Anthony Scaramucci is a founder and managing partner at SkyBridge Capital. In 2017, he served briefly as the White House communications director for Donald Trump. This interview was conducted by FRONTLINE's Michael Kirk on October 3, 2019. It has been edited for clarity and length. VIDEO INTERVIEW: The transcript below is interactive. Select any sentence to play the video. Highlight text to share it.
The Rise of Obama So let's start with Obama. Just—we won't spend much time on Obama, but as an observer of it all. When he comes—when he leaves office, a lot of people that we've talked to say things were more divided than ever as a kind of result of his presidency and that, in lots of ways, it opened the door to somebody like Donald Trump. Can you—can you think about that out loud for me a little bit?
Well, I think the Obama presidency widened the moat of division, and he probably didn't do it on purpose. It could have been accidental. But it was a confluence of the way the cable news organizations split and became way more tribal, and then the way social media entered the fray during the Obama eight years. I think about America prior to the Obama administration, there was less emphasis on things like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. And so he had to live with that.
And he also had to run for reelection during that. And unfortunately, as a politician, you want to win, and so you make a lot of your decisions based on, how am I going to win? And so Obama was building a coalition. He's really the first modern president to build that winning coalition during the age of social media. So I think he went hard tribalism to make sure that he galvanized enough vote, which caused that wider split in our society.
… I think he came not believing he needed a base. He was a sort of—you know, he had a biography. It's red; it's blue; it's me; it's—if I can do it, anybody can do it. And by '12, he certainly needs a base, and he goes to seek one.
Well, he—he made arguably one of the best speeches in 2004 in Boston during the Democratic convention. I had gone to law school with him. I remember getting a phone call that night, and somebody said to me: "Hey, do you remember Barack Obama? He just gave one heck of a speech at the convention." I said, "What's he doing now?" And they said, "Well, he's running for the United States Senate." Ironically, he was running against Jack Ryan, who I had gone—you know, I had worked at Goldman with. And so Jack unfortunately came out of the race, which cleared a path for Barack Obama. But what I admire about Barack Obama is that he was, in my mind, a political entrepreneur, meaning that he saw a reality for himself, and he was going to curve the rest of our reality to his reality. That's something that somebody like a Steve Jobs does or [Google co-founder] Sergey Brin, or people that are in Silicon Valley.
So in Barack Obama's case, he talked, in the beginning, very transformative. It's not red or blue; it's red, white and blue, and he was talking about America in a very holistic way. I also think that he got some of this stuff is riding a wave. And so he was riding a wave of post-Bushism. There was fatigue related to the war. I think President Bush, after the midterms, he no longer was defending himself, and so he sort of retreated into the Rose Garden, Camp David. And so the American media was just going after Bush in the hardest way possible.
And then you had the financial crisis. And so that led to the rise of Barack Obama. And I think he—I think he was trying, in the beginning, to be that transformative person. But then, when he got to Washington, and this is what happens in the swamp—and by the way, I don't even think it's a swamp. I mean, it's literally like a gold-plated hot tub with no drain. I mean, these guys sit in there, smoke cigars and pass the Cristal to each other.
And so once he realized that he couldn't do anything but conform to the rules of the game inside of Washington, that's when he dug in on the tribalist side, and that's where the divide started to widen, to create the opportunity for somebody like Donald Trump.
Wait a minute. You went to law school with Barack Obama?
I did, yeah. I was—actually, Michelle as well. I mean, I was class of '89 from Harvard. The president was class of '91. He was in Neil Gorsuch's class. Michelle was actually—Michelle and I are the same age, but she's so smart, she skipped two grades in high school, so she graduated from Harvard Law School at age 23. I think she was Class of '87 actually.
So did you see anything in that law student, young law student, Barack Obama, that was of presidential material?
No, I'm not—I'm not—I'm not one of those guys to recast history. I joked with some of the faculty there that it's mathematically impossible. Every faculty member apparently taught him, and every person that was in the school at that period of time actually knew him. I vaguely recall him. I supported him in 2008, though. I met him at a—at a fundraiser in New York. We were over at the University Club in July of 2007. I had a check in my pocket for him because my buddies were helping to support him. And at that point, I was like, politically agnostic. I was a lot like the way Donald Trump used to be. You know, I had given checks to Chuck Schumer but also Alfonse D'Amato, and Republicans and Democrats. And again, more politically agnostic.
