in Vietnam has set off demonstrations in several major cities.

NARRATOR:

—igniting social unrest.

In Delaware, racial tensions boiled over.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The National Guard was called out in several cities to put down riots. One of these cities was Wilmington, Delaware.

NARRATOR:

Black residents were angry. Joe Biden saw an opportunity to draw on his personal experience with race, back when he was 19, working at an inner-city pool.

RICHARD “MOUSE” SMITH, FriendJoe Biden:

He was a lifeguard. He was one of two white guys. He was a tall, slim, young-looking, good-looking, Elvis Presley-looking kind of guy.

JAMES BAKER, Fmr. mayor, Wilmington:

That’s how he got to know some of the guys who were in the gangs. He just seemed to have a natural instinct for getting to know people, getting to understand them, but not being afraid to be around them.

RICHARD “MOUSE” SMITH:

We became friends. We became friends. I was a very troubled child, OK? Leader of a gang, no food at home, electric cut off, no soap, sometimes no soap and water to take a bath, no hot water.

NARRATOR:

Joe and Ricky—he likes to be called “Mouse”—forged a lifetime friendship after beating a shared demon: They both stuttered.

RICHARD “MOUSE” SMITH:

Understand back there, for Black folks back those days, when you stutter, you was retarded or you was—or you were—something was mentally wrong with you. So he basically told me, "Go to the mirror, look at yourself, pronounce your words. Go and put your voice on tape." Well, my words did change. I started reading the papers from the back to the forth, back and forth.

NARRATOR:

“Mouse” introduced Joe all around the neighborhood. Over the years Biden kept in touch, building relationships in the Black community that would pay off.

JAMES BAKER:

He would go through personalizing with people. I never really heard him say, "I’m going to change the community. I’m going to deal with employment. I’m going to deal with housing." You know, the typical politician mess that you hear. I always tell people be wary of any politician who tells you he’s going to create jobs. He’s lying to you.

PEGGY NOONAN, The Wall Street Journal:

Some people are in politics because they’re in love with policy, but they’re not necessarily in love with humans. He loves the game of it. He loves the dance of it. He loves meeting people. He loves hugging strangers.

NARRATOR:

It became his go-to strategy.

MALE NEWSREADER:

President Nixon’s landslide didn’t help the Republicans at all.

NARRATOR:

And in 1972, that method worked.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Some of those who did lose had been considered the most certain to win.

NARRATOR:

The Black community helped make Joe Biden a winner—

MALE NEWSREADER:

In Delaware—

NARRATOR:

—by less than 3,000 votes.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—whipped by 29-year-old Joseph Biden.

FRED SEARS:

It was very close. People were still surprised at how this even happened.

JOE BIDEN:

All of you have done something that the political pundits said there was no way in the world it could be done!

JILL JACOBS:

That night, all the college kids were so excited. A lot of us went to the Hotel DuPont Ballroom, and it was packed, packed, and there was so much excitement in the air. I saw this woman coming through the crowd and I realized that it was Neilia, Joe’s wife. And so I walked up to her and I shook her hand and I said, “Congratulations on your win.” And she said, “Thank you very much.” And that was our exchange.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The war of the Trumps has ignited a battle of the the tabloids.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The unfolding saga of Trump vs. Trump.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—a high-octane mix of the stuff that sells newspapers.

NARRATOR:

They called it “the divorce of the century”—Trump vs. Trump.

JAY GOLDBERG, Fmr. Trump divorce attorney:

It was on Page 1, Page 2. I likened it to World War III. I never saw publicity equal to that.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—reports linking Trump to a bevy of beauties, including actress—

NARRATOR:

This time it was a crisis Donald created himself: He’d been cheating on his wife, Ivana.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—Georgia, cast as the “other woman”—

MARIE BRENNER, Vanity Fair:

He was in a real crisis, and there had been scandal after scandal in the tabloids. His children were sobbing, Ivanka was sobbing, Donald Jr. was apparently not speaking to his father. And Donald’s mother said to someone who was very close to her, "I don’t know who my son is anymore."

NARRATOR:

The marriage that produced the divorce of the century had begun more than a decade before, at a trendy New York bar. She was a model out on the town with friends.

NIKKI HASKELL, FriendDonald Trump:

Donald came up and introduced himself: "Hi, I’m Donald Trump, and I see that you’re having a problem getting a table." So he went over to the maître d’, and the next thing you know, the girls had a table.

NARRATOR:

An immigrant from Czechoslovakia, she was going places—what Fred Trump would call “a killer.”

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO:

The interesting thing about Ivana is I consider her to be every bit as ambitious as Donald and every bit as committed to remaking herself or creating herself.

NARRATOR:

Ivana Zelníková had become Mrs. Trump, but that was just the start.

NIKKI HASKELL:

She said to me, "Oh, I’m going to go work for Donald." I said, "What? You’re getting married and you’re going to work? I never heard of anything like that. Don’t you get married not to go to work?" She goes, "No, I told him that I want a job. Give me any job. I don’t care what it is. I can’t sit at home."

IVANA TRUMP:

I love to work. I like to see the final product. I just—I don’t care what kind of business it is in or what kind of work it is. I just adore to work. I can’t sit home and look up at a ceiling. It’s just not enough for me.

LOUISE SUNSHINE, Fmr. VP, Trump Organization:

She was driven, too, driven, driven, driven. Ivana Trump was Donald’s—like they were born from the same sperm. Donald and Ivana mimicked each other. So they were like a ball of fire.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Its opening party was one to end them all. Guests, thousands of them, mingled with Le Clique's madcap performers—

NARRATOR:

Together they headlined Tump’s biggest real estate project: Trump Tower. And as he expanded into Atlantic City, she became CEO of one of the casinos. In Manhattan, she took charge of the iconic Plaza Hotel.

But it would not last.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, Fmr. Trump adviser:

Ivana in the beginning, that was great. It was very refreshing. He had this powerful woman by his side, but it grew tiresome for him. And why did it grow tiresome for him? Because there are no co-stars in Trump’s orbit. There’s only one spotlight and it’s on him.

MARC FISHER:

When things went well, he became enormously jealous of the attention she got. And when things went poorly, he became extremely angry and insulting and vindictive toward her.

NARRATOR:

During Ivana’s renovation of the Plaza, Trump’s resentment boiled over.

BARBARA RES, Fmr. VP, Trump Organization:

We came in and saw the finished room and the first thing, he didn’t like the furniture, and he started cursing out Ivana. And he pulled the door off a piece of furniture, he was so angry. I never saw him so angry in my life. He was very scary that day. He was very, very angry.

OPRAH WINFREY:

Do you all argue?

NARRATOR:

In public, Trump made it clear how he felt.

DONALD TRUMP:

We should have world record-setting fights. But we really don’t. We get along very well. And there's not a lot of disagreement, because ultimately Ivana does exactly as I tell her to do. [laughter]

OPRAH WINFREY:

Now see, wait a minute.

IVANA TRUMP:

Male chauvinist.

DONALD TRUMP:

Right, men? Is that right? Huh?

NARRATOR:

In the eye of the tabloid storm, Ivana said she was doing everything she could to hold on to her life and her power.

BARBARA RES:

She starts weeping. And I said, "Ivana, what is it?" And she says, "You don't know what it's like. You just have to deal with him when you work for him. I have him 24 hours a day." And I felt so terribly sorry. I mean, she really did everything she possibly could to please Donald. And I think she got the short end of the stick.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—a marital split between the billionaire builder—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

He wants out. There's rumor of another woman, and the wounded wife—

NARRATOR:

But for Trump, the crisis was made-to-order. He leaked stories to feed the media firestorm.

ROGER STONE:

One of the things he really learned from Roy was the manipulation of the celebrity press, the so-called society press, Page 6, The Daily News. He plays them like a piano.

MALE NEWSREADER:

New York’s tabloids having a field day reporting Ivana wants a lot more—

JELANI COBB:

The tactics and techniques that he learned over time, that he picked up from Roy Cohn and his father, everything he gleaned from those people could be directed at the closest people in his life, including his wife.

NARRATOR:

This personal crisis taught Trump another life lesson: Never share power again.

MICHAEL KRUSE:

We’ve seen it in Trump’s presidency, when aides become too out front in their own right, he reacts in ways that sort of shove those figures back down to maintain the role of primacy that he not only seeks, but needs.

PARTY GUESTS [singing]:

Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you!

NARRATOR:

He’s 30. Joe Biden had it all: three children, wife Neilia at his side, about to take a seat in the Senate.

CURTIS WILKE:

I was assigned to do a long, long piece on him, something like, you know, "Young Mr. Biden Goes to Washington." That's when I spent a good bit of time with Joe. And I had lunch with Neilia in the course of doing this story, and I just thought to myself, God, this couple really has everything.

