Trump’s Takeover

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NEWSCASTER: Breaking news from campaign 2016. Marco Rubio─

NARRATOR: Washington 2016.

NEWSCASTER: ─Christie have suspended─

NEWSCASTER: Jeb Bush dropped out, ending his dream of becoming─

NARRATOR: That summer, Donald Trump came to do something he’d been avoiding─

NEWSCASTER: ─has clinched the Republican nomination─

NARRATOR: ─meet with the Republican establishment.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, Fmr. Trump Campaign Manager: We had no interest in coming to see what was going on in Washington and to get the endorsements and to meet with these people because they’re the ones who have had Washington broken for the last 30 years, and Trump was going to come and change it.

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump heads to Capitol Hill─

NEWSCASTER: He looks to unify the party behind him─

NARRATOR: Now he would confront the party leaders he had attacked during the primaries.

ROGER STONE, Fmr. Trump Campaign Adviser: Let’s face it, he was larger than the Republican Party. In fact, his nomination was the hostile takeover of the Republican Party.

SEAN SPICER, Fmr. RNC Communications Dir.: In greater Washington, the political class and the establishment, if you will, weren’t prepared for this guy with no political background, or frankly, desire to embrace the political establishment.

NARRATOR: The occasion was a lunch with Republican senators, who came to take the measure of the man who would be their party’s presidential nominee.

FRANK LUNTZ, Republican Pollster: The Republican Party establishment was never ready for him. They never understood him. They didn’t know anyone who voted for him. They thought that he was crass and coarse. And they just─ they just couldn’t connect.

ED O’KEEFE, The Washington Post: Those meetings are usually a bunch of boiled broccoli and fish, a bunch of septuagenarians sitting around listening to Mitch McConnell tell them about what they’re supposed to do in the next week. This is something totally different. This is not what normally happens in a Senate lunch.

NARRATOR: One senator, Arizona’s Jeff Flake, had already made up his mind.

Sen. JEFF FLAKE (R), Arizona: My only thought about him and politics was the conspiracy theory that he not only espoused but really forwarded about the President’s birthplace.

DONALD TRUMP: Obama is unwilling or unable to show his birth certificate!

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: I thought that that was unseemly, frankly, and just not becoming of a serious politician.

NARRATOR: It was tough criticism from a Republican senator, one with decades in conservative politics and deep roots in his home state.

ED O’KEEFE: Jeff Flake is born and raised in Arizona, devoted Mormon, comes from a large family.

NARRATOR: He’d earned his conservative credentials running the Barry Goldwater Institute. In 2000, he was elected to Congress.

SUSAN DAVIS, NPR: He was the hard-line right in the House. He was the one that was voting against the Republican establishment, alongside his friend, Mike Pence, then a Republican of Indiana.

DONALD TRUMP: We are led by very stupid people!

NARRATOR: As a senator, Flake had watched as Trump had ridiculed, mocked and belittled the party’s brightest stars.

ED O’KEEFE: Flake sees what happens during the Trump campaign and says, “This is exactly what I am not.”

NARRATOR: And it became personal when Trump attacked Flake’s fellow senator, John McCain, who had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

DONALD TRUMP: He’s not a war hero.

FRANK LUNTZ: He’s a war hero five and half years─

DONALD TRUMP: He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK? I hate to tell you.

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: I was appalled by it. But boy, to go after a prisoner of war and to say that he couldn’t be respected because he was captured─

NARRATOR: Flake had gone public with his criticism of Trump. Now at the lunch, Trump turned on him.

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: He looked at me and said, “You’ve been very critical of me.” And I mentioned, “Yeah, I had. And by the way, I’m the other senator from Arizona, the one that wasn’t captured.”

ED O’KEEFE: The two of them proceed, basically, to have at it. And at that point, Trump is coming once again face to face with the counterweight to his version of Republican politics. And it’s game on.

NARRATOR: Neither man was willing to back down.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: Donald Trump is the greatest counterpuncher we’ve ever seen, and he responded in kind. And what he said to him, and I’m paraphrasing, at that day was, “I’ll remember this when you’re up for reelection next time.”

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: He pointed out that he was doing very well in Arizona, that he had Sheriff Joe Arpaio with him and he was going to roll, and told me I would lose in November, not knowing that I wasn’t up in November.

NARRATOR: But Donald Trump would not forget Jeff Flake and the other Republicans who challenged him.

FRANK LUNTZ: Just like you don’t mess with a sleeping dog, don’t mess with Donald Trump. If he doesn’t get the better of you in the meeting, he’s going to get the better of you in his tweets. And you may have thousands of followers, but Trump’s got millions. And Donald Trump doesn’t forget.

REPORTER: Any tough questions, Mr. Trump? Any concerns?

NEWSCASTER: Things did not go well as Trump called out─

NARRATOR: The confrontation between Flake and Trump signaled a crisis in the GOP─

NEWSCASTER: ─between Donald Trump and Senate Republicans─

NARRATOR: ─and raised the question of who would control the Republican Party.

NEWSCASTER: The 2016 presidential race is under way.

NEWSCASTER: The presidential race starts today─

NEWSCASTER: It’s game time for the Republican national─

NEWSCASTER: Establishment Republicans skipping the event─

NEWSCASTER: ─not going to be here because they can’t support him.

NEWSCASTER: I’ve never seen anything like this at a convention.

NARRATOR: The campaign that followed was unlike any Republicans had seen before.

NEWSCASTER: Trump is encouraging gun rights advocates to act out against Hillary Clinton.

NEWSCASTER: ─called President Obama the founder of ISIS.

NARRATOR: The candidate was a lightning rod─

NEWSCASTER: ─attacking a federal judge because he’s Mexican-American─

NEWSCASTER: Trump called her Miss Piggy and Miss Housekeeper─

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump is questioning the parents of a fallen soldier─

NARRATOR: ─their party divided.

