The 2016 election is a choice between two of the most polarizing candidates in U.S. history. Each has spent decades in the public eye, fighting battles and undergoing personal and political transformations. Hillary Clinton has gone from an idealistic college student to a battle-hardened politician. Donald Trump was born into wealth and became a flamboyant businessman and reality television celebrity. Ahead of the Sept. 27 premiere of The Choice 2016, FRONTLINE will explore some of the moments that have helped shape the characters of these two candidates.
One Sunday evening in April 1962, Dr. Martin King Jr. told the story of Rip Van Winkle to a Chicago audience. Everyone knows the basics, he said — Rip went to the mountains and slept for 20 years. But a key detail is often overlooked, he noted: The day his slumber began, his village inn displayed a portrait of King George III of England. When he awoke, it had been replaced with one of George Washington.
“He did not recognize it,” King said. “While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountain a great revolution was taking place, the American Revolution, a revolution that would alter the course of history. Rip Van Winkle knew nothing about it. … All too many people sleep in moments of great social change.”
Sitting in the audience was a girl who was only barely waking up to the moment of great social change King’s movement had created in her country.
Hillary Rodham, then 14, traveled to the event from a small suburb of Chicago that in the previous census had counted just five African Americans among its 32,659 residents. As a child, she had donned the political mantle of her conservative father, and it took her years to shed it. As a teenager she campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, recruited classmates for Republican rallies and registered voters. A high-school classmate of hers told Chicago magazine that she took “an incredible amount of heat [from Hillary] for being a bleeding-heart liberal.”
But even as she campaigned for the conservative cause, she was beginning to awaken, as King had urged, to a new political consciousness. This was in part due to the influence of the Rev. Don Jones, a youth minister who had joined Hillary’s church when she was 13, and whose aim, she later said, was to “force us out of our comfort zone.” On Sunday evenings he would offer up abstract art, Bob Dylan songs and Beat poetry to his youth group for analysis. Jones, she told an audience at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. last year, “said no, you can’t just be sitting satisfied in your own church in a suburb of Chicago that was all white. We’re going into the inner city of Chicago. We’re going to go into church basements and have fellowship with youth from African-American churches and Hispanic churches. We’re going to sit and we’re going to talk about our lives. And we did.”
It had been Jones who took Hillary to see King give his “Remaining Awake Through a Revolution” address at the Chicago Sunday Evening Club that April evening. After the speech, she shook King’s hand — a moment she has described as a great honor of her life. Betsy Ebeling, a lifelong friend who also attended, described it as “one of those moments” that led them down “a different path than we might have been headed toward.” It wasn’t “some epiphany,” she said in an interview with FRONTLINE, but rather a seed that was “very subtly” planted.
“There was something very, very deep inside Martin Luther King that affected us,” Ebeling said. “[His words] were so profoundly affecting, that you left feeling more fulfilled in many ways, and more empty in many ways, than you had before.”
Hillary continued to correspond with Jones after he left the church, and she consulted him as she sorted through her evolving political perspective. In college, she wrote him that she was “a heart liberal, but a mind conservative.”
It was around this time that King would once again influence Hillary’s “awakening” — this time, through his assassination. In the biography “Hillary’s Choice,” Gail Sheehy reports that after hearing of his death, she burst into a friend’s room at Wellesley College, flung her backpack against the wall and began screaming and crying, “I can’t believe this! I can’t stand it anymore!” Sheehy describes it as “the Aha! moment” that ended Hillary’s ambivalence about her political beliefs. Soon, she became known as “someone who possessed sharp elbows,” Sheehy writes, organizing strikes and unapologetically challenging esteemed professors. By the time she graduated, her reputation for standing up to powerful people would be cemented.
When he was 13 years old, Donald Trump’s parents decided that their unruly middle son needed more discipline than they could provide at the family’s mansion in Queens. They found it at the New York Military Academy. The private school was 60 miles north of New York City, but a world away from the luxuries of Donald’s childhood.
“It was austere, [a] very scary place,” recalled Harry Falber, one of Trump’s fellow cadets, in an interview with FRONTLINE. “You got hit, you may have got slammed against the wall, you got put artificially into fights.”
“We were in a culture of hazing at the military school,” said Sandy McIntosh, another student at the time. “Everyone, I mean, that’s just the way it was.”
