An interview between a CNN anchor and a top aide to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump devolved into a palpably uncomfortable debate over polls on Wednesday evening.
In a conversation with Yahoo News shortly after the conversation aired, Michael Cohen, an executive vice president and attorney at the Trump Organization, said he believed he “controlled the interview” with Brianna Keilar.
“I think I unraveled her,” Cohen boasted.
The awkwardness occurred after Keilar discussed Cohen’s comments on the changes to Trump’s senior campaign staff that were announced on Wednesday. After a tumultuous two weeks since the national conventions, Trump named a new campaign CEO and a new campaign manager.
“You say it’s not a shakeup, but you guys are down,” Keilar began.
Cohen cut her off.
“Says who?” he asked.
After a brief pause, Keilar answered.
“Polls, most of them, all of them,” she said incredulously.
Both Keilar and Cohen were silent for at least three seconds before he repeated his question.
“Says who?” Cohen asked.
“Polls, I just told you. I answered your question,” Keilar said.
“OK, which polls?” Cohen asked.
“All of them,” said Keilar.
Major national polls do indeed show Trump struggling against his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Every poll included in the RealClearPolitics average since July 24 has Clinton ahead. Clinton has also been pulling ahead in recent surveys of key battleground states.
Clips of the exchange rapidly began spreading online. Politico media reporter Hadas Gold tweeted, “I keep getting sent this clip.” Many people on Twitter began making jokes based on Cohen’s refrain of “says who?” CNBC executive editor Jay Yarow tweeted a picture of some of the commentary and declared, “A meme is born.”
Cohen told Yahoo News he was stunned by Keilar’s conduct during the interview.
“I was shocked at the length of the silence as she stumbled to think of an answer,” Cohen said. “And when she did come up with an answer, it was so generic it could have applied to anything.”
Keilar continued her broadcast for over an hour after her discussion with Cohen. During one of the commercial breaks, she sent Yahoo News a response to his review of the interview.
“Can you just embed the video in your story? My reaction is that people can watch and decide for themselves,” Keilar said.
In his conversation with Yahoo, Cohen also said he does not trust the polls Keilar referenced during the broadcast.
“I completely disagree with the polling information,” said Cohen.
He specifically pointed to Trump’s poor numbers in the African-American community as evidence that the polls may be off. Cohen, who has been working with Trump since 2006 and describes himself as fiercely loyal, has helped coordinate some of the candidate’s African-American outreach efforts and said his anecdotal experience contradicted the poll data.
“When they say that Donald Trump has a 1 percent favorability amongst the African-American community, I know from my own interactions that that number is absolutely and unequivocally inaccurate,” Cohen explained. “I speak on a weekly basis to more than 100 African-American Evangelical preachers who are all committed to ensuring Donald Trump becomes the next president of the United States.”
Cohen went on to say the over 100 African-Americans he has worked with during the campaign are all convinced Clinton would “pander” to their community with “no ability or intent to follow through.”
“These same individuals have all met with Mr. Trump and have engaged in significant dialogue about issues that effect their specific communities. Unanimously, these African-American Evangelical preachers all acknowledge that Donald Trump is colorblind when it comes to race and is only interested in ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to thrive and achieve the American dream,” said Cohen.
Cohen also pointed to the crowds at Trump’s rallies as a sign polls may be off.
“I think Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton are substantially closer than the polls indicate,” Cohen explained. “The proof is the massive 20-, 25- and 30,000-person rallies that he is attending on a multiple-time-per-week basis. In all honesty, Hilary Clinton can’t fill a Starbucks even if they offered free ventis.”
Cohen concluded by disputing the reports that Trump’s staffing changes were the result of his frustration with the state of the race.
“No such thing. No such thing. Totally deny it. Inaccurate reporting,” he said.