NEWSCASTER: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan rebuked Trump’s comments─

NARRATOR: But in the end─

NEWSCASTER: ─lewd comments Trump made in that “Access Hollywood” tape.

NARRATOR: ─Trump defied the odds.

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump pulled off one of the biggest political upsets in American history.

NEWSCASTER: One of the most shocking elections in our political history.

NEWSCASTER: ─the nation’s capital, where today history will be made.

NEWSCASTER: The world is watching our country today─

NEWSCASTER: ─become America’s 45th president today.

DONALD TRUMP: I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear─

NARRATOR: As Donald Trump took the oath of office, the question─ would he make peace with the party he had ridiculed? His path to the presidency had been fueled by anger at those standing behind him.

JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, Counselor to the President: He is a non-politician who came to Washington owing no one anything. He beat the establishment of two parties─ not just one, but two. He’s ready for the job, but Washington was not quite ready for him.

NARRATOR: The Republican establishment was on edge.

ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), Fmr. House Majority Leader: Donald Trump was in a different league in terms of being able to demonstrate anger. He was more angry than anybody by multiples.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories.

ERIC CANTOR: A lot of folks probably thought, “Hey, you know what? That guy will go to Washington, will take Washington by the lapels, shake it up and then return it back to what we need it to be doing.”

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer!

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: That confirmed a lot of our worst fears. It was just an in-your-face, you know, kind of slash-and-burn speech. And he seemed to be continuing the campaign. And that’s─ that’s never good.

NEWSCASTER: ─a new world order, at least a new Washington order─

NEWSCASTER: After watching President Trump’s inauguration─

NARRATOR: But in the days that followed, Republican leaders thought they had an advantage over the inexperienced president.

JOSHUA GREEN, Author, Devil’s Bargain: The problem that Trump had was there was no plan. He had slogans, he had promises, he had populist impulses, but there was no policy to back it up.

NEWSCASTER: Congress is back in session and ready to get down to work.

NARRATOR: Speaker Paul Ryan headed for the White House. He had devised a way of handling the new president. He would provide an agenda. It began with “Obama care.”

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: Paul Ryan came to the president and said, “Look, our goal, our plan, is we’ll get repeal and replace done by Easter, OK? Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. We’ve done this a hundred times, right? Then we’ll get a tax cut done probably by Labor Day, and you’ll have your transportation bill done before the end of your first year and you’ll have the most successful presidency of a first-year president in the history of our country.”

SUSAN DAVIS, NPR: He thought that it would be easy to work with Trump, that the president just wanted wins, right? He just wanted─ he just wanted to be able to say he was winning and that he wouldn’t be particularly combative about the details. It was just about, “Get me bills and I’ll sign them.”

NARRATOR: With Republicans in control of Congress, Ryan believed he was on the verge of enacting policies he’d advocated for decades. He had been in Washington since he was 22.

McKAY COPPINS, The Atlantic: This guy is a guy who has been reading The Wall Street Journal editorial page since he was in high school. He read Ayn Rand when he was young, and it kind of defined his political outlook for a lot of his life. He is a small government guy to his core.

NARRATOR: Ryan had worked his way up inside the GOP establishment─ a vice presidential candidate, and eventually speaker of the House. Now with a Republican president, Ryan was ready to act.

Rep. PAUL RYAN, Speaker of the House: Good morning, everybody. I would like to walk you through exactly what the American Health Care Act is.

NARRATOR: Written behind closed doors, Ryan hoped he could fast track the bill.

Rep. PAUL RYAN: The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment. And this is the closest this will ever happen. It really comes down to─

NARRATOR: But the Republican Party had deep divisions, and not everyone was happy to go along.

Rep. JIM JORDAN (R-OH), Freedom Caucus: The bill’s rolled out, no real hearings and actual witnesses, no amendments get offered until it gets to the Rules Committee and you’re told, “Take it or leave it.” That’s not how you’re─ you’re supposed to do things. So we pushed back against that.

NARRATOR: They were the Freedom Caucus, an outgrowth of the Tea Party.

LISA DESJARDINS, PBS NewsHour: Their whole purpose is to push the party as far as they can toward their end, the conservative end. And they’re OK with shutting down government. They’re OK with setting a bill on fire and throwing it out the window. That’s not how Paul Ryan operates.

NARRATOR: The Freedom Caucus refused to support Ryan’s bill, insisting it didn’t go far enough in dismantling “Obama care.”

NEWSCASTER: The Republican plan to repeal and replace “Obama care” is coming under fire.

NARRATOR: President Trump had little patience with the Republicans’ ideological squabbles. He wanted a win, and quickly.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: He sees on paper Republicans control everything. “This should be easy, fellas, right? Let’s get together. We don’t even need the Democrats.” But the difference there is what the Freedom Caucus thinks is acceptable is not in line with what Paul Ryan and his leadership thinks are acceptable. And so now we’re fighting amongst ourselves.

NEWSCASTER: Lawmakers, many of them members of the Freedom Caucus, will be meeting with President Trump. These are individuals─

NARRATOR: But Trump relied on his own abilities as a salesman, and if Ryan couldn’t sell the bill, he would.

ROBERT COSTA, Washington Post: Trump said, “I can overwhelm this town with my personality.” President Trump was trying to overwhelm Washington─

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: I just want to say that these are folks that were either a no or a maybe─

ROBERT COSTA: ─to consume Washington with his spirit, his personality, his willfulness to get things done.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: All of these nos or potential nos are all yeses.

SEAN SPICER: That’s the businessman in him, that he understands the back slap, the Oval Office lunch, the Air Force One ride. That personal attention, those relationships can largely help pull one or two votes or make a lasting friend.