MICHAEL KRUSE:

It’s a love story. He met her on a beach in spring break in college. They fell, within days, madly in love.

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS:

Neilia was the love of his life and it was really a happily-ever-after tale. Until it isn’t, abruptly.

NARRATOR:

Biden and his sister, Val, were in Washington setting up the office, hiring a staff, when the crisis hit.

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS:

The phone rings, and Val gets it. And Biden is sort of paying attention, and then he really starts paying attention when he sees her face.

VALERIE BIDEN OWENS, SisterJoe Biden:

I got a call from Jimmy Biden, and he said, "Come home, now. There’s been an accident. And Neilia was in the car, the station wagon, with the three children, Beau, Hunt, and Naomi."

TED KAUFMAN, Fmr. Biden chief of staff:

And Neilia was literally bringing home the Christmas tree, with the kids in the car, the three kids in the car.

NARRATOR:

Campaign flyers from the car helped identify the bodies.

VALERIE BIDEN OWENS:

She was hit broadside by a tractor-trailer. And she and Naomi, who sat behind her in the car seat, they died instantly. And Beau and Hunter were seriously injured.

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS:

And he—he knew, he knew. He knew from the look on her face.

VALERIE BIDEN OWENS:

My brother looked at me and said, "She’s dead, isn’t she?" And I said, "I don’t know, Joey." I did know. Jimmy told me.

NARRATOR:

His sons were in the hospital, hours away.

Promises to Keep By Joe Biden

MALE VOICE [reading]:

"The pain cut through like a shard of broken glass. I began to understand how despair led people to just cash it in; how suicide wasn’t just an option but a rational option."

VALERIE BIDEN OWENS:

In six short weeks he went from being on top of the world to being a young widower, a father of two children and a single dad. And a man with a broken heart.

NARRATOR:

He got to the boys. They were all that was left. Broken hips, legs, arms. Beau was all cut up, and Hunter’s skull was fractured.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Since the accident Biden himself has been living in a hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, taking care of his sons.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Today, the senator took his swearing-in ceremony.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware—

NARRATOR:

Somehow, Biden pulled it together. They held a swearing-in ceremony at the hospital.

JOE BIDEN:

It means a lot to me. I appreciate it. And I hope that I can be a good senator for you all. I make this one promise: that if in six months or so there is a conflict between my being a good father and being a good senator, which I hope will not occur—I thought would, but I hope it won't—I promise you that I will contact Gov.-elect Tribbitt, as I had earlier, and tell him that we can always get another senator, but they can’t get another father.

NARRATOR:

The road ahead for Joe Biden would be tough, like the fight against stuttering and the uphill political battle. Once again, in crisis, he would persevere.

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS:

Valerie’s going to help raise the children. He’s going to have a job in Washington and a home in Wilmington and he’s going to ride that train back and forth. He’s going to be home for dinner every night with his kids and his sister. And that’s going to be the family unit. It’s not the one he chose, but that’s going to be the one.

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC), House Majority Whip:

You don't lose a wife and child at the point in life that he did and not grow from it. You learn from those kinds of experiences. What you do, though, is like Muhammad Ali said one time: "I’ve never been knocked down. I've always been getting up." So Joe has just never been knocked down; he’s always been getting up.

RONA BARRETT:

For some people, the ultimate goal in life—

NARRATOR:

The question was first asked on TV when he was 34 years old.

RONA BARRETT:

Would you like to be the president of the United States?

DONALD TRUMP:

I really don’t believe I would, Rona. But I would like to see somebody as the president who could do the job.

NARRATOR:

The question would not go away.

OPRAH WINFREY:

This sounds like political-presidential talk to me, and I know people have talked to you about whether or not you want to run. Would you ever?

DONALD TRUMP:

Probably not. But I do get tired of seeing the country ripped off.

DAVID LETTERMAN:

—indicating that you could do it better and you do intend to run for president at some point?

DONALD TRUMP:

No. I’m not going to run for president.

DAVID LETTERMAN:

Yeah, but if you want something done right—?

DONALD TRUMP:

Do it yourself. [laughter]

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO:

Not only does his ego get fed, he gets a nice note from Richard Nixon, who’s seen him on television.

MALE VOICE [reading]:

"Mrs. Nixon told me that you were great on the Donahue Show. She predicts that whenever you decide to run for office you will be a winner!"

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO:

Donald proudly framed this letter and showed it to me at the time we were working together on interviews.

NARRATOR:

He'd made his mark in Manhattan exploiting an economic crisis. Now he’d take on another crisis and raise his profile yet again.

MALE NEWSREADER:

It is Christmas Eve in New York, and the talk of the town is not peace on Earth, but the violence among us.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—subway vigilante who shot and wounded four young men over the weekend.

ED KOCH, Mayor, New York City:

—to have it happen in New York City. Unbelievable.

MALE NEWSREADER:

In the New York City version of a racial lynching—

MALE SPEAKER:

The man is dead, somebody got to go to jail for that.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

No justice! No peace! No justice!

NARRATOR:

Crime and racial tensions were tearing New York City apart.

MALE SPEAKER:

—and not one killing or a hundred killings are going to stop us from going where we want to go.

NARRATOR:

Trump seized on one headline.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

A jogger is fighting for her life after a brutal attack in Central Park—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

She is a white Wall Street investment banker, her Black attackers being called "animals" in the media.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—whose savage beating and gang rape has provoked outrage in a city filled—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

It is the ages of the accused, 14 to 17 years old, and the horror of their alleged crimes that has caused a furor.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The defendants are about to have their two months in court. Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray. They are finally through—

YUSEF SALAAM, Central Park Five defendant:

There’s a rush to judge because there’s a rush to solve the crime.

NARRATOR:

Yusef Salaam’s arrest was at the center of the storm.

YUSEF SALAAM:

We became what was wrong. We became expendable.

MARC FISHER:

Trump saw this classic tabloid story. He saw his role and his position instinctively. He knew in his heart that those guys were bad.

NARRATOR:

As in so many other areas, his attitude towards race was shaped by his father.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS NewsHour:

He was being raised by a father who was discriminating against African Americans in the very first apartments with the Trump name. He was raised in a setting where the people of color and the Black people that he saw were people who were working for him. It was his father's driver.

MARY TRUMP, Author, Too Much and Never Enough:

They were just a very racist family. People of color, African Americans in particular, Jewish people, women were all considered fair game, and racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny were very common in my grandparents' house. And it was just the way it was.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Trump took out full-page ads in four city newspapers—

NARRATOR:

Trump took the extraordinary step of buying a full-page ad in four New York newspapers.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Trump’s newspaper ads contribute to the city’s racial polarization.

YUSEF SALAAM:

We hadn’t even gone to trial yet. Two weeks passes and we are essentially given a death sentence with this ad.

MALE VOICE [reading]:

"They should be executed for their crimes. I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid."

YUSEF SALAAM:

And then he signs his name at the very bottom. People don’t sign their name to things that they’re not proud of.

DONALD TRUMP:

The ads basically are very strong and vocal. They are saying bring back law and order to our cities.

YUSEF SALAAM:

This ad was a whisper into the darkest, most sinister parts of society.

DONALD TRUMP:

You better believe that I hate the people that took this girl and raped her brutally. You better believe it. And it’s more than anger, it’s hatred. And I want society to hate them.

WESLEY LOWERY, Author, They Can't Kill Us All:

Trump found a way to insert himself into the story, to signal where he was on these issues and began to learn the lesson that if you can capture that fear and you can become the champion for those afraid people, that there's a lot of political opportunity in that.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

Hey, hey! Ho, ho! All racists have to go!

NARRATOR:

In the process, Trump had touched a nerve and found a sympathetic audience.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

Hey, hey! Ho, ho! All racists have to go!

DONALD TRUMP:

I’ve never done anything that’s caused a more positive stir. I’ve had 15,000—15,000 letters in the last week and half. I don’t know of more than two or three that were negative out of 15,000.

LARRY KING:

Thank you, Donald.

WESLEY LOWERY:

He's learning how to dip his toe in and out of these remarkably racially incendiary issues. He's learning how to dog whistle, he's learning how to signal, and also learning how to do that while keeping a little bit of distance.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

More than a decade later, new information has blown the case wide open.

MALE NEWSREADER:

There were cheers in a New York City courtroom today—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Turns out they apparently got the wrong guys—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The Central Park Five were released from prison.

GWENDA BLAIR:

It turned out another man entirely had done this rape and these kids were innocent. They had been not only publicly exonerated, but officially exonerated.

NARRATOR:

But Trump would not apologize then, nor over the years when the subject came up.

YUSEF SALAAM:

We went to prison for a crime that we didn’t commit. Still, to this day, we still have not been apologized to from the people who harmed us in that way, that political way, right?