I had a check in my pocket for Barack Obama. I walked over to him. I said: "Hey, you know, we didn't really know each other in law school, but I've got a big check for you. Can I lie to my friends and tell them I knew you in law school?" He looked at me, and he smiled. He said, "If you double the amount of the check, we'll take it right back to Hawaii." And I thought, this guy's going to be—I mean, he has a smile—I would say Barack Obama's smile is probably just the best smile in American politics since Jack Kennedy. And he—he can light up a room. And whether he likes people or doesn't like people, he gives the impression that he likes them. And so that makes a very big difference in politics, because unfortunately, in Secretary [Hillary] Clinton's case, she doesn't give off that aura. She may like people. You know, again, it's not whether you like people or dislike people; it's whether you can give them the feeling that you do. See, that—that makes all the difference in a politician.
The Trump Campaign: So you've set up for us nicely Obama by the end of his presidency. Talk a little bit, Anthony, about Trump coming down the escalator, what you thought when you saw that event, what you experienced when you listened to him, what he had to say, where he fell in the 17 candidates running. Give me a setup for Trump.
Well, look, I mean, the reason why I should never be in politics is because I get everything wrong. And so—because I'm a businessperson; I'm an entrepreneur. So Trump calls me, and he invites me to breakfast. It's the day after The Apprentice finale, so you could Google the date. So I go to have breakfast with him. And if you've ever been in his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, his imperious desk is up here, and he's got these little tiny seats down here, so you have to look up at him. And he's telling me, he says, "Hey, did you—did you see me on The Apprentice last night?" And I'm like, "No." He goes, "Well, you were the only one." I mean, you know, like he's—and he's telling me how great he was on The Apprentice and how great the ratings were. And then he says to me: "But I'm—I'm running for president now. My effective television career, me as a television star, is over. I'm running for president." I laughed. Looked right in his face, I laughed. I said: "You're not running for president. It's just another publicity stunt."
And then he proceeded to tell me that he had hired Roger Stone and Corey Lewandowski and Sam Nunberg, and he had a base of operations built in the Trump Tower on the fifth floor, which I thought was always funny, because once I started to work for him, the fifth floor, you go up the steps, and then you're at the 14th floor. I mean, that should have told you everything that you needed to know. But anyway, I'm a little bit stupid and naïve. So I told him I couldn't work for him. I was with Gov. [Scott] Walker at that time. I was his finance chair with Todd Ricketts. And then he said: "OK, well, he's a lightweight. After I kill him, you'll come work for me." I said: "No. A lot of my clients are with Jeb Bush, and I'll end up being in the Jeb Bush campaign." And this is the part of Trump that's very charming. He says to me: "OK, totally get that. After I wipe him off the map as well, will you come work for me?" And then I said yes, I would.
And so literally, a day after the South Carolina primary his assistant called me, and I went up to see him, and I laid out a strategy for him, how to raise the money for the—for the campaign. But he had already—he had already taken out, I mean, I think it was [Ted] Cruz and [John] Kasich were the only people left that were competing with him at that moment.
So—so when he was coming down that escalator, I was in my office two blocks away. I sent my political director there to see this spectacle, and I was literally giggling to myself. I was like: "This is a complete joke. He's probably got another book he's about to sell, or maybe he's negotiating to get a bigger media contract with NBC." But I should have taken him more seriously, and so should have the rest of us. Trump the Reality Star What was it, do you think, about his 14 years on television in a kind of reality mode, where there are certain conventions you have to do, raise the ante, be aggressive, whatever—what about all of that and his understanding of ratings and the American people? Well, I mean, it's more—it's more to it than that. I mean, I think that there's a combination of things there. He has a larger-than-life personality. Some of that, unfortunately, when he got power, turned into some levels of malignancy. But he has a larger-than-life personality. He's a gregarious guy. And when Mark Burnett was building that show, he got picked because he had already spent a tremendous amount of money on earned media between his books and his "Page 6" appearances and his appearances in the gossip columns and things like that.