NEWSCASTER: ─sit down with members of the House Freedom Caucus─

NARRATOR: But the president didn’t seem to understand or care about the details of the bill he was trying to sell.

NEWSCASTER: Trump is praising the new legislation and─

ROBERT DRAPER, The New York Times Magazine: It was very striking ─ and I interviewed a number of the participants of these meetings ─ just how little Trump understood or really cared to understand the key provisions. He would just simply say, “Look, guys, we need a win. We need to put this win on the board.” And he just seemed uncomprehending and uninterested.

Rep. CHARLIE DENT (R), Pennsylvania: The president was not particularly engaged in the policy details. That was pretty apparent. The president seemed to defer to Congress, largely, and basically, you know, “Whatever you guys pass, I’ll sign.”

NARRATOR: Unable or unwilling to get into the specifics of the bill, Trump struggled to win over the Freedom Caucus and other holdouts.

ROBERT COSTA President Trump his entire career had cut deals in non-ideological situations. Now he was confronted with a totally ideological situation. Winning over an ideologue is not like winning over someone in a real estate deal because they have a core conviction which may prevent them from coming over to the other side. It’s not all transactional.

NEWSCASTER: At the White House, it is all hands on deck─

NARRATOR: The bill was stuck, the president increasingly taking the blame.

NEWSCASTER: ─question. Can he get enough Republican votes to pass the health care─

NARRATOR: Frustrated, he headed to Capitol Hill to confront his party.

NEWSCASTER: Conservative Republicans are now warning the measure does not─

NARRATOR: No more back-slapping and cheerleading, now an ultimatum.

REPORTER: Can you get the votes, Mr. President?

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Think so.

McKAY COPPINS: Finally, Trump kind of just throws up his hands and says, “You know what? This is the ultimatum. You have until this day. You have this deadline, and if you can’t get it done, we’re moving on.”

REPORTER: Mr. President, can you make a persuasive case in what you say─

NARRATOR: It was classic Donald Trump.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: We had a great meeting, and I think─

NARRATOR: The Freedom Caucus would either get on board, or the president would walk away from the effort to repeal Obama care” and make sure they got the blame.

LISA DESJARDINS: The pressure was so massive. And this was the atmosphere that the Freedom Caucus was in. They knew the spotlight was theirs.

NARRATOR: At the deadline, they decided to call the president’s bluff. Ryan headed to the White House to warn Trump that they’d failed.

ROBERT COSTA: I’m told Ryan was ice cold, very calm throughout the whole car ride and the visit to the White House because he had to convey a simple message. He did what he could, but the votes weren’t there.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I was there in the Oval Office when he arrived. Speaker Ryan was very candid and very forthright. He said, “We’re going to pull the bill. We don’t have the votes.”

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: Donald Trump is a man who expects action. And this notion of pulling a bill was unacceptable. “You told me we were going to get it done.” He promised the American people, “We’re going to repeal and replace ‘Obama care.” So when he hears, “We have to pull the bill because we don’t have the votes,” he’s beside himself.

NARRATOR: After Ryan left, the president picked up the phone to call The Washington Post, determined that he not be blamed.

ROBERT COSTA: I get a call on a Friday afternoon, and it’s President Trump. Trump says, “I’ve pulled the bill.” He tells me the Republican Party is broken. “I don’t need this broken Republican Party,” he said, “if they’re not going to really help me, if they’re not going to get their stuff together.” And what he really wanted was a win. He wasn’t pushing for an ideological win. He wasn’t pushing for a political win. He wanted a win for Donald Trump, and the Republican Party failed him.

NEWSCASTER: Congress failed to pass a Republican bill to reform─

NEWSCASTER: In the end, the self-proclaimed closer couldn’t close the deal.

NARRATOR: The president, the salesman, the deal maker had also failed.

NEWSCASTER: President Trump’s colossal defeat on the Health Care... Health Care fail for the Republicans... calling into question whether the Trump administration will be able to get one passed at all.

NEWSCASTER: President Trump remains in Washington, licking his wounds.

NARRATOR: Trump was ready to move on.

But on Capitol Hill, they were not ready to give up on repealing “Obama care.” Paul Ryan spent more than a month rewriting the bill, giving the Freedom Caucus what they wanted, allowing states to roll back key provisions of “Obama care.” It was just enough to pass the House.

HOUSE CLERK ─217 to 213, the bill is passed.

NEWSCASTER: Republicans got the necessary votes to pass their “Obama care”─

ROBERT DRAPER: The problem, of course, is if it’s more to the liking of the Freedom Caucus, you can bet that means it’s going to offend people who are moderates.

NARRATOR: They knew the bill would face stiff opposition in the Senate, where Democrats were entirely opposed and some Republicans were also wary.

Rep. CHARLIE DENT: There was virtually no way that the United States Senate could ever pass that bill. There’s no way.

NEWSCASTER: It was one big party after─

NARRATOR: Nevertheless, the president wanted to celebrate. Buses were arranged to take Republicans to the White House.

NEWSCASTER: ─Rose Garden, where the atmosphere was undeniably─

NARRATOR: The Rose Garden was the scene. A string quartet provided the ambience.

ANNIE KARNI, Politico: And there’s a band, and it’s just this over-the-top celebration for one House bill.

NARRATOR: It was orchestrated to show Americans what Trump considered his victory.

JOSHUA GREEN, _Bloomberg Businessweek: You could tell Trump didn’t know what he was doing because not only did the initial push in health care fail in a humiliating fashion, but when they revived it and managed to eke the bill thorough the House of Representatives, what did he do? He threw a huge party in the Rose Garden. He thought he’d won.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: This is─ make no mistake, this is a repeal and a replace of “Obama care.” Make no mistake about it. Make no mistake.