NARRATOR:

It was part of the Roy Cohn playbook that Trump continued to use: fan the fires of division, get what you want, move on.

DAN BALZ, The Washington Post:

You can almost draw a straight line from what he did with the Central Park Five to then on to birtherism. There is something within Donald Trump that makes him drawn to those kinds of issues, very, very divisive issues that are aimed at a particular part of the electorate or the population that in one way or another stir things up.

1987

JOE BIDEN:

Thank you very much!

NARRATOR:

After 14 years in the Senate, Joe Biden was going for the big one—running for president.

It was a family affair. The boys were older now. He had remarried, had a new daughter.

JILL BIDEN, WifeJoe Biden:

He said, "Let's just test the waters." And so I said, "All right." It sort of just snowballed. And we were into it, really, before we even knew it.

NARRATOR:

But as he campaigned, he headed towards another crisis, stemming from a persistent question: What did he stand for?

PEGGY NOONAN:

I think that’s always been one of his challenges as he tries to go for president. He casts about for what he wants to say. He casts about for the issues he wants to put forward and what he wants to say he believes in. And it feels cast about.

NARRATOR:

Then, one day, a video, a story that would give him something to say.

NEIL KINNOCK:

What am I, the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?

NARRATOR:

Obsessed with the tape, Biden studied it. He later wrote, ”The ad was riveting; I couldn’t take my eyes off Neil Kinnock.”

NEIL KINNOCK:

Is it because they were weak? Those people who could work eight hours underground and then come up and play football. Weak?

DAN BALZ:

Biden could put himself into the Neil Kinnock story. Family in Scranton, Pennsylvania, family in the mines. And so, in a sense, he absorbed the Kinnock story in making it his own.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The campaign begins in earnest with the first votes for the next president in Iowa.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The candidates spent much of yesterday fanned out over Iowa—

NARRATOR:

In Iowa, during a primary, he took Kinnock’s words, made them his own.

MALE ANNOUNCER:

And now, Mr. Biden.

JOE BIDEN:

Thank you very much. I started thinking as I was coming over here, "Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?"

TED KAUFMAN:

He got up there and he gave his speech, and got to the end, last three minutes, and he gave Kinnock, but he did not attribute it to Kinnock.

JOE BIDEN:

Is it because they didn't work hard? My ancestors who worked in the coal mines of northeast Pennsylvania and would come after 12 hours and play football for four hours?

PEGGY NOONAN:

Joe Biden borrowed it and applied it to his own life and made a moving sort of aria, a moving sort of part of a speech about his own life, which in fact had been taken from Neil Kinnock.

JOE BIDEN:

I hope you’ll consider me. Thank you very much.

MALE ANNOUNCER:

And that concludes the Economics for America debate.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Biden today faces a controversy—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Biden seemed to be claiming Kinnock’s vision, and life, as his own.

NARRATOR:

It became front-page news.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Biden has been caught, with a sudden embarrassing comparison of his recent campaign speeches. The first example came from Great Britain.

ABC News

NEIL KINNOCK:

What am I, the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?

JOE BIDEN:

And I started thinking as I was coming over here, "Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?"

NARRATOR:

His campaign said it was a mistake, that he had cited Kinnock other times.

MALE NEWSREADER:

For a second time in two weeks—

NARRATOR:

But then, the avalanche.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

He looks like a Joe Biden wind-up doll with somebody else’s words coming out.

NARRATOR:

Allegations of failing to cite a source in a law school paper.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—plagiarized a law review article—

NARRATOR:

Taking lines from his political idols, the Kennedys.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—one from John Kennedy’s inaugural, others from Robert Kennedy. Their words, from the lips of Joe Biden.

JILL BIDEN:

When he was accused of plagiarism, we felt that his character was being attacked. And if sort of took us back.

JOE BIDEN:

Thank you for coming. I apologize for not being able to do this last night.

NARRATOR:

In trouble, Biden tried to do what he’d always done—

JOE BIDEN:

I did not say “To paraphrase Neil Kinnock.” I should have.

NARRATOR:

Apologize.

JOE BIDEN:

I should have known it was Robert Kennedy's quote. I did not know that.

NARRATOR:

Admit his mistakes—

JOE BIDEN:

I've done some dumb things. And I'll do dumb things again.

NARRATOR:

Persevere.

JOE BIDEN:

But I’ll tell you one thing. My learning curve is moving on this presidential race. And I want to tell them all: I’m in this race to stay, I’m in this race to win, and here I come! Thanks a lot, folks.

NARRATOR:

He thought he could put it behind him. But then—

PETER JENNINGS:

Well, this does not mark the beginning of a better week for Sen. Joseph Biden. Today he’s having to defend what he has said in public about his record at law school and what the record really shows.

FRANK FAHEY:

One real quick question. What law school did you attend, and where did you place in that class?

NARRATOR:

Insulted, his anger was on full display.

JOE BIDEN:

I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect. I went to law school on a full academic scholarship.

EVAN OSNOS:

Joe Biden's always been very sensitive to the perception that he's being disrespected. And when that happens, those are the moments when he tends to erupt.

ABC News

JOE BIDEN:

—the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship, and in fact ended up in the top half of my class. I won the International Moot Court Competition—

MALE NEWSREADER:

But Syracuse University Law School records released by Biden just last week show he sought a partial, not full, scholarship for financial, not academic, reasons; that he finished not in the top half but 76th out of 85 students.

MARK LEIBOVICH, The New York Times Magazine:

Joe Biden comes off as someone who has a lot of self-confidence, but obviously there’s an imposter syndrome dynamic at work here, because if you feel like you have to make stuff up about yourself and invent stories that are not your own and then do it in such a self-destructive way in which you can be caught, that speaks to a level of character, and certainly insecurity, that is common among of a lot of politicians.

JOE BIDEN:

Hello, everybody. Delightful to see you all here. You know my wife, Jill.

JILL BIDEN:

Pulling out of the 1987 presidential race was really devastating to Joe and to me and to our family.

JOE BIDEN:

The exaggerated shadow of those mistakes has begun to obscure the essence my candidacy and the essence of Joe Biden.

DAN BALZ:

He recognized that this was a fatal blow to his hopes of winning the nomination in 1988. I think it was a very painful decision.

JOE BIDEN:

Thanks, folks, my wife and I thank you very much. And Tommy, thanks—

NARRATOR:

Biden lost this fight.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Delaware senator Joseph Biden dropped out of the hunt today—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Joe Biden blames mostly himself for blowing it—

NARRATOR:

He returned to the Senate, continued his method: persevere through it all.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Real estate developer Donald Trump opened his new casino, the Taj Mahal, in Atlantic City today.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Is this the Eighth Wonder of the World? The Taj Mahal shines as Trump’s slickest deal.

NARRATOR:

The biggest crisis of Donald Trump's business career began with one giant bet.

JACK O’DONNELL, Fmr. Trump casino exec.:

It certainly represented something bigger and bolder and probably what was going to be the greatest statement ever made in Atlantic City. And so it was a big deal. It was a big deal to Donald.

NARRATOR:

The casino was the size of two football fields. Trump said he spent $14 million on chandeliers.

His bet: $1 billion.

NIKKI HASKELL:

People were mobbing Donald. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that, asking him for his autograph and everything. I mean, he had just catapulted into this rock star.

NARRATOR:

In TV reports, Trump bragged that he was the reason the Taj would be a success.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The Taj Mahal needs to make over $1 million a day to cover expenses. Trump says his business sense and ego will make it happen.

DONALD TRUMP:

Ego is an interesting thing. I have always been referred to as somebody with a big ego, but I really believe that I’ve never met a successful person without a very large ego, and if you don’t have a big ego, you're not going to be successful. It’s as simple as that.

NARRATOR:

Ego was central to Trump’s method, but there was something else: positive thinking, a technique he’d learned with his father at this Manhattan church. It was the place to be seen for business leaders, socialites, politicians—and the Trumps.

CHRIS RUDDY, FriendDonald Trump:

Every Sunday he would show up at Marble Collegiate Church to go to Norman Vincent Peale’s services.

NORMAN VINCENT PEALE:

The God who made this world was a wise God! He wants people who live life and like it. Love it!

CHRIS RUDDY:

I think part of it was this positive message that Peale had, that you could achieve anything you wanted. There was nothing that could stop you.

NARRATOR:

Peale's book The Power of Positive Thinking taught followers "visualization"—envisioning the world that they wanted.

NORMAN VINCENT PEALE:

One reason that the positive thinker gets positive results is he is not afraid of a problem.

MARY TRUMP, NieceDonald Trump:

It's this toxic positivity that perfectly fit in with what my grandfather already thought. Everything's great, and if you think that way, then everything will be great. The problem is, everything is not always great.

NORMAN VINCENT PEALE:

How, then, can you face the future with confidence?