For the teenage Trump, it was an early awakening. By many accounts, he took to the regimented competition on the all-boys campus.
“He thrived, at least in part because he liked the clarity of it,” Gwenda Blair, author of “The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate,” told FRONTLINE. “He liked the fact that winners and losers were more visible and easier to assess, perhaps, than in a regular high school or civilian public high school.”
“He liked that there was a medal and a prize for everything,” Blair said. “His coach there told me that he was the most coachable kid that this guy had ever seen; meaning Donald wanted to win, so he listened to what the coach said, and he would practice and he would get better.”
The coach was Col. Theodore Dobias, and he would become a mentor to Trump. A veteran of World War II, Dobias later told Blair that he was struck by Trump’s will to excel and his combination of being “so aggressive but so coachable.”
Describing Dobias, Falber told FRONTLINE that “Donald viewed him as the guy who brought him up in the right way, straightened him out … You couldn’t mouth off to [Dobias]. You couldn’t say, ‘I don’t want to make my bed.’ You made your bed. You kept making your bed until you made it right.”
Trump excelled in sports at the academy. Yearbooks show him winning awards in baseball, softball, basketball, football and bowling. He would later say he was supposed to be a professional baseball player. Although his classmates did elect him “Ladies’ Man” in the yearbook, there are no accounts of Trump growing close, lasting friendships among other cadets.
By his senior year in 1963, Trump was elevated to the rank of a captain. A month into the post, he was transferred to another assignment on the school staff. Trump called it a promotion. Schoolmates disagreed, and said he was reassigned after a cadet complained of being hazed by someone under Trump’s command.
Trump would graduate from the academy, attend business school, and join his father’s real estate business. He’d later conclude that the school had been a “positive influence” and that he understood why his parents had sent him there. “I was rambunctious,” Trump told The Washington Post. “I was a wise guy, and they wanted to get me in line.”
Some of his fellow cadets see enduring influences from the academy years in Trump’s personality and style.
“In military school, we learned a certain way of behaving, which had a lot to do with ordering each other around, or following orders,” McIntosh told FRONTLINE. Most students had to adapt to civility and compromise as they went onto school and to start careers.
“I think Donald may not have had that experience, because … his family had a great amount of money, and he started at the top,” McIntosh said. “So, perhaps he didn’t have to go through that maturing process that we did.”
That extends to the use of what McIntosh called “barracks room talk,” the rough language among cadets at the academy. McIntosh said he could still hear echoes of it in Trump’s campaign speeches.
“When I listen to Donald now speaking … the circumstances are, of course, 2016, but the conversation, the way he’s talking, the topics he talks about, seem to be 1964,” McIntosh told FRONTLINE. “In our barracks, we talked the same way — probably a lot more profanely — about minorities, about people of different religions, about women.” It’s the kind of talk that McIntosh said, “we grew out of.”
It wasn’t the speech she’d written.
Hillary Rodham had been chosen by the class of 1969 to speak at their graduation from Wellesley College. As the first student to give a commencement address in the college’s history, she prepared meticulously, as she always did, asking fellow students what she should say.
On graduation day, she was preceded on stage by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke, the first African-American senator since Reconstruction and a Republican. As a college student, Rodham had campaigned to get him elected, encouraging her Wellesley classmates to volunteer as well.
In his address, Brooke criticized the protests that had been roiling college campuses. Noting that most of the protesters tended to come from wealthy or middle-class backgrounds, he said: “It would be tragic if they adopted disaffection as a way of life. They must be shown that there are definite alternatives to perpetual protest as a means of linking ideals to actions.”
Nancy Wanderer, a fellow graduate, fumed in her seat as she listened to Brooke. Recalling his words nearly 50 years later, she told FRONTLINE: “You know, that they’re just wasting their time, they’re wasting the country’s time … And besides, everything is great, everything is fine, it’s right on track. I mean, that was the message we got.”
Rodham, too, was perturbed. A self-proclaimed “Goldwater Girl” when she entered college, having supported the 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, Rodham by her senior year had evolved into a determined liberal, committed to the causes of social justice.
So when she took to the podium before her class of 400 and their families, she set aside her notes and delivered an impromptu challenge to Brooke, and a defense of her fellow students. “We’re not in the positions yet of leadership and power, but we do have that indispensable element of criticizing and constructive protest,” she began.