LISA DESJARDINS: It was wild. It was crazy. I remember watching it. We were all just sort of, like, our jaws open, like, “Wow.”

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: We want to brag about the plan because this plan really─ uh-oh. Oh! Well, we may.

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: I was watching that, cringing. He certainly didn’t seem to appreciate the difficulty of taking any piece of legislation from one body to another here.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: How’m I doing? Am I doing OK? I’m president. Hey, I’m president! Do you believe it, right?

Rep. TOM COLE (R), Oklahoma: I remember going back to him, “I’m not sure it’s wise to be spiking the football at the 50-yard line, but what the heck.”

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Thank you all very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you very much.

REPORTER: Mr. President, what about those Americans─ what’s you message to Americans with pre-existing conditions, sir?

NARRATOR: Outside of Washington, the response to the bill was very different, as Republican lawmakers discovered back in their districts.

JOSHUA GREEN: All around the country, you had these hugely energized town halls, and legislators would go home and get screamed at by constituents who were terrified. They were going to take away their health care.

Rep. DAVE BRAT: And I had the resist movement and the protesters around the building.

The problem is “Obama care” has just collapsed.

There’s just a huge reaction. I had town halls with people in churches swearing and lobbing F-bombs at the pastor, if that helps set the tone. I’d try to finish sentences on health care, et cetera, whatever, folks are just, “Brahh.”

PROTESTERS: Read our questions! Read our questions!

Rep. DAVE BRAT: That’s what we were facing, right? People were saying, “You’re going to take away health care for millions,” and, like, “Brahh, boo,” you know, I mean, so it was hard to have a rational dialogue. Still is.

PROTESTERS: Shame on you! Shame on you!

SUSAN DAVIS: They were kicking a hornets’ nest of millions of Americans who are now terrified that they could lose their health insurance coverage.

PROTESTER: And take the billionaire’s money and give it to that woman!

SUSAN DAVIS: It just created an environment that I also don’t think Republicans were really politically ready for.

PROTESTER: A single-payer run by the government? Oh, yeah, it’s got problems, but it’s also got elections and you’re going to find that out in 2018!

NEWSCASTER: What Trump has done is he’s made “Obama care” popular─

NARRATOR: President Trump may not have been interested in the details of the legislation, but the backlash got his attention.

ED O’KEEFE: And remember, this is a guy who takes most of his cues on what the American public is up to through television. So he’s seeing news coverage and can see that it’s unpopular because he’s seeing the voters chastise incumbents.

NEWSCASTER: Provisions that are in “Obama care” are extremely popular─

McKAY COPPINS: And he’s just getting more and more impatient and anxious and frustrated, seething with resentment for the Republican leaders who had mislead him and taken him down this kind of doomed path.

NEWSCASTER: ─some of these more moderate states, and yes, even Democratic states─

NARRATOR: As the “Obama care” repeal worked its way through the Senate, the president began to criticize the version the House passed.

NEWSCASTER: ─only 16 percent of people think the Republican House health bill is a good idea.

ANNIE KARNI: Trump soon starts to trash the very bill that he threw a party for. When it’s time to negotiate a Senate version, he says, “It’s too mean.”

NEWSCASTER: Trump told senators the House health care bill was “mean.”

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: All that celebration, and then to come out and say, “Well, I really didn’t like that bill”─ that gave a lot of senators pause. “Will the president be there for us if we pass something and then it turns out it’s not as popular?”

NARRATOR: In the Senate, the bill was in trouble. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was in charge of getting it passed.

ERIC CANTOR: Mitch McConnell’s the master. He understands the rhythm of the Senate. He has been in that body and in elected politics for a very long time, so understands how to get something done in a legislative arena.

NARRATOR: McConnell had spent more than three decades in the party establishment, earning a reputation as a deal maker and fixer.

SUSAN DAVIS: A senator once joked to me that if you had to call a friend and needed to bury a body, Mitch McConnell is the friend that you would call who would help you and never bring it up again, but might need a favor from you years down the line.

NARRATOR: But with only a razor-thin majority in the Senate, McConnell was struggling to keep the repeal bill alive. The crucial vote, John McCain.

JONATHAN MARTIN, The New York Times: Keep in mind, this is basically two years to the month after President Trump had criticized McCain’s POW status and suggested he was not a hero because he was captured.

NARRATOR: Recently diagnosed with brain cancer, McCain had returned to the Senate for the vote.

SUSAN DAVIS: Every time we saw him, it was, like, “Do you know how you’re going to vote? Do you know how you’re going to vote?” And he was grouchier and grouchier as the day went on, as he sometimes gets. And he just said, “Stay tuned.”

NEWSCASTER: The Senate is scheduled to vote on the latest version of the bill─

NARRATOR: It all came down to one vote on one night at 1:30 in the morning.

ED O’KEEFE: It was the most dramatic night on the Senate floor I had seen in all my years up there.


SUSAN DAVIS: The vote’s ticking away, the vote’s ticking away. And McCain’s on the floor, but he’s not voting.


LISA DESJARDINS: You saw Mitch McConnell looking more and more unhappy. His arms were closed. And you could tell from the body language on the Republican side that they were very worried.

SUSAN DAVIS: John McCain walks up to where the vote clerks are, and he lifts his hand very dramatically.

ED O’KEEFE: He knew that this was his one last chance to really take a stand, capture the nation’s imagination in the process, but also remind his party that they have to do things differently.

NARRATOR: McCain, with a thumbs-down gesture, shocked the chamber.


Sen. JEFF FLAKE: It was pretty high drama. I went the other way, but John felt that this was the time to take a stand. And frankly, as much as I disagreed with it, I admired it. It was classic John McCain.

