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I spent nearly four years in Trump world—as the national spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, as the press secretary for the Trump campaign, and finally as White House press secretary.
Every position came with its own set of circumstances—levels of notoriety and expectations for being in the Swamp. I can easily say that my most valued moments were not the moments that I walked to the White House podium, ready to face a room full of hostile correspondents.
MCENANY SHARES HOW FAITH GUIDED HER THROUGH POLITICS: GOD PUTS CERTAIN DESIRES IN OUR HEARTS FOR A REASON
No, the time that meant the most to me was the time I spent at Trump rallies, with a microphone and a camera interviewing the men and women—marginalized and demonized—who made up the conservative movement.
Hillary Clinton called us “deplorable and irredeemable.”
Peter Strzok described us as “hillbillies” that he could “smell.”
CNN pundits went with “credulous rubes,” asserting that we could not locate countries on a map.
And President Joe Biden referred to those who preferred reopening the country “Neanderthal[s].”
The Trump voters I met were none of those things. During my time at the Trump campaign, I was pregnant with Blake. All throughout my pregnancy, I ventured out into the crowds at rallies. The people I met were incredible.
There was the veteran who told me that President Trump liter ally saved his life. On the verge of suicide, he found hope and opportunity in a president who truly cared about veterans.
On the evening that House Democrats impeached President Trump over a phone call, I met a young man who recounted that his life was forever changed by the Trump presidency.
He received an unduly harsh sentence for a nonviolent offense, and President Trump’s First Step Act meant that he got to be with his family for Christmas.
And then there was the woman who ran up to me and prayed over my nine-month pregnant belly. Draped in a Trump flag, she gently placed her hand on my stomach, bowed her head, and said a prayer.
Yes, these are the men and women I know and love.
During my time on the campaign trail, it was an honor shaking hands with these patriots, hugging their necks, and hearing their stories. There were people from all walks of life and all different backgrounds. Listening to them prepared me for my time in the White House. The American People were on my mind when I stood at that podium.
When I worked on the campaign, I would usually fly in a day before the rally, go out the evening before, and interview the men and women camping out ahead of President Trump’s rally.
These voters intrigued me most.
“This is incredible,” I thought when I attended a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in April of 2019. At this point, I had only been national press secretary for the Trump campaign for a short time. This was only the third Trump rally I had ever attended. I rushed off the plane to the rally venue the evening before the rally to do an interview on “Hannity.”
When I arrived, I noticed a group of people with tents.
“Are they camping out?” I wondered.
At the conclusion of my interview, a woman came over to me and confirmed that they were all sleeping outside. Trump rallies always hit full capacity, often with an overflow crowd, and they wanted to ensure they had a spot.
“Would you please come meet a friend of mine who is camping out?” she asked me.
“Of course, I will.”
As I approached the crowd of campers, I was amazed at what I saw. Holding American flags and bundled up in coats, these rallygoers were prepared to sleep overnight. I taped a short video with the crowd before meeting the gentleman I had initially gone to meet. He was a veteran who was hospitalized in the VA.
He told me that he had called the veteran hotline that President Trump set up for veterans when they were receiving inadequate care. He didn’t think he would hear back, but he did. In fact, he received a call directly from Lara Trump, President Trump’s daughter-in-law. He told me that he was stunned by her personal outreach and her caring demeanor.
“I’m alive today because of the great care I received,” the man told me, crediting Trump for turning the VA around. I asked him to share his story on camera, and he ended by saying, “There’s a lot of stories like this.”
He was right. I heard stories like these and saw enthusiasm like this group’s all over the country. After my pregnancy, I brought my daughter out on the campaign trail. My mom would babysit her in the hotel room, and I would go out to conduct “man on the street” interviews like these.
We went everywhere—Iowa, South Carolina, North Carolina, and even New Jersey, a state often ignored by Republican presidents. I was curious what that Wildwood, New Jersey, rally would be like. It was a solidly blue state, and I wondered if the support would be more tepid. Boy, was I wrong!
“You have got to get out here now,” one of the cameramen called to tell me. “There are more than a thousand people sleeping out. Not a hundred, a thousand—in forty-degree weather!”
I left Blake and my mom in the hotel room and ventured out into the cold. It was about midnight when I arrived at the venue, positioned just across from a motel. The motel had Trump banners in nearly every window, American flags draped as well. I was simply stunned at the throngs and throngs of people sleeping in this frigid weather. I set out with my microphone to find out why.
“My brother has to be in line, waiting seven years to come legally in this country and just today, he got the letter saying that he’s going to be able to come here legally,” one woman told me. “Seven years my brother was waiting…and the other people want to come jump in line and do every- thing wrong and get everything free and no working or anything…and I have to work and pay for that. I don’t think so.” I hugged the woman and congratulated her on her brother’s great news. “Go Trump!” she finished.
Between at-capacity rallies and multitudes of supporters who would line the streets of the presidential motorcade, President Trump had created a political phenomenon. As his campaign press secretary, I saw how he connected with the crowds during these events. As his White House press secretary, I also saw how his loyalty to his voters was not just an act. The Trump supporters camping out the night before a rally or standing in a ridiculously long line the day of, recognized a boldness in President Trump, but they also saw authenticity. He was so clearly not a politician, but rather someone willing to speak the truth and follow through. The loyalty of his supporters was met by a reciprocated loyalty from a commander in chief.
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I’ll never forget a meeting that we had on June 22, 2020, in the Cabinet Room at the White House. The president sat at the center of an enormous mahogany table. The chairs around the table each had placards denoting the respective departments they represented. This meeting, however, was not a Cabinet meeting.
It was a meeting with the president and his advisors, including Attorney General Bill Barr, to determine if the administration would file a brief in support of states that were challenging the legality of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). While Brooke Rollins, a White House aide and soon-to-be director of the Domestic Policy Council, advocated strongly for the president to continue fighting ObamaCare in court, others did not.
Attorney General Bill Barr made a strong case for getting out of the lawsuit, as did Kellyanne Conway. We were in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak, and it didn’t seem to be the right time to target a health care program—however costly and counterproductive ObamaCare may be in the long-run. Moreover, there was absolutely no doubt that Democrats would use our participation in the lawsuit as a political cudgel. Oral arguments were scheduled right around election time, and Demo- crats would use this as a weapon.
Listening to the back and forth, the president pressed his aides on the matter. Then he looked at me and said, “Kayleigh, what do you think?”
“Mr. President,” I said. “I have to agree with Kellyanne and the Attorney General. I think there are a lot of risks here.”
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He listened to what I had to say and then uttered that sentiment I will never forget. President Trump said something to the effect of: “I don’t care. I will stand with my base and the promises I made to them,” referring to the fact that he would rather lose support than go back on his word.
In that moment, I realized the authenticity of the president. This, to me, felt like political suicide. But his unflinching loyalty to the voters who put him there, and most of all, his “promises made, promises kept” demeanor is what mattered to him most.
Excerpt from “For Such a Time as This: My Faith Journey through the White House and Beyond,” courtesy of Post Hill Press.