Frontline talked at length with Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio about his experiences with the most extraordinary political campaign in modern history. The entire interview is fascinating, and provides glimpses of the counter-intuitive brilliance that Fabrizio has a knack for. Case in point – during the 2010 primary campaign, while most of Rick Scott‘s campaign advisers counseled the candidate to be cautiously supportive of the controversial Arizona immigration law, Fabrizio was the man pushing for a full-throttled embrace of the issue. His instincts, supported by polling data, enabled Scott to make a high-speed pass to Bill McCollum’s ideological right side, and the Scott campaign opened a blistering lead that was never relinquished.
In the Frontline interview, we are treated to a front-row seat of some of Fabrizio’s counter-intuitive thinking, but we also learn that President Donald J. Trump is more of a counter-intuitive thinker than Fabrizio himself. And where Fabrizio’s expertise is in teasing out data to back up his hunches, Trump does it all straight from his gut. From the interview:
“I had been doing this since 1978 professionally. I’ve had my own polling firm for the last 26 years, and I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of campaigns. I’ve elected presidents on three continents. And to watch this was truly spectacular. And then becoming an insider to it was even more of an eye-opening experience…”
In the final two weeks of the election, Fabrizio’s polling showed the race tightening considerably, and he felt they could win the White House if they went into Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. He wrote a memo urging the campaign to make closing arguments in those states. And as the clocked ticked down in the final week, Fabrizio’s data showed the race tightening to neck-and-neck in those key, Rust-Belt states. But late in the afternoon on Election Day, he was in for a shock. Media exit polls said Fabrizio’s data had been flat wrong. Clinton, they said, was blowing Trump out across the board:
“…pretty much everybody at the top level of the Trump campaign and the Clinton campaign and senior media got the exit polls after 5 o’clock. And they were just downright damn depressing. And I don’t know if you had access to them, or you know what they said, but they had us losing every state. I mean we were getting crushed in like Michigan, Pennsylvania, I mean just — And so, from like 6 o’clock on, you know, we’re all like, “Oh my God. How could this be?”
We all know what happened, though. When the official numbers started rolling in with results more closely matching Fabrizio’s own, the gloom began to lift. He took to Twitter to urge the media to call Florida for Trump full hour before they did so. And at 11:38pm on Election Night, Fabrizio took to Twitter to declare Trump had defeated Clinton and won the White House:
I want to be the first to congratulate the next President @realDonaldTrump! Thank you for having us as part of your team!
— Tony Fabrizio (@TonyFabrizioGOP) November 9, 2016
In the Frontline interview, he shares more insight into the internal discussions as they waited for the media to catch up to reality:
I emailed them [Trump’s Campaign HQ in New York], and I said, “Guys, somebody better go tell DJT,” which was how we referred to him in email, “that he’s the president-elect. We’re going to carry Michigan, and we’re going to carry Maine too.” And Steve Bannon emails me back and goes, “Why, did AP or somebody call?” And I’m like, “No, trust me. Don’t wait for them, because they’ve been behind all night, because they’re freaking out because their exit polls are all wrong.” And, you know, Kellyanne was like, “Yeah, I think he’s right. I think it’s done.”
Read the full interview here.