JOSHUA GREEN, Bloomberg Businessweek: In one fell swoop, he killed Donald Trump’s first major legislative push, and in so doing, sent a message that, “You’re not a king, you’re a president.”

NEWSCASTER: In the Senate chambers, you could hear the shock─

NARRATOR: Among the Republican establishment, McCain’s vote signaled an ongoing unease with the president.

ROBERT COSTA: McCain represented a Republican Party, an establishment, centrist wing of the Republican Party that was deeply unhappy with President Trump and did not appreciate his agenda, did not appreciate his style. And so by McCain ending Trump’s initiative, by McCain putting his hand up and saying “Stop,” it was a roaring back for the Republican establishment.

NEWSCASTER: In a shocking vote, Senator John McCain delivering a death blow─

NARRATOR: With the repeal effort dead, Trump left Washington.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times: August is a pivotal moment in his first year. He’s angry in August. He’s angry that he can’t get health care through. He’s angry that it came down to John McCain’s vote on the floor. He is angry that he looks ineffectual.

NARRATOR: He headed to the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

PETER BAKER: And what good is the Republican Party if it can’t pass things that they had been promising to pass for seven years anyway?

NARRATOR: He had tried to work with the party’s leaders. Now he would strike out at them. His weapon of choice, Twitter.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP tweet: You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us Hcare!

NARRATOR: He went after congressional Republicans, especially Leader McConnell.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP tweet: Senator Mitch McConnell said I had “excessive expectations,” but I don’t think so. After seven years of hearing repeal and replace, why not done?

SUSAN DAVIS: The president’s frustration was not subtle, right, particularly towards Mitch McConnell. I think he just saw him as a failure.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP tweet: Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed repeal and replace for seven years, couldn’t get it done?

JOSHUA GREEN: Trump was using the most powerful weapon he has, which is Twitter, to humiliate him repeatedly, to rake him over the coals, to let his followers know, “This is Mitch McConnell’s fault. He’s failed you, not me.”

Pres. DONALD TRUMP tweet: Mitch, get back to work and put repeal and replace, tax reform and cuts and a great infrastructure bill on my desk for signing.

FRANK LUNTZ: He’s feeding it. Trump is feeding hostility towards Congress. And that tweet storm galvanized Trump voters to turn against Congress in a way that I’ve never seen a governing party’s supporters engage in.

NARRATOR: On the telephone, Trump and McConnell had it out.

JONATHAN MARTIN: He calls McConnell, and they get into a screaming match. And Mitch McConnell rarely raises his voice, but Trump is using all manner of expletives to criticize Mitch McConnell, and McConnell is giving it back to the president. It’s extraordinary.

NARRATOR: As the feud grew, he came out of his country club and fanned the flames.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: I said, “Mitch, get to work, and let’s get it done.” They should have had this last one done. They lost by one vote.

FRANK LUNTZ: How does undermining your Senate majority leader make you any more powerful, any more successful? How does having a battle with the person who has to somehow manage the arcane rules and regulations of the Senate─ and you’re undercutting him every day? I don’t get it.

NEWSCASTER: ─between the two men erupted into a profanity-laced shouting match─

NARRATOR: The president and the majority leader would not speak to each other for weeks.

McKAY COPPINS: Trump was kind of casting out the establishment Republicans who he felt had led him astray, right? It was almost kind of a darkly liberating moment when that health care bill failed because he realized that he was not going to be able to play the part of the good, mainline Republican trying to get conservative legislation passed. That was not his game.

ALT-RIGHT MARCHERS: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!

NARRATOR: Later that week, a torchlight march, a new crisis that would further divide Trump and his party.

NEWSCASTER: We have breaking news tonight on the eve of that alt-right white nationalist rally. Take a look at this.

ALT-RIGHT MARCHERS: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!

NEWSCASTER: ─university, the torch-wielding white nationalists coming face to face─

NEWSCASTER: ─a demonstration by white nationalists at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

MARCHERS: White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter!

JOSHUA GREEN: What you had in Charlottesville was alt-right people, many of them marching in Trump’s name. We could see them marching with torches, and it looked like something out of Nazi Germany.

NARRATOR: The next day, neo-Nazis and white nationalist protesters were forming, protesting plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee.

DAVID DUKE: Hi. How y’all doing?

NARRATOR: Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke praised President Trump.

DAVID DUKE: We are determined to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump.

NARRATOR: Also arriving, counter-protesters determined to confront the white nationalists.

COUNTER-PROTESTER: This is what they represent!

COUNTER-PROTESTERS: No fascist USA! No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA! [deleted] Trump! [deleted] Trump! [deleted] Trump!

WESLEY LOWERY, The Washington Post: The counter-protesters, the progressives, were gathering on the streets surrounding this park.

COUNTER-PROTESTERS: Nazi scum, off our streets! Nazi scum, off our streets!

WESLEY LOWERY: The counter-protesters began yelling and screaming.

NARRATOR: Armed right-wing militia arrived.

COUNTER-PROTESTERS: [deleted] you, Nazis! [deleted] you, Nazis! [deleted] you, Nazis!

NARRATOR: Hour by hour, the tensions grew.

NEWSCASTER: Violent clashes between White supremacists and counter-protesters broke out.

COUNTER-PROTESTERS: Kill all Nazis! Kill all Nazis! Kill all Nazis!

NARRATOR: The anger finally boiled over.

WESLEY LOWERY: It quickly became a scenario that I think the police would admit that they weren’t─ going to be unable to control.

NEWSCASTER: Charlottesville under siege─

NEWSCASTER: ─as police in riot gear tried to restore calm.

NARRATOR: Then the unthinkable.

WESLEY LOWERY: You hear the screams go up, and a woman struck by the front bumper. He throws the car in reverse. And you hear the squeaking of the tires, and he pulls back out.

NARRATOR: A neo-Nazi turned his car into a weapon.