GWENDA BLAIR:

The three influences on Donald Trump, as I sometimes describe them, are School of Dad, School of Fred Trump; School of Roy, Roy Cohn; and School of Norman Vincent Peale.

NARRATOR:

It was Peale’s kind of outlook that carried Trump into Atlantic City, with the vision of his name in lights: Trump Plaza. Trump Castle. Then the billion-dollar Trump Taj, paid for with junk bonds.

TONY SCHWARTZ:

I don’t think Donald Trump spent one minute worrying about debt. If he introduced doubt into his life, the whole thing would unravel.

NARRATOR:

Trump was warned repeatedly he was headed for disaster. But he dismissed the warnings.

CHRIS RUDDY:

He doesn’t really like hearing bad news. An optimist sometimes is so optimistic that they don’t want to hear anything; even if they’re heading right off a cliff, they might not want to hear the news.

MALE NEWSREADER:

What worries some analysts is the amount of junk bond debt Trump has incurred to build the Taj Mahal.

NARRATOR:

Inevitably, reporters began to question whether Trump's vision could be profitable.

MALE REPORTER:

Trump says he believes they will.

DONALD TRUMP:

The Taj Mahal is going to be a tremendous success.

NARRATOR:

That's when Trump turned to a key Roy Cohn lesson: attack the media.

MALE REPORTER:

When CNN tried to pursue some of these matters with Trump, this is what happened.

DONALD TRUMP:

Do this interview with somebody else.

MALE REPORTER:

We talked about this yesterday on the phone. This is exactly what we talked about.

DONALD TRUMP:

Do the interview with somebody else, really. Here. You don’t need this. Do it with somebody else and have a good time with this, because frankly, you're a very negative guy, and I think it’s very unfair reporting. Good luck.

JACK O’DONNELL:

It’s just classic denial. If you’re an expert and you agree with Donald Trump, you’re a genius; but if you’re an expert and you disagree with him, you’re a loser.

NARRATOR:

He ignored the experts. But they had been right.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Trump’s casino business will file for bankruptcy next month—

NARRATOR:

Trump’s casinos declared bankruptcy—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—the word is “You’re bankrupt”—

NARRATOR:

—after bankruptcy—

MALE NEWSREADER:

All three casinos are facing bankruptcy.

NARRATOR:

—after bankruptcy.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection—

NARRATOR:

The collapse of the casinos devastated Trump's investors and Atlantic City.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN:

Bankruptcy is a situation where people are losing. They’re getting pennies on the dollar. The banks clearly lost out. So did the people of Atlantic City, who lost jobs, who lost their tax base. That’s what happens in a bankruptcy and that’s what happened in these Atlantic City bankruptcies.

NARRATOR:

But Trump, as always, refused to admit failure.

GWENDA BLAIR:

That is sort of Norman Vincent Peale, hold on tenaciously, hold on to this image of yourself as successful. Never let go of it. Never let the idea of failure enter your mind.

DONALD TRUMP:

—and I call it a beautiful puzzle—

NARRATOR:

The crisis in Atlantic City also solidified another method Trump would come to rely on—

DONALD TRUMP:

I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.

NARRATOR:

Believe in yourself over experts.

DONALD TRUMP:

The experts are terrible. Look at the mess we're in with all these experts that we have.

NARRATOR:

Reject the naysayers.

DONALD TRUMP:

We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China.

NARRATOR:

Declare victory no matter what.

DONALD TRUMP:

And we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.

MALE NEWSREADER:

President Bush said he has no doubt Clarence Thomas will be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Thomas will try to persuade the Senate that he has no position at all on abortion—

NARRATOR:

1991. Joe Biden—now the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee—was facing his biggest crisis yet: allegations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

This affidavit charged that Thomas sexually harassed a former employee, Anita Hill.

MALE NEWS ANCHOR 1:

Good evening. We begin tonight with the potential for political explosion on Capitol Hill.

FEMALE NEWS ANCHOR:

Clarence Thomas ran into trouble today—

MALE NEWS ANCHOR 2:

Questions are growing over charges of sexual harassment against Thomas—

JANE MAYER, Co-author, Strange Justice:

[laughs] It seems to have been a nightmare for Joe Biden. As a man he felt uncomfortable about it. As a white man, he felt uncomfortable taking Clarence Thomas, a Black man, on about it. And the whole subject matter just made him incredibly uncomfortable.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Another witness has come forward against Thomas—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—news of a second woman who once worked for Thomas who said—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—underscores a significant—

NARRATOR:

Biden was at first reluctant to have Hill testify, but the story was exploding.

ANGELA WRIGHT, Clarence Thomas accuser:

There were actually three other women, other than myself, who were willing to testify, who had actually said they called Sen. Biden's office and offered their own testimony.

NARRATOR:

Angela Wright offered her own stark allegations against Thomas, which Thomas denied.

ANGELA WRIGHT:

He asked me in one situation what size breasts—my breasts were. He told me he wanted to date me. This is a man who in my opinion has often spoken inappropriately to women.

MALE NEWSREADER:

But committee chairman Biden conceded tonight that new information about the allegations—

NARRATOR:

With the pressure mounting, Biden agreed to let the women testify.

JOE BIDEN:

The hearing will come to order. Welcome, Professor Hill.

Professor, do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

ANITA HILL:

I do.

JOE BIDEN:

Thank you.

NARRATOR:

Biden’s committee was all white men—the “men of the Senate,” as they were called.

JANE MAYER:

There was not a single woman who might have understood her story from a woman’s point of view.

JOE BIDEN:

Can you tell the committee what was the most embarrassing of all the incidences that you have alleged?

ANITA HILL:

I think the one that was the most embarrassing was his discussion of—of pornography involving these women with large breasts and engaged in a variety of sex with different people or animals. That was the thing that embarrassed me the most and made me feel the most humiliated.

ANGELA WRIGHT:

He's kind of in the middle of the road. I'm a Southern woman, and I've always heard the only thing in the middle of the road is roadkill and yellow stripes, and that you have to take a position and you have to decide what you stand for. He didn't know whose side to come down on.

JOE BIDEN:

Thank you. My time is up under our agreement. Let me now yield to my friend from Pennsylvania, Sen. Specter.

NARRATOR:

Biden’s close friend, Republican Arlen Specter, led the charge against Hill.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):

I find the references to the alleged sexual harassment not only unbelievable, but preposterous.

NARRATOR:

He cast doubt on her memory.

ARLEN SPECTER:

How reliable is your testimony in October of 1991 on events that occurred eight, 10 years ago?

NARRATOR:

He suggested she was exaggerating.

ARLEN SPECTER:

You took it to mean that Judge Thomas wanted to have sex with you, but in fact he never did ask you to have sex, correct?

ANITA HILL:

No, he did not ask me to have sex.

ARLEN SPECTER:

That was an inference that you drew?

ANITA HILL:

Yes, yes.

ARLEN SPECTER:

My red light is on, thank you very much, Professor Hill. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

JOE BIDEN:

Thank you, Senator, thank you, Professor Hill. We'll adjourn—

ANGELA WRIGHT:

Joe Biden allowed members of that committee to grill Professor Hill in a way that was inappropriate and humiliating. He could have done something to provide her with some support, some comfort. But that didn’t happen.

NARRATOR:

Biden gave Clarence Thomas the last word. He strongly denied the allegations.

CLARENCE THOMAS:

This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint as a Black American, as far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.

JANE MAYER:

Very powerful. I mean, what it did was it shamed these white senators. And it certainly seemed to shame the Democrats, who had just been accused of lynching a Black man.

NARRATOR:

With that, Biden moved to wrap up the hearings. Angela Wright and the other women accusing Thomas would not testify.

He’d end up voting against Thomas, but his handling of the hearing damaged him politically.

MICHAEL KRUSE:

It made him the face of an out-of-touch body and really wounded his prospects of a future run for president. He had some work to do. He had some reputational rehab to do.

NARRATOR:

Biden turned to his method for survival in crisis: acknowledge the problem and repair the damage.

VALERIE JARRETT, Fmr. Obama senior adviser:

Joe is always able to say, "Yeah, I didn't handle that quite right. Let me see what I can do better the next time."

MALE NEWSREADER:

Carol Moseley Braun has entered political history. She’s the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Big changes here, the kind that have history written all over it.

NARRATOR:

“Fixing things” began by recruiting the first Black woman elected to the United States Senate.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Braun’s anger over the Clarence Thomas hearings turned her into a candidate.

NARRATOR:

Biden wanted to make sure Moseley Braun joined his committee.

SEN. CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN (D-IL), 1993-99:

I made a joke, which he didn’t think was funny at all. I said, "You just want Anita Hill on the other side of the table." He did not laugh. He didn’t think it was funny. And he still probably doesn’t. [laughs]

NARRATOR:

But he convinced her and Dianne Feinstein to join the committee, beginning once again to rebuild.