So he was—he was an easy person for that show to have as a star. And then, of course, they did a magnificent job in that show on b-roll. The opening of that show, the closing of that show, the—all the toys that Mr. Trump had at that time in his life, whether it was Trump Tower itself, the airplanes, the helicopters, the access to people, and the different guests that he could bring to bear on the early show— … The point is, is that the show, you had the base ingredients of a person that was gregarious, that could command a stage presence, that had the physicality and the stamina to be an exceptional political candidate. But then the show helped to carve elements of what the first impression was for Americans. And so one of the difficulties, when you live in one of the coastal cities, and you have high information, and you're totally focused on the political zeitgeist, you lose track of the fact that the average American is going to work in the morning; they're coming home; they're trying to raise their kids and meet their expenses. And so they're probably not focused on political campaigns until a couple weeks before the election. And so he had the benefit of having almost universal name recognition in the country. And I think what we've learned, to be president, the number one thing that you need to have is name recognition. And obviously Barack Obama was able to catapult himself off of the Democratic convention in 2004, and then when he won the Illinois Senate race, he was able to continue to propel himself.
And President Obama would probably be super mad at me for saying this, but there's a lot in common between President Obama and President Trump. And, you know, probably both sides would want to have their heads explode, me saying that. But observing them, they have a stage presence, and they have an ability—in their respective tribes, OK, they have the ability to be the, you know, the grand poobah, if you will, of their respective tribes. And so there's commonality there. … Trump and the "forgotten"
You talked about Trump and his personality and his everything else. Talk a little bit about what he called the "forgotten." Who—who was his base? And could you see it, and did he know it, and did you talk about it ever with him?
So, you know, Amity Shlaes, who's a historian, wrote a book called The Forgotten Man. It was a reinterpretation of the Depression and what happened during the Depression. And the iconic forgotten man, or the forgotten man and woman, is somebody that's been left out of the system. And so, in the case of America over the last 30 years, there's been a vacuum of advocacy for those people, Democrats focused on issues—could have been more social progress, issues related to racial equality and sexual-preference equality and things like that, and the Republicans were probably focusing more on their corporate donors and some of the high, well-heeled donors that are high-net-worth individuals, if you will. But there was probably a three-decade vacuum of advocacy for the forgotten man and woman. And so I identify with that, because I grew up in a blue-collar household. My dad was a laborer in the beginning. Then he learned how to operate a heavy crane, and so he joined the Operational Engineers Union, which is effectively being a crane operator. And he had a very high hourly wage, which allowed us to live in the middle class. And for me—and I feel guilty of this, but I think it's a worthy admission, because it's a cautionary tale for people—I went from that aspirational working-class family to Tufts and then Harvard and then out to Goldman Sachs. And I spent 30 years working my way up the spire of financial independence, wanting to live my own personal American dream. And I did. You know, my parents were hard-charging, disciplined people. They didn't go to college, and they weren't educated, but they—it was insisted that we went to school to live that aspect of the American dream.
And so what ends up happening to you is you go into that collective-bias echo chamber. And there I was with wealthy individuals in country clubs or conferences like Davos or in the inner halls of Goldman Sachs or my own hedge fund, and I grew distant, intellectually and empathetically, from the people I grew up with. And so, again, whether you like President Trump or dislike him, you have to acknowledge that he saw the angst of that forgotten man and woman. You know, he saw the transition from a family like mine, which was an economically aspirational family, where 30 short years later, those very same people were economically desperational. And so the president saw that. As a candidate, he saw that.
My first campaign rally with him, I remember climbing back onto the campaign plane, looking over to him and said, "Wow, you're—you're talking to the people I grew up with." And those were the people, frankly, that I left behind, and I didn't really understand their angst the way I should have. And so I give him a lot of credit for that. He saw what that forgotten man and woman was going through in the United States right now, during the age of globalism. And there's a rejection of elitists and a rejection of intellectuals and certainly a disdain for the media, because those people feel that they're being looked down upon. What did they see in him, Anthony, do you think?
Well, he was the avatar to express their anger. He was descending into those rural areas, suburban areas, blighted factory towns, and he was representing for them the wrecking ball. He was saying: "Hey, this has been a disaster for you, and jobs have been lost as a result of globalism. Jobs have been lost as a result of uneven or unfair trade. And I'm the avatar of your anger. If you elect me, I'll literally be an orange wrecking ball at the barricade known as "the swamp,' and I'll knock that barricade down for you, and I'll disrupt and change the system." It's a very, very powerful message for 62.8 million people. But don't forget that the rise of Trumpism is concomitant with the decline of Clintonism. And so again, I'm not trying to say anything negative about Secretary Clinton, because I have a lot of respect for her career, but if you analyze her campaign, she didn't visit places like Wisconsin; she went maybe once or twice to Michigan. I mean, you'd know the numbers better than me. But it felt like her team was complacent about certain areas of the country that she absolutely needed to win—to win the American presidency. And for some reason, and they would have to explain that better than me, they decided not to go in those areas. And here it was, this 70-plus-year-old Energizer Bunny that was banging a drum in every single one of those areas. And I got—I got to witness that firsthand, got to see that. The Trump Victory and Transition
When he wins and he's inaugurated, give me a sense of the aspirations you had for him and he had for the country.