She went on: “We feel that for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.”
She received a standing ovation from her peers. “I think we all would have put her on our shoulders and carried out the gates of Wellesley College,” Wanderer said. “I mean, right at that moment she spoke for not only for our class, but really for our whole generation. And not for people who were just trying to tear things down. But for the people who were trying to build a new society, a better society.”
Her remarks embarrassed the Wellesley administration, including President Ruth Adams, who had just introduced the young student as “good humored” and “a good friend to all of us.” Adams wrote to apologize to Brooke, according to a letter The Washington Post uncovered among his papers. Brooke doesn’t appear to have responded at the time, but the Post said he noted in his memoir that he remembered the young Rodham as a woman who “knew where she wanted to go and how she wanted to get there.”
The speech propelled Hillary Rodham to national fame. Her photograph was on the front page of the next day’s Boston Globe. She appeared in Life magazine in a roundup of college speakers who had defended the right to protest. “Through their scathing words and clenched fists,” the story read, “the Class of ‘69 made clear that the protest will go on.”
As with many moments in her life, the speech was a high point – but one marred by criticism. The reaction marked the beginning of her contentious relationship with the press. In notes from the Life reporter, Rodham said that press accounts of the speech differed from what she actually said, according to an account in Time magazine, since she spoke off the cuff. The note added: “She’s also quite concerned that it be made clear she was not attacking Senator Brooke personally.”
Listen to the full speech above. Read the transcript here.
By 1973, Donald Trump was five years out of the Wharton Business School and working with his father in the family’s real estate business.
Donald’s father, Fred Trump, had made his fortune building housing for middle class families in Brooklyn and Queens after World War II. Fred was the chairman of Trump Management Inc., which at the time managed 14,000 units in nearly 40 buildings. Donald had taken over as president.
But that October, a lawsuit from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division would threaten the family business. It would also help shape Donald Trump’s playbook for dealing with future crises.
Fair housing advocates had sent undercover testers to Trump-owned apartments in July 1972, first a black woman who said she was told there were no vacancies, then a white woman who was told she could “immediately rent” one of two available apartments, according to a recent account in The Washington Post. Testimony from rental agents who worked for Trump revealed that prospective black tenants were diverted to properties with minority residents.
The New York Times broke the news with a front-page headline: “Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias in City.” According to the government complaint, Trump and his father were in violation of the Fair Housing Act for rejecting tenants based on race. The story marked Donald Trump’s first appearance in The Times. The charges, he was quoted as saying, were “absolutely ridiculous.”
Trump’s counterattack was only beginning. In an affidavit submitted to the court two months later, Trump denied any history of discrimination and said he had been “shocked” by the suit. “As a direct result of the Government’s unwarranted and unfounded charges made public,” he said, “we have suffered substantial damage to our business and reputation.”
The next day, Trump’s attorney, Roy Cohn, filed a countersuit against the government, claiming $100 million in damages caused by “untrue and unfair statements” that the government allegedly knew to be “false and misleading.” Cohn also filed an affidavit, saying the government’s intention was to pressure Trump Management into accepting an agreement that would force “subservience to the Welfare Department.”
The case was “a classic example of where Trump begins to demonstrate something he talks about all the time today, which is that he’s a counterpuncher,” Tony Schwartz, the co-author of Trump’s autobiography, “The Art of the Deal,” told FRONTLINE. “Somebody comes after him and says that he’s done something nefarious and horrible, and he just goes back at them all guns blazing.”
The man behind the strategy was Roy Cohn, then Trump’s attorney. Cohn, the chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy during anti-Communist hearings in the 1950s, had a reputation for ruthlessness and aggressive tactics when he first met Trump at Le Club in Manhattan. “He was a kind of operator par excellence,” Michael D’Antonio, author of “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success,” told FRONTLINE. “He knew what buttons to push.”
In the housing case, Cohn accused the government of using Gestapo tactics and “stormtroopers,” and he prodded Trump to allege reverse discrimination in the press. “This was a classic Roy Cohn move,” D’Antonio said. “You take what is a disgraceful thing that you might be doing, and you turn it against the other person and you allege that they are actually the ones doing the bad thing.”