DONALD TRUMP:

My name’s Donald Trump, and I’m the largest real estate developer in New York. I own buildings all over the place, model agencies, the Miss Universe Pageant, jetliners, golf courses, casinos—

NARRATOR:

Having prevailed in spite of personal and financial crises, Donald Trump was now making crisis his brand. For 14 seasons he played the role of a mogul, as if he were still one in real life.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

His financial dynasty toppling like a house of cards.

MALE NEWSREADER:

He could become Atlantic City’s biggest loser ever.

NARRATOR:

In the wreckage of Atlantic City, Trump had changed course—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Trump’s name once meant gold. Today it means trouble—

NARRATOR:

—and doubled down on what had been a side business: celebrity.

CHRIS RUDDY:

He’s always saw himself as a potential TV or entertainment star. That’s another part of his personality, is he likes to be an entertainer.

GEOFFREY BUTLER, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air:

Donald Trump.

NARRATOR:

On TV—

CARLTON BANKS, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air:

It’s the Donald. Oh, my God!

KEVIN McCALLISTER, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York:

Excuse me, where’s the lobby?

NARRATOR:

Movies—

DONALD TRUMP:

Down the hall and to the left.

KEVIN McCALLISTER:

Thanks.

WRESTLING ANNOUNCER:

The Donald is here, live, on Monday Night Raw!

NARRATOR:

In the ring. He always played the same character: himself.

WRESTLING ANNOUNCER:

Oh, my God! The hostile takeover of Donald Trump!

MATT BAI, The Washington Post:

What he was selling was a brand. He learned that he just had to keep being relevant. He just had to keep being talked about. Even if it meant being notorious.

NARRATOR:

They built a false boardroom on the vacant fifth floor of Trump Tower.

OMAROSA MANIGAULT, Fmr. contestant, The Apprentice:

My first time meeting Donald Trump, we walked in the boardroom, we were seated, and about 20 minutes later the cameras starting rolling and Donald Trump walked in.

JIM DOWD, Fmr. PR director, The Apprentice:

The show transformed Donald Trump into this persona—

DONALD TRUMP:

OK, folks, I’m really busy today, so we’re going to go quickly.

JIM DOWD:

—who almost completely redeemed the pre-Apprentice Donald Trump—

DONALD TRUMP:

As a little treat, you’re going to see the nicest apartment in New York City. It’s my apartment.

JIM DOWD:

—in ways that are so substantial and so deep-seated that would The Apprentice not be in the picture, I couldn’t see him running for president.

NARRATOR:

Every episode was a crisis.

DONALD TRUMP:

You’re fired.

You’re fired.

You’re fired.

No longer with us, you’re fired.

I have to say you’re fired.

FEMALE CONTESTANT:

Please, please don't—

DONALD TRUMP:

I have no choice, and I have to say that you’re fired.

NARRATOR:

The carefully choreographed drama hooked the audience, keeping them coming back for more.

JAMES PONIEWOZIK, TV critic, The New York Times:

What’s the ethos of reality TV? It’s that fighting is the best state of human life. It’s that life is a competition. It’s zero-sum. For you to win, somebody else has got to lose.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump—

NARRATOR:

Donald Trump had become a reality TV star, inside millions of homes every week for years and years.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—seen an Apprentice finale unlike any—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—new Celebrity Apprentice, and he is—

OMAROSA MANIGAULT:

After The Apprentice, he was Donald Trump on steroids, you know? It’s like this guy was bigger than life. He was everywhere.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—reality TV show host, U.S. president?

NARRATOR:

It was time for Trump to take his brand to the next level.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump’s recent White House flirtation has gone above and beyond.

NARRATOR:

He would run for president.

DAN BALZ:

He recognized that entertainment is now a central part of American politics. Donald Trump actually decided that you can fuse everything that he had learned about celebrity and entertainment and ratings from having been on The Apprentice into a presidential campaign.

NARRATOR:

His announcement mirrored The Apprentice.

PENN JILLETTE, Fmr. contestant, The Celebrity Apprentice:

It was staged just like a Celebrity Apprentice thing. We had staged one of the Celebrity Apprentice things in that same place. The camera angles were the same; the lighting was the same.

ROGER STONE:

He understood the drama of coming down the escalator. The orchestration of it recognizes his showmanship. He’s a showman above all.

JAMES PONIEWOZIK:

A crowd filled out with, yes, with actual actors who were promised 50 bucks a pop to simulate enthusiasm for him and play a role in a similar way to the way that he was playing a role.

DONALD TRUMP:

Ladies and gentlemen, I am officially running for president of the United States, and we are going to make our country great again.

NARRATOR:

The developer who went bust, the reality TV star, was on his way, harnessing the power of crisis and conflict, image over reality.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Another day, another entry in the presidential race. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden is the ninth Democrat to jump into the candidate pool.

NARRATOR:

It was 2007. Joe Biden was running for president—again.

But that very day—

KATIE COURIC:

It sure isn’t easy ruining for president these days—

NARRATOR:

—it all blew up.

KATIE COURIC:

This was not a good day for Joe Biden, was it?

FEMALE REPORTER:

No, it really wasn’t, Katie—

ANDERSON COOPER:

He just got into the race today, and no sooner than he did, he talks his way into a national controversy.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—spent much of the day discussing these comments he made to a newspaper reporter about Sen. Barack Obama—

JOE BIDEN:

I mean, you got the first sort of mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.

FEMALE REPORTER:

Some people listening to those descriptions of Obama—"articulate," "clean"—heard racial overtones, or, at the very least, condescension.

JELANI COBB, Author, The Substance of Hope:

I think when people heard the "clean and articulate" line, there was a wave of eye rolling, certainly among African Americans. It was the kind of well-intentioned but benighted commentary that you expect from people who inhabit environments where there aren’t very many Black people, and the United States Senate has historically been a prime example of that.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Tonight his campaign is doing damage control.

NARRATOR:

He’d been here before—damage control. Kinnock, Anita Hill.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Joe Biden’s apologizing for a remark he made about Sen. Barack Obama, saying, "I deeply regret any offense my remarks to the New York Observer—"

NARRATOR:

He followed the playbook: apologize, persevere.

ANNOUNCER:

This is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

JON STEWART:

Nice to see you. Do you want to talk about the comments specifically that have generated the controversy?

JOE BIDEN:

Well, yeah, sure. No, I don’t want to talk about it. [laughter]

JON STEWART:

The Philadelphia Inquirer, yesterday you were quoted as saying, “The one lesson I learned from my previous presidential run is 'words matter'—”

JOE BIDEN:

That's right. [laughs]

JON STEWART:

"'—and you can't take words lightly.' And then you came out with this one. All right. Here you go. Listen to this one, this is great. 'Barack Obama. I mean, you got the first mainstream African American who's articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man.'”

JOE BIDEN:

Well, let me tell you something. I spoke to Barack today. I spoke—

JON STEWART:

I bet you did. [laughter]

JOE BIDEN:

I also spoke to Jesse and Al Sharpton and—

JON STEWART:

And Michael Jordan, and anybody you could get your hands on. [laughter] The Jackson 5. Who else?

JOE BIDEN:

No, no no. Michael didn’t call me. Michael didn’t call me—

DAN BALZ:

It was a reminder that this was somebody who was capable of doing those kinds of things, who was in many ways his own worst enemy, whether it was because he didn’t know when to stop speaking or because he could say things in the moment that would get him into trouble.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The latest news is that Joe Biden is dropping out of the race. Joe Biden is dropping out of the race for president.

NARRATOR:

Once again, Joe Biden’s campaign would collapse. But he wasn’t taking himself out of the game. He’d make it personal: build a relationship with Obama.

VALERIE JARRETT:

Out of competition came mutual respect, and mutual respect led to a real relationship of friendship, and Joe Biden became somebody that President Obama looked to for advice and counsel.

FEMALE REPORTER:

Senator, have you made up your mind about—

BARACK OBAMA:

You are not going to get anything out of me on the vice presidential thing, nothing!

NARRATOR:

Soon, that relationship would pay off as Obama sought a running mate.

BARACK OBAMA:

I've got to say that I’ve made the selection, and that’s all you're going to get. All right?

MATT BAI, Author, All the Truth Is Out:

I think Obama really liked the idea of choosing the guy who had said these things about him, that so many other people found offensive, of showing this kind of magnanimity around racial issues and racial rhetoric, that I think was key to his winning.

NARRATOR:

Obama asked him to be on his ticket as vice president. At the house in Wilmington, the Biden inner circle gathered.

TED KAUFMAN, Biden political adviser:

He was not going to do it. I mean, there’s no doubt he was not going to do it. We had another one of those family meetings and a few key people.

JILL BIDEN:

The kids said to me, “Mom, you have to talk Dad into running.” And I said, "Joe, this is such a great moment in history.”