NEWSCASTER: Panic and horror in Charlottesville when a car slams into a crowd of counter-protesters at a white supremacy protest.

NEWSCASTER: A woman was killed when a man drove his car into a crowd, injuring 19 others─

NEWSCASTER: ─a driver plowed into the crowd, killing a young woman and injuring 19 others.

NARRATOR: Throughout the day, at his country club, the president conferred with staff. Then he went before the cameras.

JONATHAN MARTIN: When this happens, the instinct of most presidents would be heal, unify, mourn. That’s not what he wants to do. It’s not his impulse. But he has to say something.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia.

ANNIE KARNI: He had prepared remarks that he was going to read, you know, condemning the violence in Charlottesville.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence─ on many sides, on many sides.

ANNIE KARNI: The words “many sides’ were ad libbed and added by Trump. They were not in his prepared remarks.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you.

NARRATOR: The ad lib immediately provoked an uproar.

NEWSCASTER: ─struggled to shore up the president’s equivocal response to Charlottesville.

Rep. CHARLIE DENT: That didn’t go over very well because it was clear that one side seemed to, you know, initiate this altercation. It was the nationalists, these white nationalists. They were largely responsible for the violence.

REPORTER: Do you want the support of these white nationalists?

NEWSCASTER: Would you call it terrorism, sir?

DAN BALZ, The Washington Post: In many ways, it was the worst moment of the first year of his presidency. It’s not a challenge to denounce white nationalists, and yet he couldn’t do it.

NEWSCASTER: When the president won’t stand with you against Klansmen who showed up─

NARRATOR: Two days later, as Trump headed into New York City, the controversy was building.

NEWSCASTER: That tells you how he see President Trump. They are clapping for him─

NEWSCASTER: I think he’s making very clear who and what he is.

NEWSCASTER: ─talks like a white supremacist, he’s likely a white supremacist.

NARRATOR: He was working out of Trump Tower.

NEWSCASTER: ─walking away from the president’s economic advisory─

NEWSCASTER: ─facing a full-scale rebellion.

NARRATOR: And it all came to a head when the president appeared in the lobby.

ANNIE KARNI: He goes into Trump Tower there in the lobby to do this press conference about cutting regulations and red tape. We had literally been told minutes before, “Trump’s not going to take questions.’

NARRATOR: But he did.

REPORTER: Why didn’t [unintelligible]

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: I didn’t wait long.

NARRATOR: The president had decided to engage.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging at the─ as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?

ANNIE KARNI: Then he goes off for an hour. He’s so fiery and he’s so angry, and he’s really getting into a personal back and forth with members of the press.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day. Wait a minute! I’m not finished! I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day.

WESLEY LOWERY: The real Trump emerges. He’s been watching the cable news coverage that says he hasn’t done and said enough, and he decides he’s going to riff.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it, either!

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: He has to fight back. So when you accuse him of being a racist, he doesn’t want to back up, he wants to double down and prove to you that that’s not true. And that’s what the president is.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? Thank you all very much. Thank you.

DAN BALZ: If you’re a Republican politician, at that moment, you’re tearing your hair out because the president of the United States has, in one way or another, identified himself with, in a sense, the worst elements of our politics.

NARRATOR: Senate Leader Mitch McConnell was especially concerned. Since the ‘60s, he has been a Civil Rights supporter.

JOSH HOLMES, Fmr. McConnell Chief of Staff: He was irritated. You know, he attended the “I have a dream” speech. He was in the Capitol rotunda watching Lyndon Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act.

NARRATOR: McConnell issued a statement─ “There are no good neo-Nazis.”

LISA DESJARDINS: This was Mitch McConnell who had spent months and months trying not to publicly respond to all of the president’s attacks on him. But in this case of Charlottesville, he felt that there was so much wrong in what the president had said that he had to speak out.

NEWSCASTER: President Trump is being criticized by─

NARRATOR: McConnell’s statement was part of a wave of Republicans criticizing Trump.

Sen. JERRY MORAN (R-KS) tweet: White Supremacy, bigotry and racism have absolutely, no place in our society and no one, especially POTUS, should ever tolerate it.

Sen. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL) tweet: Mr. President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ) tweet: There’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry.

JOSH HOLMES: There were, like, 35 or so statements issued from Senate Republicans attacking the president. People were not reserved about expressing it. These were not private conversations, they were press releases.

Rep. PAUL RYAN (R-WI) tweet: White Supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for.

Sen. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT) tweet: We should never hesitate to call out hate whenever and wherever we see it.

NARRATOR: Trump refused to back down.

JOSH HOLMES: That August was an extremely dark time in Republican politics. There’s open warfare between Senate Republicans who thought this was a real problem, and a president who sort of refused to acknowledge that.

NARRATOR: One key player in that fight, Jeff Flake, the president’s old nemesis.

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: This was not where a president should be. This was a layup. This was easy. You know, if there’s white supremacy in any form, you condemn it.

NARRATOR: Just weeks before, Flake had released a book denouncing the president’s inflammatory rhetoric about race and immigrants.

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: Somebody needs to stand up and say, “This is not our party. This is not behavior that we should condone. We shouldn’t be OK with this. This is not normal.” Because for the long term, I’m very concerned about the direction of the party.

NEWSCASTER: President Trump is holding a “Make America Great Again” rally in Phoenix this evening─

NARRATOR: Trump counterattacked.

JOSHUA GREEN: Trump, by nature, thinks of power as something that manifests itself through force. “These people need to be punished. I’m going to attack a senator of my own party in his own state in front of his own constituents, and I’m going to teach him a lesson.”

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Well, I’m thrilled to be back in Phoenix, in the great state of Arizona!