“If Fred Trump was Donald Trump’s first mentor, there’s no question that Roy Cohn was Donald Trump’s second mentor, and probably his last mentor,” Tim O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation,” told FRONTLINE. “Roy Cohn taught Donald how to come out punching, how to use lawsuits like machine gun bullets, and to essentially take a no-prisoners approach to city hall, to your business opponents, to anyone else who might get in your way.”
After a long legal battle, the Trumps signed a consent decree with the government in 1975. As part of the agreement, the Trumps were required to make their properties more accessible to minorities. It did not, however, include an admission of guilt or wrongdoing, which Trump pointed out in “The Art of the Deal.”
Schwartz, who co-wrote the book, said this is Trump’s lasting philosophy: “Never admit anything. Never say you made a mistake. Just keep coming. And if you lose, declare victory.”
In 1979, 32-year-old Bill Clinton was inaugurated as the nation’s youngest governor in decades. But as the state’s new first lady, Hillary Rodham was a curiosity to many Arkansans — an outsider and a professional woman who had not taken her husband’s name when they married.
Rodham was aware that she stood out, friends said. “There is always a cost when you move into a new role and a new society,” her friend Nancy Bekavac, who had met Rodham at Yale Law School, recalled to FRONTLINE. “First you have to learn the rules. Then you have to figure out how to abide by them and which you will not abide by.”
When she sat for an interview on the Arkansas television program “In Focus” shortly after the inauguration, Rodham had already adopted some of the local dress code. The new governor’s wife had been criticized for not styling her hair right and wearing frumpy clothing. Rodham, who had grown up outside Chicago, had come down to join Bill Clinton from Washington, D.C., where she’d been a member of the impeachment inquiry staff for the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate scandal.
For the interview she wore a pink blazer over a pale sweater, and while her oft-criticized glasses stayed on, she wore her hair pulled partway back, in soft waves. Rodham spoke warmly about her new home in Arkansas, declaring at one point: “I just cannot think of a better place to be living right now.”
Still, the interviewer, Jack Hill, remained preoccupied with the sentiment that Rodham didn’t fit the image of a proper governor’s wife. For the first 15 minutes, he quizzed her about her marriage, her lack of children and interest in “teas,” and whether her work detracted from the time she could devote to her husband. At the time, Rodham had joined the prominent Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, where she also took on some child advocacy work pro bono.
Hill asked three times in as many minutes about her decision to keep her own name. At first, Rodham said that her name was linked to her professional career, and that she hoped to keep her work separate from that of her husband.
But he persisted, noting, “Well, your husband won the governorship in a landslide, but we’re still led to believe that it possibly could have cost him a few votes, because your name is not the same as his.”
“It probably did, and I regret that very much,” she said. “I regret any reason for someone voting against Bill other than on the basis of an honest disagreement with the issues. …There are all sorts of reasons why a voter might vote against a politician,” she added, citing his youth or where he was born. “They aren’t good reasons in my mind.”
Bill Clinton was defeated in his run for a second term in 1980, which the Clintons and others attributed at least in part to his non-conformist wife. Shortly after that, she changed her name to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“Given that she had stirred up a hornet’s nest in Arkansas over something that I don’t think she believed would stir up a hornet’s nest, and it had hurt her husband politically, I don’t think it was that hard a decision for her to adopt his last name,” Robert Reich, a longtime friend, told FRONTLINE.
“I mean, it was symbolic,” he went on. “I’m sure she had to swallow hard, but it was just not worth trying to keep her last name at the expense of everything they wanted to achieve together.”
Bill Clinton won back the governorship in 1982. Hillary Clinton was his principal campaign advisor.
Watch the tape of the full interview, which was first published by BuzzFeed, above. (Note: The tape is damaged from approximately 00:58 to 01:18 and 26:31 to 26:44.)
The ad declared the building “the most exciting and sophisticated architectural experience of all time” with a “collection of the World’s Greatest Merchants” — a roster that included the French jeweler and watchmaker Cartier, the British luxury goods store Asprey, high-end retailer Bonwit Teller, Spanish fashion brand Loewe and the Italian stationary store Pineider.
It was December 1982, and readers of The New York Times encountered full-page ads drumming up interest in a glamorous new location soon to open at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street — Trump Tower. One ad listed the high-end retailers that would reside in the building. Another showed a fashion model leaning against the imposing, glass facade. Other ads called it “the most talked about” and “the most successful” retail space.