Well, when he wins, if people are being brutally honest, there was a level, in large measure, of disbelief. He spoke about it at one of the fundraisers we had after the fact, which I was giggling about. I don't think any of us thought he was going to win, because the polling numbers said otherwise. It turned out that the polls were right as it related to the popular vote. They got a certain group of precincts wrong in some of the states that he needed to win.
So now he's propelled to victory. And I remember that night vividly, obviously, because I was there preparing the VIP parties for the donors. I remember calling him on his cell phone when the futures were down. Bloomberg was reporting that stock futures were down 600 as a result of his victory, and I remember saying to him, "Hey, we've got to put some stuff in there that are sensitizing to the markets, to let people know things are going to be OK."
And I remember the following day. I think there was a little bit of shock there for him and his team. And I remember a moment of vulnerability. I remember him thinking, OK, there's a weight of responsibility on me. He said something which he didn't live up to, but he said that he was literally going to act more presidential than Abraham Lincoln. I mean, that—you could ask other people. They heard it. I was there; I heard it. We laughed, but he meant it seriously. You know, he was going to dial back on Twitter, dial up on presidential nature, if you will.
And in fairness to him, in the beginning, he was really listening to people. He was really trying to find solid Cabinet members, and he was really trying to figure out how to put the best team together. I remember him meeting with Gov. Romney. And I had worked for Mitt, and so I liked Mitt. I thought that was a good choice for him as secretary of State, because Gov. Romney was an establishment figure in the Republican Party. Even though he represented "Never Trumpers," it was a time for healing, and I thought that that was a move similar to what Barack Obama did with Secretary Clinton, by making her secretary of State. Unfortunately, that didn't come to pass. But—
Of course, you had—I don't mean to interrupt you, Anthony, but you had—it's a perfect opportunity for me to ask you this question, because you've talked about the hard right inside and around the president.
Yeah. You had [Steve] Bannon. You had [Stephen] Miller. You had [Jeff] Sessions. You had a force in there, pushing him in a much—in a much harsher direction. Talk about that.
Yeah, I don't—I don't think people realized, at the time, myself included, how dangerous Steve Bannon actually is. I mean, that's a whole other topic. We can talk about that if you want. But I'll answer your question. The hard-right elements inside the transition team were wearing Mr. Trump down in terms of his decision process in picking the Cabinet. And so I think they—they won the day with the selection like leaving that vacuum with Mitt Romney. I think that was a shame, because Mr. Trump and Mr. Romney knew each other. They had worked together in the 2012 campaign, and there was a relationship there. Yes, there was some soreness, because Mr. Romney had given a speech; Mitt had given a speech against Donald Trump. But they had some level of respect for each other. And you need—your secretary of State should be somebody that you're close to, you know.
And so he ended up picking a secretary of State that he didn't really know, and that was a fiasco. So the hard right—the president has got great political instincts. Let me just stipulate this. You go from being a reality television star to a—and a business mogul to the American presidency in 17 short months. You slay 17 or 18 people that have résumés that are well fortified in the public arena. You knock all of them off the board. So you have to stipulate that he had very good instincts; he had a very good idea of where the country was.
And so now he's won the presidency, and he's got his team with him, and he was probably way more moderate and less ideological than many members of his team. But because of his instincts, meaning he had to pulse out and focus on his base, he went with a lot of their ideas as it related to personnel and decision making. Because the base—
That further—that further makes that divide, that polarity that we've discussed.
… The base, the division, the pushing Trump a little to the side, a little more to the right than he wanted to be, that becomes manifest across the first months of the presidency. And certainly you begin to feel that there's another side there, what people call Jarvanka, or Jared [Kushner] and Ivanka [Trump] and [Trump's chief economic adviser] Gary Cohn and others.
Yeah. I think what ended up happening to Mr. Trump is that he probably went through a couple of stages. I think the first stage was alarm, shock, a level of excitement that he won, but then also the weight of responsibility. And then he realized that he was out of his element in the sense that Washington is a very different beast, a very different cultural beast than New York. And, you know, I certainly learned that the hard way.