TED KAUFMAN:

His mom said, "Well, Joey"—she called him Joey—she said, "Well, Joey, you’re telling me that the first African American president in history thinks that you can help him get elected and you’re saying no?" Game, set, match. It was over. [laughs]

MALE NEWSREADER:

Barack Obama is projected to be the next president.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois—

NARRATOR:

He'd turned a political crisis into a relationship and became vice president.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—47 years old, will become the president—

VALERIE BIDEN OWENS:

He had already squared away in his mind that he understood that Barack Obama was president, Joe was vice president. And Joe understood the job of vice president and wore it well.

NARRATOR:

In the Obama White House, Biden brought with him something the president didn’t have: relationships in Congress spanning decades.

VALERIE JARRETT:

Those were his recently former colleagues, and he knew that he could call them and they would take his call, and that he could go and thrash issues out with them with a degree of comfort that President Obama didn’t have because he hadn’t known them as long as Vice President Biden.

NARRATOR:

Biden became Obama’s trusted partner.

MATT BAI:

The real question isn’t "What thing did you do?" if you’re vice president. The real question is, "How much influence did you have?"

And I think Biden understands power and leveraging power. I think he had a genuine relationship with Obama and they spent a lot of time talking. But I think he was a very influential vice president, in that way, and an extremely loyal vice president.

NARRATOR:

In return, Obama bestowed on Biden something special, a kind of political sainthood they called the “Obama halo.”

BAKARI SELLERS, Author, My Vanishing Country:

Joe Biden has the Obama halo; everybody knows that. That is the cleansing of Joe Biden and everything that may have happened. And there is such a great irony that someone who was the architect of the ‘94 crime bill, and a white man of this age, when you think about Anita Hill, his crutch, his—the reason for his success is a Black man with a funny name who’s kind of skinny from Hawaii by way of Kansas.

TEEN PERFORMERS [singing]:

Cowardice. Are you serious? Apologies for freedom—I can’t handle this! Enemies of freedom—

NARRATOR:

  1. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, a made-for-TV spectacle.

TEEN PERFORMERS [singing]:

Come on, boys—take ‘em down!

NARRATOR:

A showcase with all the conflict and crisis.

DONALD TRUMP:

Turn them. Go ahead, turn them. Go ahead.

Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, just knock the hell—I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise.

MEGYN KELLY:

You’ve called women you don’t like, “Fat pigs—”

DONALD TRUMP

Only Rosie O’Donnell. [laughter]

DAN BALZ:

By the time Trump arrives, running for president in 2016—

DONALD TRUMP:

How does my hair look? Is it OK?

DAN BALZ:

—he understands conflict. He understands celebrity. He understands the power of television. And he understands how to dominate.

NARRATOR:

And against his opponents, another strategy he had perfected: personal attack.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO:

Little Marco.

DONALD TRUMP:

This little guy has lied so much—

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL):

Here we go!

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO:

Lying Ted.

DONALD TRUMP:

You are the single biggest liar. You probably are worse than Jeb Bush. You are the single biggest liar—

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO:

All of this is classic Trump. This is the person he’s been, I think since he was 5 years old. Donald told me that he is essentially the person he was in first grade and that he hasn’t really changed.

NARRATOR:

But a month before the election—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The Trump camp has swiftly launched into disaster mode.

MALE NEWSREADER:

This is a political disaster.

NARRATOR:

—a bombshell.

MALE NEWSREADER:

A big, big development in this campaign as it comes two days before—

STEVE BANNON, Fmr. Trump campaign CEO:

That day we're up on the 25th floor conference room and it's Friday afternoon, about 2 o'clock.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, Fmr. Trump campaign manager:

And Hope Hicks was notified by the media that they had Donald Trump having a conversation with Billy Bush that said a number of incendiary things and they were going to publish the transcript.

STEVE BANNON:

She's got this transcript. And she's like about to cry. She goes, "Oh, this is terrible."

DONALD TRUMP:

I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. [laughter]

NARRATOR:

The Tump team watched it online.

DONALD TRUMP:

You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH, Access Hollywood:

Whatever you want.

DONALD TRUMP:

Grab ’em by the p----. [laughter] You can do anything.

STEVE BANNON:

[laughs] Like, whoa! Boom! That thing hits. In video, it's pretty powerful. So everything shuts down.

RUDY GIULIANI, Trump political adviser:

Everybody—and everybody isn’t quite everybody—but most people, both in and outside the campaign, thought it would end his candidacy.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump’s campaign—its worst crisis ever.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—the future of a campaign that is in dire straits right now—

MALE NEWSREADER:

I think the question now is, how do Republicans break away from him?

NARRATOR:

Trump’s campaign was in free fall. Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, confronted Trump.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI:

Reince Priebus basically said, "You need to get out of the race." And Donald Trump said, "No." He said, "I’m not getting out of the race. Not only am I not getting out of the race, I’m going to go—I’m going to run, I’m going to win."

NARRATOR:

He would ignore the political experts.

STEVE BANNON:

In that moment, he won the presidency. There was a 90% chance we were going the other way that day from the night before, from the pressure that was on him and everything like that. And that's what a leader does.

NARRATOR:

In the midst of crisis, he turned to what he had learned from Norman Vincent Peale, Roy Cohn, his dad, reality TV.

DONALD TRUMP:

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible—

NARRATOR:

He went on the attack.

DONALD TRUMP:

Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign—

NARRATOR:

Changed the subject, stoking racial division—

DONALD TRUMP:

—and we will keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out—

NARRATOR:

—economic fears—

DONALD TRUMP:

We are going to renegotiate our terrible trade deal.

NARRATOR:

—frustration with Washington—

DONALD TRUMP:

It is time to drain the damn swamp.

NARRATOR:

—and making big promises.

DONALD TRUMP:

We will build a great wall! And we will make America great again!

MALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States.

NARRATOR:

Amidst outrage and anger, he won the ultimate prize and stayed true to his playbook.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

I think what Donald Trump learned from his entire run for president is that he could really only count on himself. He needed to rely on his own political instincts to figure out how to move forward.

CROWD [chanting]:

Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

NARRATOR:

Through the Obama years: building racial tension, outrage over police violence against African Americans.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Get on the floor!

NARRATOR:

Then, news of a revenge shooting against the police.

MALE NEWSREADER:

We begin tonight with breaking news. A deadly police shooting in New York City.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Two New York City police officers are dead following an ambush Saturday afternoon.

NYPD SPOKESMAN:

They were, quite simply, assassinated.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Amateur video captured the frantic scene as paramedics desperately tried to save the lives of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

NARRATOR:

As the vice president, Joe Biden often tackled controversies. And in matters of race particularly, Obama relied on him to walk a fine line he could not.

WESLEY LOWERY:

One of Joe Biden's chief responsibilities was to be an ambassador to the country, specifically to the white parts of the country, where Barack Obama's presence might have only further inflamed the situation.

NARRATOR:

Now Biden was dispatched to New York.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—25,000 police officers are all there to say goodbye—

NARRATOR:

It was tense.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—a sea of blue filled the city streets. Many—

NARRATOR:

Police officers lined the streets as Biden arrived.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Thousands of NYPD officers lining the streets outside of the funeral service here—

DON GRAVES, Fmr. counselor to VP Biden:

When we got out of the cars, you could see that this mass of police had changed him.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—thousands of people lining the streets—

MALE NEWSREADER:

gathered shoulder to shoulder at a Queens, New York, church to say farewell to a fallen—

DON GRAVES:

While we had understood the gravity and the sensitivity, I don’t think it really hit any of us until we saw the tens of thousands of police there.

NARRATOR:

He used his method: Keep it personal; talk directly to the family of Officer Rafael Ramos.

JOE BIDEN:

Our hearts ache for you. I know from personal experience that there is little anyone can say or do at this moment to ease the pain, that sense of loss, that sense of loneliness—

WESLEY LOWERY:

Joe Biden has been defined in public life by heartbreak and empathy; that when Joe Biden steps up at the funeral, you know that those tears are real.

JOE BIDEN:

The time will come—the time will come when Rafael’s memory will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes. That’s when you know it’s going to be OK. I know it’s hard to believe it will happen, but I promise you—I promise you it will happen.

EVAN OSNOS:

It's an odd role in public life, to be known as a person associated with grief. And Joe Biden never wanted to be that person, actually. It was not how he imagined his own political future. But because of his life, he ended up being this public political symbol of suffering and of resilience. And eventually he embraced it. But he actually didn't want to be that.

NARRATOR:

That day there was unfinished business: Biden wanted to see Officer Wenjian Liu’s family.

JILL BIDEN:

We came out of the church and Joe said, "I want to offer my condolences to him as well, to them, to that family."

