Jonathan Karl Discusses New Book on Former President Donald Trump at GW

The SMPA Terker Distinguished Fellow’s latest book examines Trump’s journey from disgraced former president to possibly winning another term in 2025.

December 5, 2023

Dana Bash and Jonathan Karl

Dana Bash and Jonathan Karl at GW. (Jordan Tovin/GW Today)

Chief Washington correspondent for ABC News and co-anchor of “This Week,” Jonathan Karl, shared details of former president Donald Trump’s tumultuous term in the White House, the workings of Trump’s inner circle and the possibility of a second Trump presidency in 2025 at George Washington University Monday evening. 

The event, hosted by the School of Media and Public Affairs, was a discussion on Karl’s latest book, “Tired of Winning: Donald Trump and the End of the Grand Old Party.”

GW alumna and CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, B.A. ’93, Hon. ’22, moderated the conversation.

In this new book, Karl tracks Trump’s journey from a defeated former president to a dominant force, once again, in the Republican Party. 

SMPA director Peter Loge introduced Bash and Karl, adding it was an honor to have the two journalists share their expertise. “We are really honored tonight to be joined by a member of our National Council and alumna of our program, Dana Bash,” Loge said.

Loge said Karl is a 2023 Terker Fellow at GW, which is a program designed to bring exceptional pioneers in media, political communication and public affairs to the university.

Bash began the conversation by praising Karl’s book for the detailed reporting and insider information it reveals to readers. Her first question addressed the people who were still close to Trump, including John McEntee. 

“We've seen a lot of people writing about what a second Trump term would look like,” Bash said. “You talk about the people who are left in his orbit. One of the people, who was one of the last men standing, was a guy named Johnny McEntee.” 

Karl explained McEntee had just turned 30 when he took the job as director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office, an extremely important role. 

“And before that, he was the bag carrier,” Karl said. “He was the guy that carried the president's bags. And then, as director of the personnel office, he was basically in charge of the hiring and firing of every executive branch appointee from the director of the CIA to the secretary of state down to any number of positions throughout the federal government.” 

Karl also said McEntee was fired as Trump’s bag carrier because of issues that came up in his FBI background check. 

“So, he was fired as the bagman, and he came back as the head of one of the most important human resources departments in the federal government,” Karl said. 

Karl said McEntee worked to ensure that everybody who worked for Trump was thoroughly loyal, telling a story about how a woman who worked in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) during Trump’s term got in trouble for liking an Instagram post that featured a picture of Taylor Swift holding a plate of cookies that had the Biden-Harris campaign logo printed on them. 

“This was immediately brought to the attention of the chief of staff in the White House, who immediately reached out to the chief of staff at HUD to raise this very serious issue,” Karl said. “And by the way, it turns out, she was just actually a Taylor Swift fan.” 

Karl explained McEntee wanted everyone loyal to Trump and after the election, made his first major move to fire the entire top civilian leadership at the Pentagon, including former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Ph.D. ‘08.

Esper had refused Trump’s order to send active-duty U.S. military troops to put down protests and riots in cities across America in 2020. 

“It caused chaos at the Pentagon because there was no preparation or readiness,” Karl said. “You're moving tens of thousands of U.S. personnel on a moment's notice. It takes a little bit of preparation for that, not to mention what the implications are. And I describe in detail, it's all based on sworn testimony, how this one order was written by a 30-year-old guy who had been on the job in the personnel office for just a matter of months and never had any military experience at all. It eventually ended up getting rescinded because it was going to cause chaos.” 

The book also delves into the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and Trump’s mindset during that day. 

“So January 6,” Bash said. “You talk to Trump after, and he tells you that not only is it true that he wanted the motorcade to turn around and take him right then and there to the Capitol but when he was in the White House, not responding to anybody for hours and hours, allowing that horrible riot to happen, he wanted the Secret Service to take him to the Capitol during the insurrection?”

Karl confirmed that Trump told him in an interview about wanting to go to the Capitol during the insurrection because he would have been “very well received.”
"This was an interview I did just a couple of months after he left the White House,” Karl said. “I wrote about it extensively because it was in this interview that he justified the chance of hanging Mike Pence. I asked him about, you know, God, this is terrible, it is awful. He said, ‘Well, people were angry. You know, it's common sense, Jon. I mean, how do you pass on a fraudulent vote?’ So, he's offering a justification of people who want to murder his vice president.” 

Karl ends the book looking at how Trump has reemerged yet as a dominant force in the Republican party and Trump’s desire to cling to power could pose dangers.