A new book by Politico reporter Tim Alberta details the chaotic moments after the release of the Access Hollywood tape and how the Trump campaign tried to quell the PR disaster.
An excerpt from “American Carnage,” Alberta’s book about the modern Republican Party and the rise of Donald Trump, goes behind-the-scenes for 48 hours after the infamous tape dropped, including the moment top campaign advisers learned about Trump’s comments about women.
“Trump looked at [Reince Priebus], put the packet on the table, and slid it across. The party chairman began to read, the room now filling around him with the rest of the team. They had all seen it: an email exchange with Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold, who claimed to have an old audio recording of Trump making exceedingly lewd remarks about women and boasting of his ability to get away with sexual assault. Fahrenthold had sent over the alleged quotes and was requesting comment from the campaign for a story that would run later that day.
‘Wow, this isn’t good,’ Priebus said, his eyes fixed on a single line. ‘This is really, really bad.’
The group was paralyzed with silence. Finally, Kushner piped up. ‘You know, I don’t think it’s all that bad.’
‘Jared, what are you talking about?’ Priebus said, burying his head in his hands. ‘This is as bad as it gets.’”
The campaign advisers were reportedly optimistic that Trump didn’t actually make the comments about grabbing women “by the p***y,” however, their hopes were dashed when Farenthold sent over the audio tape in question.
“It was a moment of humility and vulnerability,” recalled Kellyanne Conway. “He legitimately did not remember saying that.”
As “American Carnage” explains, Trump immediately became toxic to members of the Republican establishment and the campaign feared Mike Pence, then Trump’s running mate for vice president, would drop off of the ticket. But despite calls from governors, donors, lawmakers, and other party fixtures for Trump to drop out of the race, the real estate tycoon held fast
Not for a moment would Trump consider quitting the race. He was unmoved by the rebukes of the Republican lawmakers who were piling on with excoriating statements; most of them, he scoffed, were the same people who had opposed his candidacy from its inception,” Alberta writes.
The Saturday morning after the tape dropped, and after Trump released a public apology video, Trump’s team tried to convince him to do an interview on ABC to further explain and apologize for the remarks.
“The meeting lasted 30 minutes longer, most of it spent pushing Trump to sit for an interview that afternoon with David Muir of ABC News,” Alberta recounts. “His team said it would be best to discuss the comments fully, and repent for them, ahead of the debate. Trump agreed and the meeting broke up. But then he abruptly changed his mind. Complaining that he would look ‘weak’ by subjecting himself to a journalist whose sole purpose would be extracting as many apologies as possible, he told Hicks the ABC interview was off.”
The moment that saved Trump’s candidacy was the second debate with Hillary Clinton, where Trump trotted out her husband Bill Clinton’s accusers and repeatedly went on the attack against the former secretary of state for mishandling her emails.
“It was, without question, the ugliest and most vitriolic presidential debate in the mass-communication era. And it was exactly what Trump needed. Facing pressure unlike any White House hopeful in memory, the Republican nominee didn’t just get off the mat; he came up swinging. It made all the difference. Within 48 hours the bleeding had stopped: Republicans ceased their calls for his withdrawal, Pence
dutifully returned to the stump and his campaign went on as though nothing had happened.”
Trump said, “That debate won me the election.”