DON GRAVES:

He wanted to go and meet them and talk with them. So the police worked it out so that we could visit. And they had a translator there.

JILL BIDEN:

I can remember walking up the stairs with the—with an interpreter. And the family was all crammed into this tiny kitchen. And we sat and we talked to them. And we must have been there—I don’t know, a good hour.

Promise Me, Dad By Joe Biden

MALE VOICE [reading]:

"I started to notice that Wenjian Liu’s father had rarely left my side. Occasionally he would lean into me so that his shoulder touched my arm. 'Thank you,' he kept saying. 'Thank you. Thank you.'”

JILL BIDEN:

We went out on the sidewalk. And the father, who didn't even speak English, just held onto Joe and—I mean, he was so grateful that Joe had come to offer condolences to the family.

MALE VOICE [reading]:

"We stood there for a long while, embracing on the little sidewalk in front of the house where he had lived with his only son, just two fathers. I understood all that he wanted me to know."

NARRATOR:

After decades in politics, Biden seemed to have finally found his place.

But soon after the crisis in New York, a personal crisis, yet again.

Biden was burying his own son, Beau.

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS:

He was the apple of Biden’s eye. He was not just someone who he thought was brilliant and successful and so proud of him. It went beyond pride. It was almost like "He’s the perfect version of me."

NARRATOR:

Beau had served in Iraq. He was attorney general of Delaware. They talked about the presidency someday.

MARGARET AITKEN, Fmr. Biden press secretary:

Joe often describes him as Joe 2.0. And he looked like his dad. He had a lot of the same skill sets as his father. He was very charismatic. He was charming. He was funny.

NARRATOR:

But then—brain cancer.

Death at 46.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Beau Biden, former Delaware attorney general and eldest son of Vice President Joe Biden, died Saturday—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—President Biden’s office was the first to announce his son’s death—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The vice president was with his son Beau when he passed away tonight at Walter Reed Medical Center—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Very sad news, Beau Biden lost his battle with brain cancer.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Family and friends gathered at St. Anthony’s church in Wilmington yesterday to pay their respects. Some waited in line for to up six hours.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Lines, lines five blocks long outside the church.

NARRATOR:

At one point, after several hours, a surprise.

JILL BIDEN:

There was Mr. Liu and his wife. And they came to give us comfort. It was just two men, really, who had gone through something horrible, just offering comfort to one another.

NARRATOR:

Before Beau’s death, Biden had been considering another run for president. Now the question was not just “would he,” but “could he”?

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS:

I happened to be in Obama’s White House and he walked in. And I, honestly—it was almost like I didn’t recognize him. This was shortly after Beau died. He just looked like he had aged years and years in such a short amount of time.

NARRATOR:

Through crisis and tragedy, Joe Biden had his eyes on the presidency. But now, in grief, he would decide to stand down.

Washington, D.C. Jan. 20, 2017

DONALD TRUMP:

I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear—

NARRATOR:

From the very beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, he ignited crisis.

DONALD TRUMP:

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

STEVE BANNON, Fmr. Trump chief strategist:

It’s a crisis. Donald Trump’s president of the United States. Now comes the hour of action. There’s been enough talk.

NARRATOR:

Week 1: a travel ban aimed at Muslim countries.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—a scene of outrage at JFK Airport in New York.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—now protests, outrage and backlash—

JOHN BOLTON, Fmr. Trump Natl. Security Adviser:

To me, it just felt like continuing chaos.

DONALD TRUMP:

North Korea will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

NARRATOR:

Ongoing threats to other nations.

JOHN BOLTON:

There was no effort to say, "What are the priorities here?" And I think he makes decisions quickly and can change them very quickly, too. And it sometimes can be 180 degrees from what he had decided just a few hours before.

NARRATOR:

And just like The Apprentice, firings, turmoil, confrontation.

JELANI COBB, The New Yorker:

We had reality TV framing for the presidency. If you see the serial exits of people who really had built signifiant careers only to be kicked around and then ejected unceremoniously—Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci, John Kelly, Gen. Mattis—people who were just kind of chewed up and spat out, humiliated in the course of it, in their interactions with Trump.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—an FBI investigation, was there collusion—

NARRATOR:

Overshadowing it all, allegations of collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice.

DONALD TRUMP:

Russian collusion, give me a break—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

President Trump now facing outrage after firing Comey.

DONALD TRUMP:

I did you a great favor when I fired this guy. I tell you—

MALE REPORTER:

—that you may have indictments coming down—

DONALD TRUMP:

I’m not concerned about anything with the Russian investigation because it’s a hoax. That’s enough, put down the mic.

MALE REPORTER:

Mr. President, are you worried about indictments coming down from this investigation?

NARRATOR:

He lashed out.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Breaking news, the White House in crisis. The Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate—

DONALD TRUMP:

This is a pure and simple witch hunt.

CHRIS RUDDY:

At first blush, maybe he really hates it and he’s annoyed by the Mueller investigation or the media attacks or this or that. But when you look at it further, he sort of enjoys the jousting, he enjoys the fighting.

NARRATOR:

It was the presidency Roy Cohn had prepared him for.

KEN AULETTA, The New Yorker:

What he learned from Roy Cohn—attack, never apologize, seem to be in charge—was true then and is true today.

DONALD TRUMP:

Wait a minute. I’m not finished, fake news—

NARRATOR:

He was determined to be what his father had called "a killer."

DONALD TRUMP:

They are very, very dishonest people. Fake news!

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump has become just the third president—

NARRATOR:

Three years of chaos would culminate in impeachment.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—in U.S. history to be impeached.

DONALD TRUMP:

The absolutely crazed lunatics, the Democrats, radical left—

NARRATOR:

He did what he always did—

DONALD TRUMP:

—are pushing the deranged impeachment witch hunt for doing nothing wrong.

MARC FISHER:

He only has the one playbook. He uses it no matter what the crisis.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—the shadow of impeachment—

MARC FISHER:

It didn’t matter when the casinos went bust. It didn’t matter when his whole financial empire seemed to collapse. He was able to maintain the brand. And so he ratchets up the anger. He ratchets up the insults.

NARRATOR:

And in those first years, it seemed to work.

DONALD TRUMP:

This is what the end result is. [applause]

COREY LEWANDOWSKI:

It really wasn’t, in my opinion, until the U.S. Senate voted for acquittal on the two impeachment charges that Donald Trump finally had a small air of breathability.

DONALD TRUMP:

We can take that home, honey. Maybe we’ll frame it. [laughter] It’s the only good headline I’ve ever had in The Washington Post. [laughter] Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you very much.

NARRATOR:

He had unified the party behind him, left his imprint on the Supreme Court, delivered tax cuts, undermined Washington’s institutions.

MARY TRUMP:

My grandfather remains Donald's audience of one. It's to him Donald's continually trying to prove himself.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter!

NARRATOR:

For the first time in decades, Joe Biden was a private citizen, watching Donald Trump’s presidency.

ANTONY BLINKEN, Biden campaign adviser:

And then came Charlottesville. That was really the tipping point. When he heard President Trump say "There are very fine—some very fine people on both sides," that was it. That was the tipping point.

NARRATOR:

In the streets, violent clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters.

WESLEY LOWERY:

It’s hard to believe, based on his own statements, that Joe Biden doesn’t see some level of personal responsibly for the rise of Donald Trump. Joe Biden was the vice president, and he chose not to run for president. You have to imagine that’s weighed pretty heavily on Joe Biden.

NARRATOR:

He decided to do something about it. At 76 years old he would reverse course, run one more time.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

He was seen as yesterday’s news. He was a very rickety ship. He was not as eloquent as he was 30 years ago, like most people wouldn’t be. And he also, he was saddled with a very, very long record, some of it going back to the '70s.

MALE ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News, Decision 2020, the Democratic candidates' debate.

NARRATOR:

In those early days, his long, complicated record was a liability.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA):

I'm going to now direct this at Vice President Biden. You opposed busing. And there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.

WESLEY LOWERY:

It wasn’t about the specifics of the busing debate. It was a signal.

KAMALA HARRIS:

—so I will tell you on this subject—

WESLEY LOWERY:

It was saying this is a white guy who is so old that he was taking a position on busing in the first place.

KAMALA HARRIS:

But Vice President Biden, do you agree today—do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then? Do you agree?

JELANI COBB:

Precisely because he has such a long track record in American politics you can point to him being on the wrong side of questions that are now considered to be completely settled.

NARRATOR:

It would be the first of many rough nights on the campaign trail.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Meanwhile, in a stunning reversal, Joe Biden’s campaign struggles to match rival presidential candidates in fundraising—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—numbers are down among women. Down among independents. The drop is primarily among younger voters.

NARRATOR:

He struggled to excite voters.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—President Joe Biden, struggling in the polls here—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Joe Biden, is his campaign in trouble? The former vice president—

NARRATOR:

He was selling what he always had: Joe Biden. And it wasn’t working.