McKAY COPPINS: He goes to Arizona and holds this really remarkable spectacle of a rally, where it’s almost like he’s returning to the campaign trail.

AUDIENCE: Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Build that wall.

LISA DESJARDINS: He wanted to engage and get on the home turf of the two men he saw as his enemies within the party, John McCain and Jeff Flake. He wanted to strike out at them where they live.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: They all said, “Please, Mr. President don’t mention any names.” So I won’t. I won’t! We were just one vote away from victory after seven years of everybody proclaiming repeal and replace! One vote away!

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: It’s about going back to the base to demonstrate how popular it is to be with the president, particularly in Jeff’s own state.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: And nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who’s weak on borders, weak on crime, so I won’t talk about him! [boos] No, I will not mention any names! Very presidential, isn’t it? Very presidential.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: When the president of the United States rolls in and you have a rally that has thousands of people in it, Jeff pays attention.

AUDIENCE: Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp!

NARRATOR: Trump had delivered a strong message─ they were no longer Jeff Flake’s voters.

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: I think he knew at that time I was out of step with a lot of the Republican base, that─ that he represented more of their feelings than I did.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: We will make America great again! Thank you, Arizona! God bless you.

NEWSCASTER: It is the beginning of draining the swamp. I think it actually is─

NEWSCASTER: ─angrily going after politicians in Arizona, even though he refused to mention them─

NARRATOR: Back in Washington, members of the Republican establishment heard Trump’s message loud and clear.

NEWSCASTER: Breaking news, two more GOP congressmen announcing that they will not seek reelection.

NARRATOR: For many of them, it was time to leave.

CHARLIE SYKES, Author, How the Right Lost its Mind: You’re seeing an entire group of political leaders and─ and veterans looking at the Republican Party and saying, “You know what? There’s no future for me in this party anymore. I don’t belong in this party anymore.”

NEWSCASTER: I think we see a lot of these congressmen just quitting Congress.

NARRATOR: In record numbers, more than three dozen Republicans decided not to run for re-election, some fearing challengers backed by Trump, others unhappy with his style and agenda.

DAN BALZ, The Washington Post: It’s a reminder that if you are not with Trump, you are going to have great difficulty operating inside the Republican Party, that in one way or another, if you’re at odds with the president, you’re at odds with the Trump Republican Party.

NEWSCASTER: Corker will not be seeking reelection next year.

NARRATOR: Even powerful Tennessee senator Bob Corker decided he had had enough.

LISA DESJARDINS: Bob Corker was on the short list to be vice president. He hosted a rally for President Trump. The two men kind of had a bromance on stage, talking about how great each other were. But then President Trump enters the White House. Bob Corker sees a real recklessness from President Trump.

NARRATOR: When Corker publicly expressed his concerns, Trump turned to Twitter.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP tweet: I would fully expect Corker to be a negative voice and stand in the way of our great agenda. Didn’t have the guts to run!

NARRATOR: And so did Corker.

Sen. BOB CORKER (R-TN) tweet: It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.

SUSAN DAVIS: For Republicans like Tennessee senator Bob Corker, he came out and essentially said that he wasn’t sure Trump had the character or the temperament to be president of the United States. Wow!

NEWSCASTER: He had a real public break with the president─

NARRATOR: Trump seemed to relish the fight.

ED O’KEEFE: I think it juiced him because here’s another chance to go after yet another Republican in a red state that we should be able to win, saying, “You’re going to do this kind of thing, I’m going to find a way to destroy you.”

Pres. DONALD TRUMP tweet: Bob Corker, who helped President O give us the bad Iran deal & couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee.

NARRATOR: With few in the party siding with Corker, Jeff Flake was coming to his own realization.

Rep. CHARLIE DENT: When he made the statements about the president, I think he obviously hurt himself among the base, and so he was kind of on an island. And I think that hurt him and I think he understood the political situation he was in.

NARRATOR: He’d been in Congress for 16 years. Now disgusted by the president’s behavior, Flake decided he’d had enough. He paid a visit to John McCain.

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: It was tough. It was─ it was very tough because we’ve stood together on a lot of these things and a lot of the resistance to some of the moves and the behavior of the president. So that was a very difficult thing to do.

NARRATOR: Then he requested permission from the presiding officer to speak on the Senate floor.

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: I decided to pull the pin. None of my colleagues knew it, at that point. I told a few of them, “You may want to come to the floor.”

I rise today with no small measure of regret, regret because of the state of our disunion.

SUSAN DAVIS: There was a sense of heartbreak, sadness, disappointment. There is a veil of sadness around him.

Sen. JEFF FLAKE: But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy. The impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people. In the case of the Republican Party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.

PETER BAKER: Flake’s speech on the floor is one of the most memorable moments we’ll take away from President Trump’s first year in office because it sort of gives voice to what most of, if not all of, the Republicans in Congress are thinking but most of them aren’t saying.

NARRATOR: As Flake walked off the floor, he left the other Republicans with a choice.

DAN BALZ: He’s basically drawing a line. “If we are going to be a successful conservative party, we have got to turn away from what Donald Trump is doing to us and the way he is leading us.” It’s kind of a moment of truth for the Republican Party. What kind of a party is this going to be? Who’s going to lead this party?

NARRATOR: But Flake’s speech seemed to have little effect.

SUSAN DAVIS: There isn’t a rush to stick up for Jeff Flake or side with him. Everyone just kind of stays on the sidelines and wants to stay out of it. When you would talk to someone, “What did you think about Jeff Flake” ─ “Oh, I didn’t see what he said,” you know, “I missed it” or “I was in a meeting,” like there wasn’t much ruminating on his decision.

NARRATOR: The president had won.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: Jeff Flake thought he was going to raise his profile to the point where he would have an opportunity to be something bigger than what he is. And what happened? He made a terrible calculation. He went against Donald Trump, who’s a proven winner, and now Jeff is a guy who also used to be a U.S. senator.