Opening in 1983, the striking, angular building would become Donald Trump’s signature accomplishment. Trump Tower would not only reflect his penchant for opulence; it secured his place in the Manhattan real estate landscape after years spent working for his father’s housing empire in Brooklyn and Queens.
“Trump Tower put Donald on the map,” Barbara Res, who managed construction of Trump Tower, told FRONTLINE. “It put him right at the heart of everything. It was a phenomenally successful project.”
One key to that success, said Res, was the press that Trump generated for the project, both through eye-catching advertisements and an early mastery of self-promotion.
“Donald built up the press for the project by himself,” Res said. “He talked about who was going to come there — sometimes not necessarily true, like Princess Diana. But he got the press interested in Trump Tower right from the very beginning.”
“The shops were so spectacular, celebrities came to see them,” Res said. “And that generated more press.”
Behind the glitz and glamour of the opening, Trump Tower would also help solidify the perception of Trump as a dealmaker.
“He’s willing to shoot for the moon and not take no for an answer,” Tony Schwartz, who co-wrote “The Art of the Deal” with Trump, told FRONTLINE. “…His ability to project confidence was a huge factor in his being able to do deals that real estate people of much greater experience not only didn’t do, but probably didn’t even imagine trying to do.”
One factor that gave Trump an edge was the political connections of his father, Fred, as well as those of Roy Cohn, Trump’s influential lawyer. Before construction began, Trump used those ties to secure a tax abatement for Trump Tower.
At the time, such abatements were rare. Trump’s first successful Manhattan project, the 1980 renovation of the Grand Hyatt, marked the first time a commercial property had ever received such a tax break. With Trump Tower, the abatements would help Trump save millions during construction, and became a selling point for high-priced units in the building.
“The tax abatement made all the difference in the world in terms of what you could charge for apartments,” Wayne Barrett, author of “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall” told FRONTLINE. “Even after the project was built and open and operating for years,” he noted, “he was able to get a full tax abatement on the commercial space.”
The construction of Trump Tower included other controversies. The demolition of the Bonwit Teller building, which stood on the site the Trump Tower would occupy, used undocumented Polish workers — who were allegedly underpaid and worked in unsafe conditions. Friezes from the building that had been promised to the Metropolitan Museum of Art were instead destroyed.
Trump’s success in building Trump Tower made him attractive to banks offering credit. After 1983, he would open the Trump Plaza, Trump Castle, and the $1 billion Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Trump would also purchase an airline shuttle, a professional football team, the Plaza Hotel in New York, a sprawling estate in Florida and more.
Around this time, Barrett noted, Trump started thinking he was invincible. “Everything he does turns to gold. So he can’t imagine making a bad decision,” Barrett said. “So when this period of ‘87, ‘88 peaks … it’s just a succession of one horrendous decision after another.” Barrett added, “The banks will not say no to him.”
By 1990, Trump’s spending spree had left his empire on the brink of collapse, with him and his company owing billions to around 70 banks. “Like a major bank in the middle of the financial crisis, he’s considered too big to fail,” Tim O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation” explained.
Trump and the banks came to an agreement that would save Trump from personally declaring bankruptcy, while negotiating for loan forgiveness. The banks put Trump on a monthly allowance starting at $450,000.
Ben Berzin, who represented Midlantic Bank at the time of the negotiations, said, “It was at a time when we were all trying to figure out, is it better off this guy being alive financially? Or is it better off having him dead financially?” The banks decided they needed Trump — and his name — alive.
More than a decade later, during the introduction of his TV series “The Apprentice” — which was filmed on a boardroom set in Trump Tower — Trump would describe the episode like this: “I was billions of dollars in debt, but I fought back and I won, big league. I used my brain, and I used my negotiating skills and I worked it all out.”
Last year, Trump descended the golden escalator to the lobby of Trump Tower to announce that he was running for president.
As she accepted her nomination at the Democratic National Convention in July, Hillary Clinton told the audience, “The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part.”
Her famous desire for privacy and wariness of the national press has roots as far back as her Wellesley College days. But it crystallized over a comment she made early one morning in March 1992, as she chatted with reporters at Chicago’s Busy Bee Diner, cup of coffee in her hand.
The night before, Bill Clinton had debated his two remaining rivals for the Democratic nomination for president. In the debate’s most heated exchange, Gov. Jerry Brown of California accused Bill Clinton of inappropriately funneling state business to his wife’s law firm in Arkansas, an allegation reported in The Washington Post that morning.