MATT BAI, The Washington Post:

The truth is he does not have some transformational or different vision for the country. It’s a tough campaign for him.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Joe Biden presently trailing in fourth place.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—surprised how bad Joe Biden did. He fled the stage—

EVAN OSNOS:

One of his senior advisers had to call him and have what she described to me as the conversation you never want to have with a candidate, which is "We may be approaching the point of having to shut this thing down."

MALE NEWSREADER:

Joe Biden is fighting for his political survival.

NARRATOR:

But he wasn’t giving up.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—desperately needs South Carolina if he has any chance—

NARRATOR:

His last hope—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—make or break time, in particular for Joe Biden.

NARRATOR:

South Carolina.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—it all rests on South Carolina.

JIM CLYBURN:

Joe Biden has spent a lot of time in South Carolina. He can relate to South Carolinians. South Carolina was very, very important to Joe Biden.

FEMALE SPECTATOR:

Joe, Joe, Joe!

NARRATOR:

To win, he desperately needed the Black vote.

WESLEY LOWERY:

Joe Biden’s been around for a long time. People are comfortable with him; they get him; they understand him. Even if they don’t agree with him, they think he’s a good faith actor. That means a lot. To a community of people who have been betrayed and oppressed and tricked and lied to, someone who you can trust at their word, that goes a very long way.

NARRATOR:

It was what he had done in that first Senate race: making it personal, connecting.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—NBC News is projecting former Vice President Joe Biden is the winner.

NARRATOR:

They gave Biden a victory—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—victory led largely by Black voters in this state.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Joe Biden wins big.

NARRATOR:

Three days later—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

In a political earthquake, these are the results nobody saw coming—

NARRATOR:

—he rode the momentum and dominated Super Tuesday.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—pulled off one of the biggest political upsets in modern political history.

NARRATOR:

Soon he won it all.

EVAN OSNOS:

In its own way, it's the culmination of all of his training and ambition and his mistakes and his regrets and his attempts to be better. And it came together, at last.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Biden has made his pick.

NARRATOR:

And when the time came—

MALE NEWSREADER:

And the pick is in, as we just learned from Joe Biden's camp—

NARRATOR:

—the man who had made plenty of mistakes—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—historic decision announced via text and Twitter—

NARRATOR:

—and asked for political forgiveness—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—historic decision from former Vice President—

NARRATOR:

—turned to the opponent who’d gone after him on the campaign trail—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—Kamala Harris as his running mate—

NARRATOR:

—Kamala Harris, and picked her as his running mate.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—ties to the African American community will help propel him to the White House.

JELANI COBB:

It was an opportunity for him to distinguish himself from Donald Trump, that I actually want to bring the person who has criticized me most harshly into the fold because I value dissenting opinions. And that was part of the message that was being sent with Kamala Harris.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Growing worries in response to the deadly coronavirus—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—Wuhan, China, that’s the epicenter—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Wuhan, China—

NARRATOR:

The pandemic. A nation in crisis.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—cities now under lockdown—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Philippines confirmed its first death—

MALE NEWSREADER:

France is confirming the—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Italy is taking unprecedented—

MALE NEWSREADER:

This is Italy’s darkest hour—

NARRATOR:

A threat Donald Trump was trying to play down.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The deadly coronavirus officially hitting the U.S.—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—worldwide, including at least 12 confirmed—

MALE NEWSREADER:

A tragic turn in the coronavirus outbreak, the first death from the disease here in the United States—

NARRATOR:

He used the Norman Vincent Peale approach: Visualize what you want to be true no matter the facts.

DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you very much. We’re ready for it. It is what it is. We’re ready for it. You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero. That’s a pretty good job we’ve done.

CHRIS RUDDY:

As the country deals with this worst pandemic, they’re seeing in a man that doesn’t see any problems. He always sees a rosy, bright future, and that he can succeed.

JOHN BOLTON:

There's no question that in the first several months of 2020, staff on the NSC and the Centers for Disease Control were raising red flags about what was happening in China. The president was determined not to hear any bad news.

DONALD TRUMP:

We have done an incredible job. We’re going to continue. It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.

JOHN BOLTON:

This unwillingness to think about the implications meant there was no strategic planning going on, because that would have meant acknowledging we were facing a severe threat, and he simply did not want to do that.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Empty streets lead to packed emergency rooms across New York City—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Paralysis in this typically vibrant city in just a matter of weeks—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The epicenter in the U.S. is now clearly—

NARRATOR:

As the death toll rose—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

FEMA sent 85 refrigerated trucks to New York City to hold the people who’ve perished.

NARRATOR:

—he doubled down.

DONALD TRUMP:

Now, the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus, you know, that right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it.

GWENDA BLAIR:

Very Roy Cohn. Very School of Dad. Very Norman Vincent Peale. Just insist that you’re successful.

Insist that what you’re doing is right.

PETER ALEXANDER:

What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?

DONALD TRUMP

I say that you're a terrible reporter, that's what I say. Go ahead.

PETER ALEXANDER:

Mr. President—

DONALD TRIUMP:

I think that's a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.

GWENDA BLAIR:

That’s part of this playbook: Double down, triple down, say any problems are somebody else’s fault.

NARRATOR:

And in the midst of the pandemic, once again, racial strife.

GEORGE FLOYD:

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe, man.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Just get up and get in the car.

GEORGE FLOYD:

Mama. Mama.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Get up and get in the car right.

FEMALE VOICE:

Get off of him now! What is wrong with y’all? What the f---.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Oh, he’s not moving.

FEMALE VOICE:

Did they f------ kill him?

NARRATOR:

George Floyd, killed by police.

WESLEY LOWERY:

And that opens the floodgates.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

WESLEY LOWERY:

What we saw in the days and weeks to follow that was this confluence of these multiple factors: of a deeply, deeply frustrated Black Lives Matter movement, of a particularly incendiary video.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

No racist police! No justice! No peace!

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

Hey, hey! Ho, ho! These racist cops have got to go!

JELANI COBB:

That movement was cognizant of the fact that Trump had consistently talked to police and urged them to behave more aggressively.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

NARRATOR:

Trump’s approval ratings were plummeting. Protesters were massing outside the White House.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

You are the threat! You are the threat! You are the threat!

NARRATOR:

In the Rose Garden that day he would go to his playbook: Fan the flames.

DONALD TRUMP:

Our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, antifa.

DAN BALZ:

What Trump is trying to do is change the subject, that antifa is the new enemy. Donald Trump likes to find enemies and to hold those up as—that he is the protector against those.

DONALD TRUMP:

As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property.

NARRATOR:

As he spoke, a choreographed show of force across the street from the White House.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

Hands up, don't shoot! Hands up, don't shoot!

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

I’m sitting on the corner of Pennsylvania and 17th Street.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

And I start coughing and choking, and I start wondering what’s going on. And I look up and it’s—it’s clouds of smoke and it’s officers throwing some sort of chemical gas that is making my throat and my eyes burn. And I see people running and this line of police officers coming and they’re clearing the streets. And I’m completely confused, because I’m wondering, "Why is the White House doing this?"

NARRATOR:

Then the president left the Rose Garden for a dramatic TV moment.

JOHN BOLTON:

I felt badly for some of the people who were in that march. I've been asked what I would do and I've said I probably would have gone along; how am I going to say no? And then I would have felt very badly about it later. But that's an effect Trump has on people.

MARC FISHER:

Really, it’s just a picture. It’s just an image of a president being in charge. And that’s his vision of what the president is—the guy in charge. He's just in charge.

NARRATOR:

For Joe Biden, the nation in crisis gave him an opportunity.

JOE BIDEN:

May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here, tonight, as love and hope and light join in the battle for the soul of the nation.

NARRATOR:

One last chance to see if making it personal, persevering in the face of adversity, can prevail.

JOE BIDEN:

This is a battle we will win, and we’ll do it together.

NARRATOR:

For Donald Trump, a lifetime of conflict had prepared him for yet another fight—

DONALD TRUMP:

And this election will decide whether we will defend the American way of life or whether we will allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it.

NARRATOR:

—another chance to see if turning crisis to his advantage can carry the day.

DONALD TRUMP:

Together, we are unstoppable. Together, we are unbeatable.

NARRATOR:

Now, a deeply divided nation will decide.

DAN BALZ:

Policy is not the choice that’s on the ballot this year. It is a choice of character. It is a choice of temperament. It is a choice of persona and personality. That’s always a factor in our presidential campaigns, but I don’t think it’s ever been as big a factor as it will be in November.

54m
the jihadist signature image
The Jihadist
Designated a terrorist by the United States, the powerful Syrian militant Abu Mohammad al-Jolani now seeks a new relationship with the West.
June 1, 2021