And so he's now immersed with these people. [White House Chief of Staff Reince] Priebus had flooded the administration with establishment people that were basically anti-Trumpers, so he never had a chance to build a team of loyalists. And it turned out that the people that he picked, each one of them had their own specific and separate independent agenda away from his agenda, and for that matter, away from the country's agenda. And so that—that made matters very, very bad for him in the first six to 12 months.
And then once all those cataclysms happened to him, you know, stuff that you guys have actually referred to on your shows—I mean, the whole debacle with the health care, the misfiring of that, and then the eventual tax reform, and it's—it's—you know, the tax reform ultimately became a Frankenstein monster for the president. And he didn't listen to people, like really sharp economists, particularly about the state and local income tax stuff. I tried to tell him: "If you—if you do that to the East Coast, the port cities, and you do that to the West Coast, you're going to decimate these blue states, and you're not recognizing that these are the economic engines for the entire system. I understand the Koch plan of moving people and migrating people into the red states, and you want to keep the House of Representatives forever, and you want to punish these bloated states. But these states are bringing in lots of poor people, and they need a safety net. And there are practical realities in each of these states, and they set their agendas based on that income tax deduction. So now you're altering it. You're going to have a really deleterious effect on the economy," which has proven to be true.
And you can look at the data, and I can prove that to you. But any event, the point—the reason I'm bringing all that up—it's probably too wonky and analytical, but the reason I'm bringing all of that up is that he stopped listening at the end of his first year. And the reason he stopped listening—not that he ever really listened, but he stopped listening because he didn't trust anybody in the room. And so—and then he—and then he got a little headstrong and a little egocentric. And that—that's where the systemic danger is now.
So you have somebody who's leaning hard on his base, not listening to anybody, but he's unfortunately got his smartphone in his hand, and so that's a very toxic mix of things that are going on right now.
Trump and Tribalism. Can I ask you something, just out of the blue? When he—when it's the end of the inauguration, and he makes [White House Press Secretary Sean] Spicer—I guess he makes Spicer go out there and sort of, I guess, lie about the crowd size, and it becomes dominant to him that the crowd size is what it is, what does that tell us about him? Well, it says a lot about Spicer, though, as well, because, you know, you could have gone to that podium. The one thing about Mr. Trump that I learned, and [Treasury Secretary] Steven Mnuchin said it way better than me, is like, you know, he's flustered sometimes. Only pay attention to 50% of what he's saying, and only do 10% of the 50%, which gets you down to like 5%. So Spicer would have been well served if he got to the microphone and said: "Hey, listen, in 2009 there were no smartphones. Today, in 2016, we believe that there were many more eyeballs looking at that. They may not have been in that audience, but they were observing it somewhere in the world off of their smartphone." And then he could have taken another question, and everything would have been fine. But I think that that's the problem with the president's management style. The people around him are aiming to please, and so he's—he's dictating to them to do something, and so they're aiming to please. And so what ends up happening is, they disavow levels of their personal honesty, and they disavow levels of their personal integrity.
So somebody like me, I would never do that. I mean, it could be one of the many reasons why I only lasted 11 days, because I could never disavow my personal integrity. I built myself up from scratch. I've got, you know—and one of the reasons why I couldn't really make it in Washington is that I can't be bought and paid for. I mean, I've got my own dough, got my own business….
But the president moves the goalposts on people. And you have to remember that, OK? He's—it's not enough for you to be loyal to President Trump; you have to have blind obeisance. And so that's the real weakness for President Trump. He's—he's—he's turned into a demagogue. And so when you are a demagogue, and you look through 5,000 years of history of studying demagogues, it never ends well. And so what ends up happening is, there's a cult of personality; there's a hagiography, and there's a prism that they're trying to project themselves through, and they expect their acolytes to do the same thing for them, which is very, very dangerous. And if you study the original documents in the formation of our system, the constitutional system, the number one thing that the 55 or so Founders were fearful of was tyranny and demagoguery, and so they set up a system that would diffuse the power, and they set up a system that would literally eject somebody like Mr. Trump. And so it's going to be very interesting to see what happens now, because I don't think James Madison anticipated this tribal divide and anticipated that there could actually be people that are stuck and mired into their partisan tribes that would overlook demagoguery or illegal activity or things that any normal person would look at and say: "Well, I'm a partisan, but let me rise to my patriotism."
