According to The Wall Street Journal’s senior White House correspondent, Michael Bender, “furious arguments, abrupt decision changes, perpetual dismay, and anarchy and chaos” defined the final days of the Trump administration.
“‘Frankly, We Did Win This Election’: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost,” Bender’s book, compiles interviews with dozens of former Trump staffers and allies, as well as two interviews with former President Donald Trump himself. The book depicts the inner workings of a tumultuous White House and presidential campaign, as Trump’s subordinates competed for influence and struggled to obey presidential orders that frequently contradicted basic democratic and constitutional norms.
According to Bender, Trump demanded that whoever “leaked” information about him staying in a bunker during protests in 2020 be “executed” for their actions.
Trump was enraged after The New York Times reported that he, first lady Melania Trump, and their son, Barron, had been placed in a bunker beneath the East Wing while federal, local, and military police cleared racial justice protests in Lafayette Square, near the White House. According to the book, Trump casually praised Nazi Germany’s leader, Adolf Hitler, for his economic policies and popularity within the fascist regime in 2018.
According to Bender, much of the chaos in the Trump campaign and White House in 2020 was caused by the administration’s mistakes in its pandemic response, as well as the subsequent economic downturn and social upheaval caused by the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis Black man murdered by a police officer. Trump’s reaction to the Floyd video was visceral, calling it “terrible.” He expressed his support for the Floyd family on Twitter and promised that “justice will be served.” His tone shifted quickly as protesters demanding racial justice took to the streets of cities and towns across the country.
Bender’s work depicts frantic scenes of Trump administration aides who are deeply concerned about the president’s reckless desire to deploy military troops against both peaceful protesters and rioters.
Trump has repeatedly called for the military to be deployed and live ammunition to be used against protesters, according to aides. In one heated exchange, senior adviser Stephen Miller, a staunch Trump supporter, told a group of aides that “these cities are burning,” justifying heavy military intervention.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, reportedly told Miller to shut up, using expletives.
Bender wrote that the Trump campaign was beleaguered by internal conflicts and self-confidence issues in the weeks leading up to the presidential election.
According to the book, the campaign became insular and doubtful after a story pitched by Trump allies Rudy Giuliani and Robert Costello about Joe Biden’s son Hunter failed to gain traction in the media, followed by Trump’s hospitalization with the coronavirus. Trump lamented his poor polling among constituents such as suburban women at rallies.
According to the book, the replacement of campaign manager Brad Parscale with Bill Stepien in the fall resulted in even more financial mismanagement. In the run-up to Election Day, Bender quoted Stepien as saying, “I have $65 million to spend on digital, and I don’t know whether to put it in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and at what levels.”
According to the book, the disorganization of the campaign bled into efforts to contest the election after the president’s loss. A rebellious Trump directed his aides to file dozens of lawsuits and to press government officials and allies at the state and federal levels to assist him in overturning the election results.
Officials at the Justice Department were shocked, according to Bender, when department attorney Jeffrey Clark assisted Meadows in devising a plan to depose acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and overturn the Georgia election results.
In addition to putting pressure on Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump leaned on Supreme Court justices in North Carolina and urged aides to persuade Republican lawmakers in swing states to help overturn the election. The Trump supporters’ insurgency at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and its aftermath further demoralized those closest to Trump, according to Bender, though many saw the attack as a “horrifying but unavoidable conclusion” to the president’s tenure.
Bender painted a picture of a disgruntled and somewhat aimless Trump determined to reclaim power.