Bill Clinton had responded angrily, wagging his finger at Brown. “You oughta be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife. You’re not worth being on the same platform as my wife.”
At the Busy Bee the next morning, reporters asked Hillary Clinton about the accusations of impropriety. She called the claims “pathetic and desperate,” and then mused about what she saw as the casual sexism of the attack. “This is the sort of thing that happens to the sort of women who have their own careers and their own lives,” she said.
A reporter asked: But wasn’t there the appearance of a conflict?
“You know, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life,” she said. “I’ve tried very, very hard to be as careful as possible and that’s all I can tell you.”
Clinton campaign communications director George Stephanopoulos and speechwriter Paul Begala were idly listening to her impromptu interview nearby, when, “Bam … we perked up and said, ‘That’s going to be a problem,” Stephanopoulos said in a July 2000 interview with FRONTLINE. “It was just too good a phrase. You know it was just impossible for any reporter sitting there that day not to use the most resonant, rich, colloquial phrase she could possibly use to describe her choice to work in a law firm as opposed to staying at home.”
Begala immediately pulled Hillary aside. “I said, ‘You know, Hillary, you’ve got to go restate this. People are going to think that’s an attack on stay-at-home moms.’ And she had the most wounded and naïve look on her face,” he told FRONTLINE. “‘No one could think that,’ she said. ‘I would have given anything to be a stay-at-home mom. I just didn’t have a choice because Bill was making $35,000 a year and we needed to support the family.’ I said, ‘I know that.’ And she said, ‘Oh, you worry too much.’”
Begala was right to worry. The comment was covered exhaustively by national media, and fallout was intense. Conservative New York Times columnist William Safire coined the term, “the Hillary problem,” and criticized Bill Clinton for defending his wife: “Bill: Stop trying to have it both ways; you cannot be gallant about a feminist.” Columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that a key challenge for the campaign was to “reassure doubters that she is not Lady Macbeth in a black preppy headband.”
Hillary Clinton had faced plenty of critical and gender-related questions from the press in Arkansas. But, said longtime Clinton friend and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, “Arkansas was just child’s play compared to running a national campaign.”
A month after the comment, reporter Katie Couric asked Clinton if she regretted the comment. “I regret having had it taken out of context and misconstrued,” Clinton replied.
Clinton friend Linda Bloodworth-Thomason told FRONTLINE, “She learned to be careful. … [that] when you tell the truth, you give people a gift [by allowing them to cast] it in a different light.”
The “Hillary problem” narrative persisted for the duration of her husband’s time in office, and her tensions with the press continue to this day. In her current campaign, Clinton has gotten heat, including from many in her own party, for maintaining an arms-length distance between herself and the press corps covering her campaign.
After decades in the glare of the national press, Clinton has become accustomed to the costs of being in the spotlight, said longtime friend Nancy Bekavac.
“How does she make sense of it? I think she understands that this is the price she pays to do the things she does. If she didn’t run for office they wouldn’t be after her. If she hadn’t married Bill they wouldn’t be after her. If she didn’t speak out they wouldn’t be after her. If she had stayed home and baked cookies nobody would be interviewing her,” Bekavac said. “At some point you just say, ‘That’s the last bad picture, bad interview, horrific set of comments … I’m going to live with.’ But she seems to swallow and go forward.”
It was May 1, 1989. Twelve days earlier, a 28-year-old white woman had been beaten and raped while jogging in Central Park in New York City. She was still in a coma when a full-page ad appeared in the city’s leading newspapers: “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY,” it read, “BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”
The ad was signed by the real estate developer Donald Trump. “What has happened to law and order,” he asked, “to the neighborhood cop we all trusted to safeguard our homes and families.” Trump painted a picture of a New York City terrorized by “roving bands of wild criminals,” and declared that criminals must be told their “civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins.”
He wrote that he wanted to hate these men, and they “should be forced to suffer,” asking, “How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits?”
The targets of Trump’s remarks would come to be known as “The Central Park Five:” Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise. The five black and Latino teenagers — all between the ages of 14 and 16 — had confessed, but later said their confessions were coerced, and denied any role in the attack.