You know, I'm a patriot first and a partisan second. So to me, I think James Madison, who put those articles in place, would be shocked at where we are today, where we're this so far divided, that people are willing to accept gaslighting, accept this hagiography, accept this level of distorted reality. And so I hope I'm right about this, that the fever will break and the spell will break and that good people will speak out about this, and they'll—and they'll speak truth to power, and they'll speak with integrity.
And by the way, I got this wrong. My hopes for the president—I think we're all products of our environment. We're all products of our upbringing, and we're products of the concentric circles of our confirmed biases. And when I was on the campaign trail with him, and I saw him talking to people I grew up with, I was like: "OK, this is great. His policies are going to help these people. We're going to be able to rebuild the middle class in America." While these two tribes have been fighting and beating their brains out on cable television, these people have been left alone in their own economic desperation, their forgotten status, if you will. But we're now going to champion these people, and that's going to be very good for America.
But unfortunately, the president, due to his personality issues, he wasn't able to stay on that. And you know, he was victim—victimized by the swamp, too, in fairness to him. They flooded that thing with Never Trumpers. He—it played not so well to his levels of paranoia. And now we're in a situation where he doesn't listen to anybody. And he's—he's grinding right now, and you're starting to see the worst affects of his personality emerge. It's very dangerous for the country, by the way. Trump and the Media
What is it about him and about the way he was—now we're back at the beginning of the administration—that makes him need to diminish the press, to call the press the "enemy of the people," to call "fake news"? How does that help him?
Well, first of all, I mean, you're not going to put this in your documentary, but I mean, I was so vehemently opposed to that. I wrote an op-ed in The Hill in April of this past year, 2019, "Mr. President, the press is not the enemy of the people." If you really understand the Constitution, again, the press was there to check power. And the Founders really understood Lord Acton's aphorism, even though he said it after they originated the Constitution, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And so they needed a check on people that had power.
And I can tell you, from my own experience, being in the White House, that it is a distortion. Power has a tendency to re-form, negatively, elements of your personality. You can lose your grounding wire; if you're not a student of history or have some kind of religious faith or just recognizing your own mortality, you can get distorted. And so, you know, he—he gave a real tell to Lesley Stahl in one of the interviews. He said, "Yeah, I'm going to hammer these guys and say that they're the enemy of the people so that I can discredit their observation of me. Whether it was factual or objective observation, I'm going to do everything I can to a very large group of people, discredit what they're saying."
And so in a lot of ways, if you're just looking at it objectively, his instinct for that was remarkable. I think it's a nefarious instinct, and I think it has not served the country well. But remember, when—when President Trump does a news search, he's searching the word "Trump." He's not searching "United States of America." So you have to ask yourself, did that method of decrying fake news, corrupt news, the press is the enemy of the people, did that serve him well? And I think unfortunately, the answer to that question is, it did, but it has actually hurt and impugned some of the systems that we put in place in America. And so therefore, guys like me, who's an entrepreneur, trying to make a hiring decision, you have to look at that and say: "OK, wait a minute. This is really, really bad. We hired the wrong CEO for this portfolio company. Let's fire this CEO, or let's seek a replacement," you know.
I mean, I was on with one of these pundits from Fox News, and they were telling me that I'm a flip-flopper. I'm like: "OK, first of all, I'm not even a politician, number one. And number two, I'm an entrepreneur. Do you know how many times in my life I've hired the wrong person for a job, and I've had to look at myself in the mirror and say, "Wow, I misjudged that; I got that wrong'?" And so the thing you have to do is remove the person and find a new person.
And so to me, the press being the enemy of the people, I would say that there was a holy—an unholy trinity of systemic threats. The press being the enemy of the people, that would certainly be at the top of the list. The optics of separating children from their moms or children from their families and—and—and the cages, and he can gaslight that any way that he wants, but that issue at the border—now we're discovering that he wanted moats and flesh-tearing spikes and so forth. That's a garish, systemic damage to the system.
And the third thing—and I think this is going to be his undoing, frankly—is the denunciation of the intelligence agencies. You're sitting there in Helsinki, and you're denunciating your intelligence agencies, and in front of the president of Russia. And so to me, that's the unholy trinity of systemic issues. And I spoke out against all of those. Even though I was trying to still, after I got fired, I was still trying to be a supporter of his, I had to definitely separate myself in some ways. And of course he's a demagogue, so you can't be seven to 10 for Mr. Trump; you have to be 13 for 10. You've got to be one of those Fox News opinion-entertainment anchors, 13 for 10 for the guy. Otherwise he'll start lighting you up, and your wife, and everybody on Twitter. You know, that's the absurdity of him. So when he starts to call the press the "enemy of the people," and all of that is happening, it seems like that's the moment that Steve Colbert, Seth Meyers, all the late-night comedians come out, and they start going after him. Rachel Maddow gets—her ratings start to ascend. So talk a little bit about how that—how that division was fed.