NEWSCASTER: This would have been a really tough haul for them next year to really─

NARRATOR: It had been a year since voters had given Republicans control of the Congress and White House, but they still hadn’t had a big legislative win.

AMBER PHILLIPS, The Washington Post: Republicans are panicking at this moment. They are a year, nearly a year into having entire control of Washington, and they might not have anything to show for it going into the 2018 midterm elections.

NARRATOR: McConnell, Trump and Ryan looked for something they could all agree on─ tax cuts.

PETER BAKER: A tax bill is a unifying force in Republican politics. The one thing almost every Republican agrees with is tax cuts.

NEWSCASTER: It looks like President Trump is going to get his Christmas wish.

SENATE CLERK: All those in favor will say “Aye.’’


NEWSCASTER: A sweeping rewrite of our tax code moves one step closer to─

NEWSCASTER: Republicans inching closer to victory on taxes.

NARRATOR: In December of 2017, they finally delivered the president what he most wanted, a win.

DAN BALZ: Passage of the tax bill is the biggest single moment for the party in the first year of the Trump presidency and the biggest single biggest moment for Donald Trump.

NEWSCASTER: ─the first major rewrite of U.S. tax law─

NARRATOR: Once again, Trump invited the Republicans, House and Senate, to the White House to celebrate their victory.

ANNIE KARNI: It was sort of a mirror image of the failed Rose Garden health care ceremony. Like, this one was deserved. This is when you celebrate, when you’ve actually finished a bill.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, Counselor to the President: The Republicans just showed America on December 20th what unified government looks like. Republicans passed it all on their own in the House, the Senate and the White House.

JONATHAN MARTIN: They finally passed the tax cut bill less because of Donald Trump and more because Republicans recognized, “We’ve got to have an accomplishment next year. We can’t go into the midterms with nothing to run on besides whatever the latest Donald Trump controversy is.” And so they cobbled together a coalition.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: I guess it’s very simple. When you think─ you haven’t heard this expression, but we are making America great again. You haven’t heard that, have you.

NARRATOR: One by one, congressional leaders came forward to praise President Trump.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Mitch, how about you start it.

Sen. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, let me just say, Mr. President, you made the case for the tax bill. This has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the Trump administration. We’ve cemented the Supreme Court right of center for a generation. You’ve ended the overregulation of the American economy. Thank you, Mr. President, for all you’re doing.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: What the Republican establishment now know is Donald Trump is unequivocally the leader of the Republican Party. He is the one who sets the tone of what takes place in Washington. He is the leader of our country both politically and from a legislative side of things, and I think they’ve learned that over the last year.

Rep. PAUL RYAN: Something this big could have not been done without exquisite presidential leadership. Mr. President, thank you for getting us over the finish line. Thank you for getting us where we are.

ED O’KEEFE: They’ll be able to go home and campaign in 2018 fulfilling a pledge. “I have lowered your taxes.” And that is a fundamental Republican promise and they fulfilled it. If it meant standing with a president who has equated white supremacists with Civil Rights marchers, gone after members of his own party, that’s the price to pay.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Orrin, say a few words, please.

Sen. ORRIN HATCH (R), Utah: Mr. President, I have to say that you’re living up to every─ everything I thought you would. You’re one heck of a leader, and we’re all benefiting from it. We’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen not only in generations, but maybe ever. God bless all of you.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Thank you. Paul Ryan just said, “How good was that!”

DAN BALZ: In essence, this became Trump’s Republican Party. The testimony that people gave there is hard to take back. Orrin Hatch, for example. But McConnell and Ryan and others who gave Trump enormous amount of credit, that─ that created a unity within the Republican Party that had not existed.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.

NARRATOR: Despite differences that would remain and challenges to his presidency, for now, Trump had shown he was in charge of the Republican Party.

Rep. CHARLIE DENT: The litmus test prior to Donald Trump was, you know, ideological purity, how doctrinaire are you? And that was the litmus test. And now here we are, and Donald Trump, of course, is not very ideological and he is not very doctrinaire, and the issue now is loyalty to the president. And that is unsettling to me.

WESLEY LOWERY: Donald Trump is running and setting the course for this political party. He’s not an outlier, but rather he is the model around which current and future Republican candidates are being crafted as we speak, and that the long─ you know, the long wave of the Trump influence is something we can’t even begin to see the end of right now.

CHARLIE SYKES: The Republican Party has been thoroughly Trumpified, and they’re bowing the knee to him. But the Republican establishment has gotten an awful lot of what it wants from Donald Trump. So that is at the heart of the bargain, this kind of Faustian bargain that the Republicans have made with Donald Trump. Now, in a Faustian bargain, remember, you often get what you want. You know, you get judges. You get regulatory reform. You get tax cuts. But then you find out that the price is way more than you were expecting.

NEWSCASTER: Republicans are concerned that a loss─

NEWSCASTER: The president of the United States is debasing the nation.

NEWSCASTER: There are people inside the Republican Party who are deeply worried about what─

NEWSCASTER: The nuclear war tweet is getting a lot of attention.

NEWSCASTER: Republican lawmakers who are very concerned─

NEWSCASTER: The Stormy Daniels story─

NEWSCASTER: _The Wall Street Journal_─

NEWSCASTER: Republicans are worried a loss would set a devastating precedent for the midterms.

NEWSCASTER: Referring to the investigation as a witch hunt─

NEWSCASTER: Republicans warn that firing Mueller could be an impeachable offense.

Massacre of El Salvador
Massacre in El Salvador
FRONTLINE, Retro Report and ProPublica examine the ongoing fight for justice for the horrific 1981 attack on the village of El Mozote and surrounding areas.
November 9, 2021