Trump’s ad was published in The New York Times, the Daily News, the New York Post and Newsday, at a reported cost of $85,000. He followed publication with a televised press conference. “You better believe I hate the people who took this girl and raped her brutally. You’d better believe it,” Trump said. “And it’s more than anger, it’s hatred. And I want society to hate them.”
The case threatened to break open fragile race relations in New York. While Mayor Ed Koch called for calm, “Donald specifically says that he doesn’t want to be reserved,” noted Michael D’Antonio, author of “The Truth About Trump.” D’Antonio told FRONTLINE, “He wants to be angry. And he wants to call for the death penalty and the support of the police.”
“There were concerns, there were questions raised by some people about whether his statements were racist and that he was inflaming things,” Michael Kranish, co-author of “Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power,” told FRONTLINE.
The ad would introduce the public to a more political side of Trump, who until 1989 was still largely known as a prominent Manhattan real estate developer and socialite.
“He was beginning to fiddle around with having some kind of profile of making public statements beyond just something about how his hotels were the best of the best,” Gwenda Blair, author of “The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate,” told FRONTLINE.
Law and order would remain a central theme of Trump’s appeal to voters as he flirted over the years with a run for the presidency. In his current campaign he has called for tougher measures against alleged criminals. Trump has said that as president he would issue an executive order mandating the death penalty for anyone who kills a police officer. He has said he supports the controversial policing tactic known as stop and frisk.
“The Central Park Five” were exonerated for their wrongful convictions in 2002 after the confession of a serial rapist — and a positive DNA match that would back it up — but not before the five spent a collective 40 years in prison.
Despite evidence clearing the five of any involvement, Trump has not admitted that he was wrong about them. “They confessed,” Trump said in response to the 2002 exonerations. “Now they say they didn’t do it. Who am I supposed to believe?”
“He didn’t want to admit he was wrong,” Kranish said, “and to this day he has not apologized for the statements he made at the time.”
When the five received a settlement of $40 million in 2014 for their wrongful imprisonment, Trump once again penned a public letter calling the deal a “disgrace.”
“Settling,” Trump wrote, “doesn’t mean innocence.”
In 2011, Libya’s president, Muammar Qaddafi, was deposed after a coalition of Arab and Western countries intervened to stop a threatened slaughter in Benghazi. The dictator fled into the desert to hide, was captured and killed. Libyans celebrated.
So did Hillary Clinton.
As secretary of state, Clinton advocated, and was key in orchestrating, the intervention in Libya. She’d gathered support from Arab partners, persuaded Russia to allow a resolution to intervene to move through the United Nations, and convinced President Barack Obama that the Libyan opposition was strong enough to rule once Qaddafi was gone.
Dennis Ross, who worked for Clinton at the State Department, told FRONTLINE that the secretary was the person Obama turned to first in meetings in the Situation Room, and that her views shaped many of the discussions. When it came to Libya, he said, Clinton made a serious case for intervention.
“She is not making the case, ‘We’ve got to do this because there’s going to be a blood bath.’ But she is saying, ‘This is going to have a life of its own, and we’re going to be left behind and not able to shape it unless we’re prepared to do more.’”
Clinton first learned of Qaddafi’s capture while doing a television interview with CBS News. Her reaction was one of delighted relief: “We came, we saw, he died,” she said, with a laugh.
The fall of Qaddafi “was a moment of success and gratification for her,” said Jonathan Allen, a political reporter who wrote a book about Clinton’s State Department tenure, in an interview with FRONTLINE. “It tells you just how invested she was in the Libya mission and what she believed was going to be a great success for herself and for the United States.”
Clinton’s staff moved to capitalize on her success, compiling a memo detailing what “S” — the secretary — had done to enable Qaddafi’s fall. Jake Sullivan, her deputy chief of staff, drafted a list that showed Clinton’s “leadership/ownership/stewardship of this country’s libya policy from start to finish.” The memo noted: “She was instrumental in securing the authorization, building the coalition, and tightening the noose around Qadhafi and his regime.”
By 2012, Clinton’s favorability ratings had soared into the high 60s — among the highest they’d been since she entered the national arena in 1992. In April, a photo of the secretary reading a Blackberry in sunglasses en route to Libya after Qaddafi’s fall became a laudatory meme— the ultimate canonization in the internet era.