Well, I mean, listen, the educated class, anybody that's had—anybody that really loves the country and has an intellectual curiosity about the Constitution and this great American experiment and this idea that—you know, remember, we're an idea. We're not based on a cultural bloodline or an ancestrial [sic] border. This is an idea. And so when you—when you sit there, and you think about the idea of this country, and you think about all of our lives in this country, and the achievements that we were able to accomplish in a country like this, you fall in love with the country. So therefore, you have to look at the Constitution and understand the elements of the construction that allowed for so many people to do so well, and for what Lincoln said about the country, it being the last best hope for mankind. And so you're sitting here, looking at all this stuff, and you know that the First Amendment is number one for a reason, OK? It is the—it is the torchlight of liberty to look upon people that have power and to check them, OK? It's the Fourth Estate. And so when he—and it was him and Bannon, actually. Bannon at the CPAC [Conservative Political Action Conference] meeting, I guess, in February of 2017, is calling the press the "enemy of the people" and the "opposition party." … I was in the wings. I said, "Wow, this is going to be really, really bad; this is not healthy."
When I was named the communications director, on July 20, that Thursday, in the study off the Oval Office, I'll never forget this conversation. President Trump looked at me and said: "Man, I had 45 years of really good relationship with the press and the media, and I've hosted Saturday Night Live." We talked about late-night people. "And what do you think happened?" I said: "What do you mean, what do I think happened? You declared the press as the enemy of the people." I said, "We can't do that." I said, "Give me an opportunity to fix this, OK?"
And so that very next day was Friday, July 21. I'm sitting in his office. He said, "You know, Spicer's resigned." I said, "OK, good." I mean, for me, I was like, OK, it's one less person I have to fire. And then he said, "Well, who should we name to be the press secretary?" I said, "Well, I think you should make Sarah [Huckabee Sanders] the press secretary." I always thought President Trump needed a woman in that position. I thought she was effective and good on TV. And then he says: "OK, yeah, yeah, OK. But you," meaning me, "you go do the press conference today." And so I said, "OK, no problem."
So first thing I did, was I called for hair and makeup, OK? I thought I needed some. So I got the Fox lady to come down and make me up. But then I'm—I go out there, and my message to the press on that day was that we were going to begin a process of reconciliation and some kind of healing, and we were going to sort of end the war that was going on. But, you know, of course I got ejected like an Austin Powers villain. So I didn't really last long enough to achieve that. Trump as a Manager
… Let me ask you one last question, since we're in the throes of—the early throes of impeachment. By the time these films air, it will be January, and we're going to know a lot more. But the man you know, facing what feels like something different than the Mueller report, this is something—I don't know what it is. How is he reacting to this, and what is his default at this moment?
So the problem for the president is, unfortunately—and this is just as objective an evaluation as I can give you—he's not capable of managing a process, OK? He's a good showman. He's a good communicator. He was obviously a very effective reality television star, and he knew how to brand things. So therefore, those are qualities that you have to say were exceptional in a lot of ways. He got to the American presidency.
But to actually be president, you have to manage a process. And so part of managing something, as an American entrepreneur as an example, you have to define problems, and you have to define your objectives. And then you have to build a team, and you have to delegate to a team to get to those objectives.
And so the fatal flaw for Mr. Trump is that he's not capable of managing anything. Secondary fatal flaw is that there could be no co-stars in his orbit, because that's a sign of his insecurity. So you can't have anybody on stage with him other than him. Third aspect of what's going on is that he can't listen to anybody, because God forbid someone gives him a good idea, and then the press writes that, you know, Jim Smith gave him a good idea, and then he goes crazy over something like that.
So even if you're giving him great advice on trade or tax policy, he won't take it to prove that he is completely in charge. So these demons that are inside his personality are literally going to cause an existential crisis for him and the country. And so I predict this will not end well for President Trump. It will end—it will end well for the country, because, you know, we got through the civil war, and we're an amazingly resilient group of people. But it will—it will not end well for Mr. Trump.