One morning in late January of 2015, Callista and I woke up at the Marriott in Des Moines, Iowa, a hotel where we had spent many nights over the years. This time, we were in town for the Iowa Freedom Summit, the first big event of the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. I’d been asked to attend by our friend Dave Bossie, who helped organized the Summit and invited me to speak even though I wasn’t planning to run for president myself.
Sometime that morning, the phone in our hotel room rang. On the other end was Donald Trump. He invited us to meet him for breakfast in the hotel restaurant.
At the time, the media and the Washington political establishment gave almost no thought to Donald Trump. They were certain he wouldn’t enter the race--that his hints about running for president were only a ploy to get attention. As a result, they determinedly ignored him.
Callista and I left breakfast that morning convinced that Trump would run.
For over an hour, he peppered us with questions about how to run for president. It was clear that he was serious. And we took him seriously.
The media and the political establishment didn’t take Donald Trump seriously when he announced his campaign the following June. They didn’t take him seriously when he sped to the top of the polls. They didn’t take him seriously when almost every indicator on social media showed he won the first debate. And as their shock on election night proved, many didn’t take him seriously right up until the moment he won the election.
What didn’t they understand?
The signs of the American people’s discontent were there from the beginning.
After the American people voted for real change in 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2014, things had gotten worse, not better.
Fifteen years into the 21st century, Americans had suffered through 9/11, two wars without victory, a housing bubble, a financial crisis, a Wall Street bailout, a failed stimulus, a weak recovery, a health care law passed over the strong objections of the public, its disastrous implementation, a lawless administration, and a media elite that was increasingly disdainful of ordinary Americans.
By mid-2015, it had been more than a year since the corruption at the Veterans Administration had come to light. The problems weren’t fixed and no one had been held accountable. The border was not under control (in fact the administration had illegally suspended immigration enforcement), the U.S. had reached a dangerous nuclear deal with Iran, Baltimore was burning, the left was pushing transgender “bathroom bills” in many states and cities, the EPA caused millions of gallons of toxic chemicals to be spilled into the Colorado River, and the stories of Hillary Clinton’s appalling corruption were coming to light.
Americans were disgusted with all of this. In September of 2015, 75 percent of Americans told Gallup they believed corruption was “widespread” in government.
The stage was set for an outsider who would bring real change to reverse the years of failure and decline.
And Donald Trump arrived on the scene, promising to “Make America Great Again” and seeming big and brash enough to actually do it.
Electing Trump, my new short ebook, tells story of the 2016 campaign through excerpts of my commentary on television, in my twice-weekly columns, and in other interviews. The commentary reflected my belief that a majority of the American people had finally arrived at a conclusion I reached long ago and have made a principle of my career. That principle is that Real Change requires Real Change.
Having voted for well-intentioned “change” in 2008, Americans finally understood that a government managed by the same people with the same ideas was not going to suddenly upend a system they created, owned, and thrived in.
So Americans were open to someone radically new--someone who understood the problems they faced and offered common-sense, clear commitments to get back to a government that works. As I put it at the time, they were not looking for a candidate who could play chess by the establishment’s rules. They were looking for a candidate who would kick over the table.
This is what the media didn’t understand, and why they were so surprised when attacks they expected to end Trump’s campaign didn’t have much effect. People understood the difference between the important and the trivial--and they weren’t going to let trivia ruin their only chance at real change.
In the excerpts I highlight, you can observe Trump’s growth from one of 17 candidates--a non-politician who almost everyone wrote off--to the President-elect of the United States. The currents that propelled his candidacy were strong and consistent: populism, disgust with the Washington establishment in both parties, opposition to corruption, distrust of the media, resistance to a policy of managed decline, and a desire for revolutionary change.
Trump’s message was strong and consistent over time, as well. He was for the people over special interests. He was for America over the global elites. And he was for common sense over continuing stupidity.
In addition to excerpts of my commentary, I have also included several documents that are key to understanding how Trump closed the deal with the American people. First is Trump’s historic speech at Gettysburg in the final month of the campaign, in which he laid out perhaps the most ambitious reform agenda of any presidential candidate in recent memory--his Contract with the American Voter. Another is his New Deal for Black America, an explicit appeal to African Americans to vote for real change.
President-elect Trump now has the opportunity to follow through on this bold change agenda he campaigned on.
My hope is that this ebook will serve to illuminate why the American people elected Donald Trump to the presidency, and to remind us of the job we must now help him do.
Newt Gingrich is a former Speaker of the House. He is the author of "Electing Trump," among other books.