But Libya never recovered from the end of the dictatorship. In September, a few months after Clinton’s meme went viral, an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens. And ISIS has since gained a foothold in the country. Obama later said that while he still believes that intervening was the “right thing to do,” he called the failure to plan for the aftermath the worst mistake of his presidency.
The tragedy and the spread of ISIS have continued to haunt Clinton, and have become a rallying point for Republicans. So far, there have been eight inquiries into the attacks in Benghazi, most of which were led by Congressional Republicans. While none found outright wrongdoing by Clinton, some suggested the attacks could have been avoided.
The Congressional inquiries into Benghazi also inadvertently revealed that as secretary, Clinton had been using a private email address and a private server in her home for handling official business. A subsequent FBI investigation found no clear evidence that Clinton and her staff intended to violate laws, but said they were “extremely careless” in handling “very sensitive, highly classified information.”
“That was one of the worst decisions that she made as secretary of state, to keep a private email” account and server, said Indira Lakshmanan, a political reporter who has traveled often with Clinton, in an interview with FRONTLINE. Lakshmanan added: “This is another case where Hillary Clinton did not immediately take responsibility and say, ‘Mea culpa, I made a mistake.’”
The email scandal has shadowed Clinton since the beginning of her presidential campaign. And her approval ratings have changed dramatically. By July 2016, 55 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of the former secretary.
Long before winning the Republican nomination in 2016, Donald Trump had already flirted with presidential politics. As early as 1987, he gave a campaign-like speech in the early voting state of New Hampshire. In 2000, he explored a bid as a candidate for the Reform Party, even winning its California primary before withdrawing from the race.
Then, for the next decade, Trump’s political ambitions appeared to take a backseat to his role as star of the hit reality show The Apprentice. But he would never stop eyeing the White House.
In one media appearance after another in 2011, the New York businessman was fanning the flames of the “birther” movement, helping fuel speculation about a possible White House run. Though Trump would not enter the race against President Barack Obama that year, he would lend his endorsement to the man Obama would eventually defeat: Mitt Romney.
For Trump, Romney’s loss was a frustration, as well as an opportunity. Less than two weeks after Obama’s reelection, Trump would take a decisive first step towards another run.
It came in an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Specifically, a request to trademark the phrase that became the slogan for his 2016 campaign: “Make America Great Again.”
“I think it reflects the fact that he regretted not running,” said Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime political confidante, in an interview with FRONTLINE. “He thinks he could have beaten Obama. I think he may be right. He was very disappointed in Romney as a candidate … but he trademarks the phrase, which indicates to me he’s going to run again.”
According to Trump’s application, the trademark was to be used for “Political action committee services, namely, promoting public awareness of political issues and fundraising in the field of politics.”
In seeking to trademark the slogan, Trump was returning to a familiar practice. Over more than three decades as a private developer and then a reality television star, branding became second nature to Trump. His last name can be found on everything from Manhattan skyscrapers and Scottish golf courses to bottles of water and vacuum-sealed steaks.
Only this time, Trump was bringing branding to politics, a move that has allowed him to both promote his own candidacy, while raising money for his campaign. On his campaign website, Make America Great Again is available on a range of merchandise, including $12 sweatbands, $20 tote bags, $30 hats and $50 hoodies.
It’s a strategy, said Stone, that Trump came to better understand the importance of during market research into what made customers choose a Trump casino over one of his competitors.
“It wasn’t the $12 steak dinner, it wasn’t the loose slots,” said Stone. “It was Trump. They wanted to play in Trump’s house. It was his branding. It was viewed as a gold chip brand.”
Trump would formally acquire the trademark in July 2015, but the slogan itself was hardly his own. Rather, the slogan Make America Great Again was first used by Ronald Reagan during his 1980 campaign against President Jimmy Carter. In that race, Trump donated the maximum federal campaign contribution allowed to the incumbent president, according to Federal Election Commission records first reported on by The Wall Street Journal. Trump would not give to Reagan for another four years, according to the FEC records.
In March 2015, 25 years after Reagan first used the slogan and almost two-and-a-half years after applying for the trademark, Trump would claim credit for the phrase.
“The line of ‘Make America Great Again,’ the phrase, that was mine, I came up with it about a year ago, and I kept using it, and everybody’s now using it, they are all loving it,” Trump said. “I don’t know,” he added, “I guess I should copyright it.”