‘Frontline: The Choice’: ‘Every Critic Will Have to Bow Down to President Trump’

Frontline’s The Choice 2016 — a two-hour examination of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s bumpy, often-wayward paths to the presidential nomination — has found a provocatively new narrative for Trump’s moment of decision to run for the highest office in the land: The Choice maintains that it was when President Obama pummeled Donald with insults during the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

“Trump was steaming!” says New Yorker editor David Remnick, who was seated a couple of tables away while Obama pelted Trump with sarcasm about the latter’s birther obsession and his past as host of The Apprentice. “[Trump] dreads humiliation and shame.”

Trump surrogate Roger Stone appears onscreen to say, “I think that is the night he decides to run for president, [thinking] ‘Maybe I’ll show them all.’” Then comes the Choice interview the show’s producers must have known contained their money quote, and, sure enough, it’s the clip that’s received the most advance publicity before The Choice” airs on PBS Tuesday night. It comes from Apprentice loser Omarosa Manigault, now a Trump surrogate. Doing that serenely all-knowing Omarosa thing that drove Carol Alt and Gene Simmons crazy during her Apprentice days, Manigault declares, “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump … It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed with him, who ever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge, to become the most powerful man in the universe.”

Omarosa’s quote is at once over-the-top and chilling. It would be hilarious if it did not carry the ring of prophecy. This is the fourth Choice documentary filmmaker Michael Kirk has made for Frontline, and it’s slightly different from the others, delving deeper into the childhood of the two candidates to do some armchair psychoanalyzing.

It’s the film’s contention that Clinton’s childhood — with an overbearing father who verbally abused his wife — drove young Hillary into herself (“She didn’t invite friends over to her house”) and commenced the habits of extreme discretion, privacy, and even secrecy that we now think of as a weakness in her political career. Frontline interviews childhood friends of Clinton’s, and each separate clip adds up to a similar conclusion.

On the Trump side, father Fred is described by those who worked for him as “a machine” of relentless labor, a workhorse who told his children that when it comes to the business world, they needed to be “killers.” It was from Fred, say a number of people quoted here, that Donald got the notion to divide the world into “winners” and “losers,” with no sympathy for the latter.

It’s too bad The Choice isn’t airing before the Monday night debate. It would provide many viewers with a context in which to view this much-hyped titanic struggle. “They spit on her; they cursed her,” Joe Klein says vehemently about Hillary when she traveled the country to promote health care reform in 1993. “‘White men hate me,’” Gail Sheehy quotes Hillary as telling her during this time. They contend that this added an extra layer of thick skin and determination to Clinton.

Trump, too, became thick-skinned as the businessman-son-of-a-businessman-father, but also a man used to being told what he wanted to hear. The Choice digs up a sound bite from The Celebrity Apprentice, with Trump looking at his latest batch of washed-up celebrity contestants, turning to a portly singer to ask, “Meat Loaf, should I run for president?” Mr. Loaf says he thinks that’s a dandy idea. From Meat Loaf’s mouth to the debate stage on Monday … The Choice connects the dots.

Frontline: The Choice 2016 airs Tuesday night on PBS. Check your local listings.